Undertaker refused to take body of Traveller

Pavee Point has described as "despicable" the refusal by a funeral home to take the body of a teenage Traveller.

The family of Aaron Joyce, 14, from Ashbourne, Co Meath, won a landmark discrimination ruling by the Equality Tribunal against the undertaker, Michael Ryan Funeral Directors.

The teenager suffered from a degenerative liver condition and died at King’s College Hospital in London on Christmas Eve in 2011. Two months before his death, his mother Ann donated part of her liver in a bid to save his life.

The tribunal awarded the maximum compensation of €6,384 under the Equal Status Acts to the boy’s family because they were refused access to a funeral home in Ashbourne to repose their son.

Pavee Point co-director Martin Collins said that, in his 30 years of being involved in Traveller politics, he had never heard of anything as shocking and repulsive.

“It is a new low for Irish society that something like this could happen to a 14-year-old boy and his parents. It is despicable,” said Mr Collins.

The boy’s parents wanted to repose his body in the Ashbourne funeral home because the boy lived in the town.

“He went to school in the town and all his friends lived there,” said Mr Collins. It was his dying wish that his body be reposed in Ashbourne but that was denied to him.”

The undertaker had initially agreed to allow his funeral home to be used to wake the teenager but then refused to take the boy’s body because the family were members of the Traveller community.

Aaron’s body was taken to Jennings funeral home in Coolock, Dublin, but many of his friends never got a chance to say goodbye.

The boy’s mother said she was happy with the tribunal’s decision. “Aaron would not have like what happened with the funeral parlour,” she said. “He would have been the first one to go in there and say: ‘Why did you do this?’ ”

Both Pavee Point and the Equality Authority supported the Joyce family in bringing the case.

Mr Collins said the family wanted to make it clear that the case was never about money but about honouring Aaron’s memory and giving some dignity and respect back to him. “Every last cent of the compensation will be donated to the Make a Wish Foundation,” said Mr Collins.

Chief commissioner designate of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Emily Logan, welcomed the tribunal’s decision. “The family has suffered a great loss with the death of their son and this was compounded by the discrimination that they experienced at the time of his burial,” she said.

“We hope that the outcome of the case can bring some closure to them and will prevent such discrimination being repeated in service provision.”


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