Vintners are accused of 'cynicism' on Equal Status Act


The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has accused the Vintners Federation of "a cynical campaign of misinformation" about the Equal Status Act.

This follows denunciations of the Act at the vintners' conference last week, and a war of words between the organisation and the Equality Authority, which has defended it.

Last week the vintners' conference unanimously carried a motion expressing concern at the manner in which the Equal Status Act is being implemented. It condemned as unreasonable some of the decisions of the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations and demanded that the VFI take the strongest possible action to defend its members.

This followed three recent cases in which publicans were found to be in breach of the Act.

In the third, and most controversial case, John Maughan v The Glimmerman, Dublin, an equality officer ruled that publicans must serve people accompanied by their children under 18 years old. Mr Maughan, a traveller and visually impaired, had been refused service in the evening when accompanied by his 13-year-old son.

In the wake of this judgment the Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, referred the Equal Status Act to the Commission on Liquor Licensing, under the chairmanship of Mr Gordon Holmes, a Limerick solicitor.

This move was greeted with surprise by the chief executive of the Equality Authority, Mr Niall Crowley, who pointed out that this commission is dominated by representatives of the licensed trade, and has no representatives of the groups protected by the Act.

He also said at the time that such a reference was premature, as there were a number of other cases where the "family status" ground in the anti-discrimination legislation would be tested and which could clarify the law on the matter. He pointed out that the equality officer's judgment had not been appealed to court, which could have made a more authoritative statement of the law.

In the ICCL statement Mr Liam Herrick said any review of the Act should be undertaken by the Equality Authority and that this concession to the vintners' lobby was inappropriate.

Mr Liam Herrick of the ICCL said: "The Act clearly sets out that a publican has the right to refuse anybody who is a danger to themselves, the staff or other customers and the right to refuse anybody who interferes with the publican's duty to run an orderly house. The real question is what other justifiable ground can publicans have for refusing to serve somebody"

Mr Herrick said there was a deep irony in vintners wanting absolute discretion to refuse members of minorities when there was a widespread problem of publicans failing in their duty to refuse service to customers who were intoxicated.