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Traveller woman wins discrimination case against pub

A Travellers’ rights advocate has won a discrimination case and must get €6,500 compensation and an apology from the head of JD Wetherspoons after the chain’s Dún Laoghaire pub refused to serve her a drink.

“I felt such an equal walking into that pub, and horrible walking out,” Margaret O’Leary told Dublin District Court as she recalled her interaction with staff in The Forty Foot.

She described it as a significant achievement when the director of her organisation, Southside Travellers Action Group, received recognition for their work on 7 June last year.

Ms O’Leary had been attending a civic function hosted by former education minister Mary Hanafin, then Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

Later, she left the council building, crossed the road and entered The Forty Foot pub, operated by JD Wetherspoons, where she was refused a drink.

The former government minister and a retired garda testified that Ms O’Leary had not been intoxicated on the night.

Judge Nicola Jane Andrews found there was discrimination on Ms O’Leary’s special night and it was on the basis that she was a member of the Travelling community.

“And listening to Ms O’Leary in the box in evidence, she is identifiable as a member of the travelling community; she is proud of her accent as she should be,” Judge Andrews said.

She ordered the pub chain to pay €6,500 to the claimant, plus legal costs, and she directed the head of JD Wetherspoons to write a letter of apology to Ms O’Leary and the Southside Travellers Action Group.

The application was brought under Section 19 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 and the Equal Status Act 2000. Penalties can include temporary closure of the premises or compensation at the district court.

Ms O’Leary told her barrister Aoife Sheehan (instructed by Vincent Toher & Co solicitors) that she believed she was refused because she was a Traveller.

Earlier, various community organisations were honoured at the council buildings, including Geraldine Dunne, director of Southside Travellers Action Group.

Ms O’Leary recalled she had two glasses of wine, and after the event, people headed to The Forty Foot pub.

However, she held back briefly to chat with Councillor Hanafin to say she kept a photo taken with her years ago as the education minister.

She explained that she had left school early but later returned to education, and Ms Hanafin had come to her graduation.

Then she went to the pub to join Geraldine Dunne, Ms Dunne’s husband, and others from the ceremony.

She entered alone and went to order a drink, but the first barman told her, “Not tonight”, and “I’m not serving you”.

A duty manager from The Forty Foot, Jamie Malone, later refused to serve her, claiming she was too drunk and slurring her words, but the judge held that his evidence was not credible.

Ms O’Leary said that she pleaded with the barman not to embarrass her in front of the prestigious people from the event earlier.

“I went back to the table mortified,” she said.

It was an important day for her organisation; she explained: “You are fighting for Travellers’ and women’s rights, and you are going against the grain. I felt such an equal going into that pub and horrible walking out.”

Her group went to another establishment in the locality.

Mary Hanafin testified that Ms O’Leary was “completely coherent and completely cogent”.

The politician sent a written complaint to the pub chain after various people contacted her overnight and the following day about what had happened with Ms O’Leary in The Forty Foot after the awards.

Retired Garda JP Durkan was at the ceremony and in the pub afterwards; he said she was “definitely not drunk” and could not have had more than two glasses of wine.

Geraldine Dunne, her colleague, and Ms Dunne’s husband were the only travellers there.

Ms Dunne agreed that she had been served a drink, but said a member of the settled community had ordered the round.

Ms Sheehan submitted that there was no credible basis to believe that Ms O’Leary was drunk, given the independent evidence of the councillor and retired Garda Durkan.

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