Portmarnock a 'discriminating' club, court told


The Equality Authority has argued before the High Court that Portmarnock Golf Club, in refusing to admit women as members, discriminates against women and is a "discriminating" club within the meaning of the Equal Status Act 2000.

The Portmarnock club discriminated against women, did not seek to deny that discrimination and sought to justify it, the Authority contended. A purposive interpretation of the ESA could only support an interpretation that Portmarnock was a discriminating club.

The Authority stated that the Equal Status Act, 2000 had set out to promote equality between men and women and to tackle discrimination. In some cases it prohibited it. In relation to registered clubs, it provided for the suspension of the certificate of registration.

A literal interpretation of the Act which gave words in section 8 and 9 of the Act their ordinary meaning resulted in the single and unavoidable conclusion that the Co Dublin club is a discriminating club for the purposes of the Act, it was submitted.

Portmarnock had to embark upon the most "artificial and unjustifiable evasions" of the literal meanings of the words in order to support the club's interpretation for which it contended.

In submissions elaborated on by Frank Callanan SC, for the Authority, it was stated that even if there was a need to depart from the literal meaning of the words used, it was clear that the purpose of the Act was to promote equality and prohibit discrimination.

The Authority is opposing an application by the club for a declaration that it is not a "discriminating" club within the provisions of the ESA. The proceedings by the club against the EA and the State were brought after the suspension last May of the club's drink licence for seven days.

This suspension was imposed by the District Court after that court held the club's rule excluding women was discriminatory but the suspension has been deferred pending the High Court's decision on legal and constitutional issues. In its submissions, the Authority argued that Portmarnock was not prohibited from discriminating against women.

However, it could not do so and at the same time hold a certificate of registration. The club had sought to rely on the constitutional right to freedom of association but, the Authority argued, section 6 of the ESA did not infringe the constitutional right of association. Article 40.6.1 (of the Constitution) provided that laws may be enacted for the regulation and control of that right in the public interest.

There was a public interest in promoting equality between men and women. If the section did interfere with the right of association, this was a constitutionally permitted regulation of that right. If one wished to form a club and exclude women, one must say so but one could not at the same time hold a certificate of registration for the purposes of the licensing laws. The hearing, before Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins, continues.