THE Irish Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by The Equality Authority that women be admitted to membership of Portmarnock Golf Club in County Dublin under the Equal Status Act. It was a split 3:2 decision.
This issue consumed a great deal of the resources and crusading zeal of The Equality Authority and was seen by some as a litmus test for the future of the equality agenda.
The case made its debut at the District Court in November 2003 who found in February 2004 that Portmarnock Golf Club did breach the Act by excluding women from membership. The Club’s licence to sell alcohol was suspended for seven days the following May, although the execution of this suspension was deferred until the legal processes had reached finality.
The High Court, in June 2005, overturned the decision of the District Court and supported the Club’s contention that the Equal Status Act interfered with the right of members to enjoy freedom of association.
The Equality Authority appealed the High Court ruling last year arguing that golf is not peculiar to men. This was countered with the argument that the networking opportunities afforded through Club membership essentially restricted women unduly.
The 2009 budget of The Equality Authority was reduced by 43% to €3.3 million. The chief executive, Niall Crowley resigned and was replaced by a former principal officer from the Department of Equality, Justice and Law Reform, Miss Renee Dempsey. She was reported at the time of her appointment of bringing “a wide range of experience across several government departments”. But perhaps the most vital aspect of her experience is an understanding of the mindset of the sponsoring government department where she previously worked.
When The Equality Authority awarded €3,500 to a former pupil of Dunmore Community School in County Galway last February on the grounds that he was discriminated against when he refused to have a hair cut, in compliance of school regulations, I felt outraged. An award of €3,500 in response to an exclamation to a young male pupil having a “girl’s hair style” and wanting to be “a trend setter”! They could have awarded this person €30 million and the basic facts would not be transmuted, so why was any money awarded, I wondered? I also speculated will the recipient of this award sue every employer or every public institution that is perceived to impede him on the grounds that his hair is long? If so, that could harm his employment prospects in the current climate.
I believed the time time had come last February for a priorities to reviewed, especially when splashing out taxpayers money is concerned and that perhaps fresh adult supervision at The equality Authority would consolidate that process I shared my views then with the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Chairman of The Equality Authority. The position of chief executive had been vacant at that time but was filled following ‘an open, competitive and public process’. The public profile of The Equality Authority has subsequently been less strident although a ricocheted gauntlet relating to its budget was been thrown at the annual conference of The Green Party.
Any further change will be a matter for the Oireachtas. Portmarnock Golf Club can continue to sell alcohol on its premises now that the legal process has reached finality.