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'How can we prove it?': Travellers highlight barriers to justice after incidents of discrimination

Traveller women who were surveyed said businesses may deploy “sneaky ways” to refuse them service.

A NEW REPORT has highlighted barriers faced by Travellers if they try to challenge incidents of discrimination, including prohibitive legal costs and the difficulty proving venues or businesses turned them away because of their ethnicity.

The research from University College Cork surveyed Traveller women, who were asked a number of questions about the current equality framework in Ireland and options for redress if they believed they were victims of discrimination.

Within the focus groups, the majority of women surveyed noted that an initial hurdle to challenging discrimination was proving that the conduct in question satisfied the current test.

Many said venues and business are aware of the law and may deploy “sneaky ways” to refuse Travellers:

“We were booking a wedding venue,” one said.

We had the date booked and we left the deposit, and the bride and groom went to test the food and when they did, and the venue saw them they were told ‘sorry that date was not available anymore’. It was discrimination. But how can we prove it?

Another woman surveyed said:

“First, they said we needed credit cards on us and not everyone has a credit card, but a couple of us had them and when I produced my credit card, they told me that there were renovations going on in the hotel and there was no room. So, they kept changing their excuse, even though they had already taken my booking.”

Traveller women who took part in the research said that even in situations where they were not refused service, the experience made them so uncomfortable they wanted to leave.

“It’s so embarrassing to be watched or put out all the time from shops, restaurants, pubs, supermarkets, clothes shops,” one respondent said.

“I am going to one local shop nearly 35 years and I still feel the shiver that I am being watched, no matter how much I spend in a shop, I still am not wanted, they still don’t want you in there.”

They also spoke of discrimination their children experienced at school that was handed down from parents to other children at the school.

“It’s in the schools as well,” one woman said. “My lad going to school when he was very small, made a new friend. I was collecting him in the yard his parents saw me. The kids were small coming out in a line with their little partner and they had to hold hands. I heard the mother tell her son not to hold my son’s hand because he was a kn***** from the site.”

The research, carried out by Dr Samantha Morgan-Williams, Traveller Equality and Justice Project, School of Law at University College Cork report highlights “the endemic and entrenched social exclusion” faced by Travellers in accessing justice.

When asked about the the barriers preventing access to justice, the Traveller women who were surveyed noted that core issues involved access to legal representation, costs, and prohibitive barriers in taking cases, alongside unclear avenues to redress.

“The costs of the court are a barrier,” one woman said.

I decided to make a complaint about being refused into a hotel, decided to take it to court, but the solicitors advised me that if we lost the at the court, I could be liable for court costs of up to €5,000. There and then, I decided to drop the case, because I just don’t have that kind of money and couldn’t take the chance. The threat of big court costs is a big barrier.

 One testimony reads:

“We never brought a case because you don’t hear of Travellers getting any justice and it’s draining to have to fight every day of your life when the system that is supposed to be there to help you doesn’t work. You could be years fighting and never get anywhere.”

Dr Morgan said the report maps the weaknesses of the current equality system and its inaccessibility for socially marginalised groups.

“The testimony of those surveyed, clearly indicate that the current system is blocking Travellers from accessing justice,” she said.

“This toothlessness of Ireland’s legal system leads to ‘repeat offending’ while the inability of Travellers to access legal redress results in further ‘re-discrimination.”

The report will be launched at UCC this morning by Senator Eileen Flynn and Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.

Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project – now over 85% funded – to find out if Travellers experience harsher interactions with the Irish law and prison system.

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