Traveller Women Bereaved by Suicide Win Case For Refusal of Admission to an “Aware” Fundraising Event

On January 17th Killarney a District Court Judge in Killarney found in favor of two Traveller women in their case against a licensed premises McSorley’s, Killarney who refused them entry to a fundraising event in February 2013 in aid of Aware, the depression support organisation. The Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre represented both women who had been widowed by suicide in the previous 3 months and 2 years.

Linda Mongan and Margaret Rose O Neill had purchased tickets in advance, but were told by the door man that no such charity event was on, despite them witnessing many people entering the venue for the event. They and separately upwards of 40 other Travellers most with tickets were also refused admission causing considerable upset among Travellers living in the community, where there has been a high rate of suicide.

Margaret Rose O Neill said, “We were reluctant to attend the event but were encouraged to go by our families as it was to raise funds for depression. Both of our husbands died by suicide and between us we have lost over 6 members of our extended family in the same way. I had been involved in supporting bereavement and mental health charities, attended charity events during suicide month, cake sales and family fun days, but to be refused access to this event, ticket in hand, because I am a Traveller was devastating. I have experienced discrimination many times in my life and in Killarney town, but this experience caused so much hurt to both of us, to our families and friends, we felt no other choice but to take it to court”.

Susan Fay, Managing Solicitor of the Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre representing Linda Mongan and Margaret Rose O Neill, said: “Approximately half of all enquiries to the Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre relate to discrimination against Travellers accessing licensed premises. The introduction of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 presented significantly greater obstacles for litigants taking cases as it transferred cases of discrimination complaints under the nine grounds protected in the Equal Status Acts (as amended) where the discrimination took place on or at the point of entry to the licensed premises, from the Equality Tribunal to the District Court. As such, technical court procedures and the fact that unlike the Equality Tribunal, the District Court is held in public and costs orders can be made if a claimant is unsuccessful, often dissuades litigants from taking and continuing actions. These two women have shown tremendous strength and courage to seek to have the wrong that was done unto them highlighted and shows the particular difficulties Travellers are faced with, in particular with respect to mental health challenges and suicide”

Brigid Quilligan Director of the Irish Traveller Movement and Killarney resident said: “Travellers in Ireland and in Killarney have long been refused access to events and services because of their identity. Sadly, while we challenge this, it is a daily reality, but this case sent shockwaves through the community. Travellers have been devastated by an abnormally high rate of suicide, 6 times more prevalent than the non Traveller community and a high incidence in Kerry in particular. Suicide, whether you are black or white, Traveller or Non Traveller, male or female, young or old; devastates and it is in this context that this two young women decided to support a fundraiser for an important cause like Aware. At their lowest ebb, they were humiliated, hurt and confused by an ignorant action of discrimination, and in their own home town. Ongoing indiscriminate “refusal of entry” to Travellers continues throughout every town in Ireland. It required great courage and personal cost for Linda and Margaret to take this case which highlights that everyday reality for Travellers despite the Equal Status Legislation.”

Suicide and Travellers
The suicide rate among Traveller men is six times the national average and accounts for 11 per cent of all Traveller deaths (The All-Ireland Traveller Health Study 2010). Traveller’s position in Irish society and the long term impact of ongoing social isolation and oppression, racism and discrimination is a major contributing factor to the issues which impact their health and wellbeing. Depression, as the highest risk factor for suicide is therefore a factor in the high incidence, however other factors are also relevant related to the social determinants affecting Travellers lives including, high unemployment, poor accommodation, poverty, educational disadvantage, lifestyle and engagement with services. Addressing suicide in the community requires a range of long term approaches, based on improving delivery of services in an equitable and culturally appropriate way, actively targeting Travellers as a patient group and addressing the specific risk factors which may pertain to Travellers. There are (40,000) Travellers in Ireland, 36,000 (10,618 families) in the Republic and 4,000 (1,562 families) in Northern Ireland (All Ireland Traveller Health Study 2010).

The Equal Status Acts (as amended)
The Equal Status Act, 2000 outlaw discrimination in employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services and other opportunities to which the public generally have access on nine distinct grounds. These are: gender; civil status; family status; age; disability; race; sexual orientation; religious belief; and membership of the Traveller Community.

Discrimination
Discrimination is described in the Act as the treatment of a person in a less favourable way than another person is, has been or would be treated on any of the above grounds.

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