The owners of the Charleville Park Hotel were successful in their appeal against a €22,000 award to a Traveller family who claimed that their failure to get emergency accommodation at the premises represented discrimination.
Bridget O’Reilly testified at Cork Circuit Court that she and her partner Philip O’Neill and their two children were officially declared homeless because their caravan in Charleville was deemed unfit for habitation.
Judge James O’Donohoe said after hearing the case in full on appeal that it all came down to the requirement to have a credit card. Bridget O’Reilly did not have one when she went to the reception to follow through with an online booking for three nights accommodation for herself, her partner and their children.
The judge said,
He said Pat McDonagh, owner of the hotel through his company Atlantic Troy Limited, had extensive business experience, not least in the running of six hotels including the Charleville Park.
The judge said that because of financial contingencies, the hotel required among its terms and conditions that the customer would present at reception with a credit card and photo ID.
He described the couple who made the complaint of discrimination as two highly respectable individuals. The judge said Bridget O’Reilly said she never knew anything about the need for a credit card until she arrived at reception. However, the judge said it was there in black and white when she booked online and it was a requirement of the booking.
He said that the claim of Traveller discrimination was only made at a later date.
“One telling factor in this case is that (Philip O’Neill) gave evidence that he was a patron of the hotel – albeit infrequently – and he had drinks in the premises and was a patron of the leisure club. He clearly caused no difficulty. If anything untoward had happened (the hotel would have known).”
The judge’s conclusion was that what happened was that the couple were disappointed when they brought their children to the hotel because they were homeless and it would have been a lift for them but they did not get to stay there. He said they had the alternative of another hotel.
“They probably decided they were discriminated against for other reasons but that was an ill-based perception by them. Mr McDonagh has provided Travellers accommodation in others and in this hotel.
Barrister James Charity said the company was not making an application for costs. The judge said he would not have granted that application if it had been made.
Sharon Dillon-Lyons barrister for the complainants submitted during the case that Ms O’Reilly presented at reception in the hotel with a community welfare officer who offered a Department of Social Protection cheque to pay in advance for the three nights of accommodation but this was not accepted at reception either. Nor was it accepted when Ms O’Reilly’s solicitor offered her own personal credit card at the time.
In terms of the hotel reception refusal of these payments on September 27 2018 Ms Dillon-Lyons submitted that the insistence on the customer’s own credit card – as distinct from Visa debit card – was “a tool used to stop people in receipt of homeless assistance” from getting accommodation in the hotel.
In the defence submission it was stated: “We have accommodated and continue to accommodate persons from all walks of life in our hotels. The background of the persons involved had nothing whatsoever to do with the circumstances that persisted on the occasion.”
Ms O’Reilly said during the case that after a “two-year battle with the county council” she and her family now have their own house in Charleville.