A law providing for the different treatment of complaints over being refused entry to pubs and other licenses premises is disproportionately impacting on disabled people and members of the Traveller and Roma communities, according to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).
The law, under which complaints over refusal of entry are dealt with by the District Court rather than the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), where most complaints of discrimination are addressed, is "not fit for purpose", said IHREC chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney.
The commission wants Minister for Children, Disability, Equality, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman, to support a statutory amendment to section 19 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003, which would mean that discrimination cases in relation to entry to pubs, restaurants and other licenses venues which currently go to the District Court would go to the WRC.
The IHREC recommendation follows its detailed review of section 19 after it invoked, for the first time, section 30 of the IHREC Act 2014, which gives it the power to review any legislation relating to the protection and promotion of human rights and equality.
The commission says section 19 means complainants have to hire lawyers and proceed through the more adversarial and challenging atmosphere of a court to seek redress, making the enforcement of important rights “excessively difficult and in some cases virtually impossible”.
Ms Gibney said: “We need to ask why there is a different legal approach for being discriminated against at the door of a pub, restaurant or club than in any other type of shop or service. This is a systemic equality issue which must be removed if we are to achieve equal access to justice.”
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and other international human rights bodies have also criticised the State for failing to take actions to effect this change, she said.
“We have made it clear to Government that victims of discrimination deserve access to efficient and clear mechanisms to seek justice. Anything less is unacceptable.”
In its review, the commission pointed to a 2019 case where a pub customer with a brain tumour was asked to leave the premises where he had been celebrating the end of rehabilitative treatment. His condition causes a limp which was interpreted by staff as signs of intoxication.
Despite explaining his disability directly to staff, the man was asked to leave, causing him significant distress and embarrassment. The commission provided him with direct legal representation when he sought redress under the 2003 Act.
The matter was settled without a court hearing or admission of liability. The pub agreed to make a meaningful apology to him, pay €3,500 compensation, have its management attend an annual equality training course and to provide a policy on treating all customers equally and making reasonable accommodation for customers with disabilities.
The commission says Courts Service data shows most section 19 proceedings instituted in the District Court were either struck out or withdrawn, with only 11 cases between 2017 and 2019 resulting in an order for compensation.
In contrast, the previous regime under which discrimination claims in respect of licensed premises were dealt with by the Equality Tribunal, which preceded the WRC, the tribunal issued 20 decisions concerning licensed premises in 2001, 45 decisions in 2002, and 64 decisions in 2003.
The Irish Traveller Movement (ITM), welcoming the outcome of the IHREC review, said it had sought a review of the Act since its introduction in 2003 due to concerns it would cause significant barriers for Travellers challenging discrimination at the point of entry to licensed premises.
From 2005-2017 the two grounds most cited for complaint by both the Equality Authority and the WRC were on grounds of Travellers and race, the ITM noted in a statement. It pointed to licensed premises circumventing the equality legislation by, for example, cancelling a wedding booking, claiming they had double booked, after discovering the person involved is a Traveller.
The lack of legal cover for Travellers under Section 19 cases has also been raised by groups including the Free Legal Advice Centres and international human rights committees.