The Commission stated that the law, as it stands, disproportionately impacts groups such as disabled people and members of the Traveller and Roma communities who’re turned away from the doors of licensed venues such as pubs, restaurants and clubs.
The Commission’s recommendation is contained in a detailed review of the adequacy and effectiveness of Section 19 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 against human rights and equality standards.
While the vast majority of discrimination issues are heard by the Workplace Relations Commission there’s an exception in Section 19 which sees alleged discrimination in entry to bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other places that serve alcohol forced into the District Courts rather than the WRC.
This sees the complainant having to hire lawyers and proceed through the more adversarial and challenging atmosphere of a court to seek redress which makes “the enforcement of important rights excessively difficult and in some cases virtually impossible” states the Commission.
One such case legally supported by the Commission in 2019 saw a pub customer with a brain tumour being asked to leave a premises where he’d been celebrating the end of rehabilitative treatment. The man’s condition caused a limp and this was interpreted by staff as signs of intoxication. Despite explaining his disability directly to staff, the man was still asked to leave which caused him significant distress and embarrassment. The Commission provided direct legal representation to the man in his application to the District Court for redress under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003. The matter was settled without a court hearing.
Minorities “effectively prevented” from receiving adequate access to justice
Data provided by the Courts Service also indicates that a vast majority of the proceedings instituted in the District Court under the ILA 2003 were either struck out or withdrawn. An extremely small number of cases resulted in an Order for compensation – 11 in total during the period of 2017-2019, states the Commission. Under the old regime (whereby 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.
In particular, these instances disproportionately impact members of the Traveller and Roma Communities and other groups such as disabled people who’re effectively prevented from receiving adequate access to justice.
“We need to ask why there’s 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,” stated Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney, “This is a systemic equality issue which must be removed if we’re to achieve equal access to justice.
“We maintain our longstanding position that the current mechanism is not fit for purpose. Multiple international human rights monitoring bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, have also criticised the State for failing to take actions to effect this change.
“We’ve made it clear to Government that victims of discrimination deserve access to efficient and clear mechanisms to seek justice. Anything less is unacceptable.”
The full report from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the covering letter to the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality, Integration and Youth are available at: