Publican who cancelled booking for man with ‘Traveller surname’ ordered to pay €3,000

Bernard Ward said his booking had initially been taken when his phone autocorrected his name to ‘Walsh’

A publican who cancelled a memorial party when the man who booked it gave a “known Traveller surname” has been ordered to pay €3,000 compensation.

The complainant in the case, Bernard Ward, said his phone’s autocorrect function had altered the spelling of his surname to “Walsh” when he first texted the proprietor of the Miner’s Bar in Arigna, Co Roscommon, and got a positive response – only to be told the bar was closed after texting again to clarify.

In a decision released on Friday, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) rejected the claim by the bar owner that “uncertainties” about Covid-19 public health restrictions were the reason for the cancellation and upheld a finding of discrimination on the grounds of membership of the Traveller community.

Mr Ward told an equality hearing last year that the bar owner, Bertrand Dierckens, asked him his surname by text and only realised after the booking was accepted that his phone “had autocorrect switched on”.


He said the publican had already “pencilled in” his booking before he wrote back to clarify the following day, stating that his name was “Ward”.

After this, Mr Ward said, the publican took a “different attitude”, raising an issue about the Covid-19 public health restrictions and cancelling the booking.

Mr Ward’s case was that the cancellation was because his surname made him readily identifiable as a Traveller.

“For the counties of Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon you are a member of the Traveller community if your surname is Ward,” the complainant said.

Denying discrimination, Mr Dierckens said he was a Belgian national living in Ireland and “could never have been aware” that Mr Ward was a member of the Traveller community.

He said it was not in his nature to discriminate and that he wanted to “grow the business” – adding that he felt he was being “targeted” during his text exchange with Mr Ward.

Mr Dierckens said there was “talk about opening up and requiring vaccination certs” at the time and that he had “pencilled in” the booking in the belief that there would be “clarity” on public health rules by the date of the planned event.

When it was put to him in cross-examination that there was “no change in the law” at the time he “unpencilled” the booking, he said the bar “did not do a full reopening” after new Fáilte Ireland guidelines issued in late July 2021 and took bookings for their front bar only rather than the lounge.

In text messages opened to the WRC by Mr Ward’s solicitor, Chris McCann of the Free Legal Advice Centre (Flac), Mr Ward challenged the cancellation, stating: “I did make an error when sending you my details and ever sense [sic] I have corrected that error you have seem[ed] to go off the idea of accepting my booking. Is there a reason for that?” Mr Ward wrote.

“It’s a known fact for the last number of weeks that the government are introducing covid certs to allow only vaccinated people indoors. It’s a big decision for a business like ours to open indoors under these conditions and it’s just not worth it,” Mr Dierckens wrote in a replying message.

Mr Ward wrote in reply that the publican had been “happy to confirm the booking” before finding out his surname and that the publican “didn’t even mention” any question of vaccination certs.

“You haven’t even asked me now will all those who are attending be vaccinated and have certs. If you have a problem with me booking there then you would have asked me those questions,” he continued.

There was no reply from Mr Dierckens, the tribunal was told.

Mr Ward said he had to tell his family the anniversary event “could not proceed” because of the booking being cancelled at the Miner’s Bar – and that the family only found another venue in Cavan town after trying three or four other venues.

Cross-examining Mr Ward, the bar’s solicitor, Colm Conway of Cathal L Flynn & Co, put it to the complainant that he did not ask for a different date after the cancellation “because he [Mr Ward] was happy the booking had been cancelled” and that this was “part of a larger plan to bring a case”.

Mr Ward said if a different date had been offered, he would have accepted it.

Adjudicating officer Emer O’Shea noted that Mr Dierckens was “adamant that he made no distinctions regarding minority groups”.

“As a gay man himself, he would not support discrimination and doesn’t discriminate against minorities,” Ms O’Shea recorded.

The pub owner’s solicitor, Mr Conway, said his client was running a “small rural business” and was “trying his best”.

Mr Conway said there was “no real evidence” to show Mr Ward was treated “any differently or less favourably” and that there had been “no discrimination” in the case.

In her decision, adjudicating officer Emer O’Shea wrote that she did not accept that any “uncertainties” about the hospitality sector or “anticipated changes in restrictions” were a “convincing” explanation for what happened.

She accepted Mr Ward’s evidence that his surname was a “known Traveller name” in the midlands and the northwest – and that the “pencilled-in” booking was only cancelled after he made his correct name known to the pub’s management.

“The only material difference between the facts known to the respondent upon accepting the booking – albeit provisionally – and on cancelling it, was the disclosure of the surname Ward,” she wrote.

She wrote that the complainant had established an inference of discrimination on the Traveller community ground which the pub had failed to “convincingly rebut”, and upheld his complaint under the Equal Status Act 2000.

Ms O’Shea ordered the publican to pay Mr Ward €3,000 in compensation.