A Traveller couple who were refused service in a Co Dublin hotel on the day of their daughter's wedding were successful in a discrimination case they took against the hotel at Swords District Court today.
Thomas and Mary Mahon of Rivervalley Grove in Swords succeeded in convincing the court of their complaint against The White House Hotel on the Ashbourne Road, The Ward, Co Dublin.
They said they were refused service on February 15 by the bar manager Eddie Kinsella and owner Simon Ruthledge, after they made a booking to have an early meal with Mary's elderly mother and 25 friends on the day of their daughter's wedding.
Mary Mahon told the court her husband had booked a meal and paid a deposit of €190. However, she stated that the meal was not the wedding meal as the main wedding reception was taking place at a different hotel in Clonee, Co Meath.
She said the couple were regulars at the White House Hotel for nearly 14 years and never had any problems with staff nor other customers.
'My mother is elderly and had a stroke so we wanted to have an early meal for her and some friends after the wedding ceremony before we dropped my mother home,' Mrs Mahon told the court.
She added that the bride and groom were not in attendance for the early meal.
She said on her way to the bathroom she heard a staff member telling her husband that they cannot serve the group.
"We were told there was a wedding the day before at the hotel and a row broke out and a car was set alight in the car park but we explained to them that had nothing to do with us and we weren't at that wedding," Mrs Mahon added, stating that all the staff knew they were members of the Travelling community.
'We were left humiliated, ashamed and embarrassed and we haven't been back to the hotel since.
"We didn't make a scene and I didn't take back the deposit because I was so upset. I had to go home and make sandwiches and tea for my mother,' she added.
Under cross-examining by a barrister for the defendant, Mrs Mahon agreed that one of the people in her group was barred from the hotel for a previous incident.
The defence barrister put it to Mrs Mahon that the group were offered their meal if the man who was barred left but that the staff wouldn't be serving them alcohol. Mrs Mahon disagreed.
Mr Mahon told the court he did suggest to Mr Ruthledge that he would ask the man who was barred to leave, but claimed Mr Ruthledge said: "No, we are not having any of it."
"I did offer that none of us would drink alcohol but I believe the reason we were refused was because of the wedding and the trouble they had the day before," added Mr Mahon.
"I was seriously embarrassed as a human being and ashamed," he added.
"I was discriminated because I am a member of the Travelling community. I knew nothing of the wedding the day before and they had my number so they could have rung me to say they weren't taking a group booking that day."
The defence barrister put it to Mr Mahon that the reason they were refused service was because the man who was barred was in their company and they were told if he left, they would be served, to which Mr Mahon said: "No, that's not correct."
Bar manager Eddie Kinsella said he told Mr and Mrs McMahon that they would not be served because they were in the company of a man who was barred.
"It's premises policy that if someone who is barred is in the company of others, none of them would get served," he added.
"I told them of an incident here the day before just on the spur of the moment, but the reason they weren't being served was because their friend was barred. If this barred man left, I told them I would serve them food without alcohol."
"I would have said the same thing if it was another group of people," he added, saying that they have held four Traveller weddings since the incident.
Corina Greer, a waitress, gave evidence that the back room was reserved for the Mahon party and a man who was drunk, sitting at the bar, kept asking where is the wedding.
"We presumed it was a wedding as they (the Mahon's) had booked the wedding twice before but cancelled it," she said.
"I asked them why didn't they say it was the wedding as we would have put table clothes out etc., but then I recognised a man who was barred and rang Mr Kinsella to tell him."
Mr and Mrs Mahon's barrister said she doubts Mr Kinsella's "spur of the moment" reference to a Traveller wedding the previous day where trouble broke out, would have been made to another group.
The defence barrister said it is not the policy of the bar to discriminate.
However, Judge Dermot Dempsey said he was satisfied Mr and Mrs Mahon had successfully proved a prima facie case of discrimination by The White House Hotel.
"This is a clear case of a reaction to what happened at the wedding the previous day," said Judge Dempsey.
He awarded compensation of €1,500 each to Mr and Mrs Mahon for the "severe embarrassment and distressed caused", plus legal costs and the return of the €190 deposit.