A homeless traveller family were awarded €22,000 by the Workplace Relations Commission in 2018 in a case they brought against a hotel in cork owned by Supermac’s Pat McDonagh. They successfully claimed the hotel had discriminated against them be refusing accommodation to them.
The Circuit Court in Cork upheld the appeal of the hotel last week and ruled there was no discrimination.
In 2018 the traveller family were assessed as homeless and a Community Welfare Officer (CWO) in Cork rang the hotel to book three nights’ accommodation for them. The CWO was told there was no availability.
However, Bridget O’Reilly, the mother in the family, went online and booked three nights’ accommodation in her husband’s name and used a debit card to make the booking.
When she went to the hotel the next day to check in the receptionist told her she needed a credit card as this was the company policy.
At the Circuit Court last week Ms O’Reilly accepted, under cross examination, that the booking form included a requirement that the customer would pay by credit card. She accepted she had not seen this when making the booking.
Ms O’Reilly’s husband, Philip O’Neill, gave evidence that he had previously drunk in the hotel and was a member of the leisure centre in the hotel.
It was the travellers’ case that they were being discriminated against on two grounds:
- That they were in receipt of housing assistance and
- They were members of the Travelling community
It was their case that the hotel had this rule concerning the requirement for a credit card as a tool to refuse accommodation to members of the travelling community and/or those in receipt of housing assistance.
Pat McDonagh, owner of Supermacs, gave evidence that the group owned six hotels and they had the policy of insisting on credit cards as a way to provide security against any costs or fees that guests might incur.
The Judge in the case said the case came down to the requirement for guests to have a credit card and Ms O’Reilly had misread the terms and conditions when making the booking. She did not have one when she went to reception to follow through with her booking.
He also noted Mr O’Neill’s evidence that he had previously drunk in the hotel bar and was a member of the leisure club in the hotel. This was inconsistent with a prima facie case of discrimination against members of the Travelling community.
He said that Ms O’Reilly and Mr O’Neill were “two highly respectable individuals” but they were mistaken in thinking that discrimination was central to the refusal to accommodate them. It came down to their failure to have a credit card in accordance with the hotel’s policy and the terms and conditions of the online booking form.
He overturned the WRC award of €22,000 for discrimination.
He did not make any order as to costs and noted that Ms O’Reilly and Mr O’Neill have now secured council accommodation and wished them well for the future.