The new Progressive Democrats TD for Galway West, Mr Noel Grealish, has called for legislative change to allow publicans the right to refuse members of the Travelling community.
The Mayor of Galway, Cllr Val Hanley (Fianna Fáil), has also expressed fears that lives could be lost if publicans are not permitted the right to keep an orderly house. The Galway Travellers' Support Group (GTSG) has condemned the comments and questioned whether Mr Grealish's views reflect PD party policy now.
Mr Grealish, who took the seat held by the former minister, Mr Robert Molloy, at the last election, said he was "disgusted" at the violence which took place in Clarenbridge, Co Galway, last Friday night. Two people were charged after up to 50 people were reported to have been involved in disturbances, when a row broke out during a wedding in the Oyster Manor Hotel. Gardaí had to call in reinforcements to quell the violence.
Mr Grealish said he was supporting publicans in Sligo and Mayo who were trying to put a clause into the Equal Status Act that gave them the right to refuse service to members of the Travelling community.
Publicans were "damned if they do, and damned if they don't" in relation to the legislation and ran the risk of being fined if they imposed a ban, or of having customers intimidated and staff threatened, or attacked if they did not, he said.
"Under the legislation, the Oyster Manor Hotel can't refuse such a booking," Mr Grealish said. However, there should be Garda back-up for such weddings, or an adequate security presence which could be paid for by the families involved and which could help to deal with a situation which might arise until the Garda arrived.
Cllr Hanley, who is public relations officer for the Connacht branch of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI), said he supported the Equal Status Act, but publicans should be afforded the right to keep an orderly house. Rows were happening on premises too frequently, and he feared that lives could be lost.
"The violence in Clarenbridge was not started by the family which had the wedding, but unfortunately there are a minority of Travellers who are abusing the legislation," Mr Hanley said. "A very small grouping is giving everyone else a bad name".
Ms Margaret Ó Riada of the Galway Travellers' Support Group (GTSG) said her organisation was dismayed at such comments. .
"We don't condone the violence that took place last weekend, but the comments made by Deputy Grealish and Mayor Hanley are fuelling an already heated debate." Earlier this week, the blanket ban on serving Travellers was lifted by publicans in Westport, Co Mayo. The Mayo Travellers' Support Group intends to oppose the renewal of some publicans' licences at the annual licensing court on September 19th.