One of Ireland’s most prestigious golf clubs today won a legal bid to refuse women full membership.
The exclusive Portmarnock Golf Club in north Co Dublin went before Dublin’s Supreme Court as equality chiefs made a final attempt to get the club to change its rules.
Women can play at the course and pay green fees, but are not allowed to become full members.
Three of five judges who heard the case dismissed the challenge and ruled Portmarnock was a gentlemen’s club where golf was played.
Outside the court Joanna McMinn, of the Equality and Rights Alliance, called for equality legislation to be changed and updated.
She said the result was a bad day for equality and a bad day for women.
“It sends out a message that discrimination continues and this judgment upholds inequality for women,” said Ms McMinn.
“The exclusivity of Portmarnock is just a symptom of that.”
The action, which centred on a section of the Equal Status Act, was aimed at overturning a High Court ruling made three years ago which backed the club’s regulations.
The golf club had also had its alcohol licence suspended for a week in 2004 for refusing to accept female members.
But during the Supreme Court hearing last December a barrister for Portmarnock Golf Club argued that while the activity of the club was golf, its purpose was to cater for men only and on this basis it refused membership to women.
Counsel for the Equality Authority felt the club must allow women and men to become full members because it was “not a social club created for pure male society fraternity companionships”.
In his judgment Mr Justice Hugh Geoghegan said as Portmarnock provided external facilities it was not discriminating.
“Entitlement of female non-members to play golf in Portmarnock is not a point that is either helpful in argument to the club or to the Equality Authority on the points at issue,” he said.
Ms Justice Susan Denham, one of two judges who found against the club, said Portmarnock was a discriminating club as its principal purpose was golf.
“Portmarnock Golf Club is exactly what its name says – a golf club in Portmarnock,” she said.
“It caters for men and women in different ways. I would allow the appeal.”