By David Hennessy
Holiday resort chain Pontins kept an “undesirable guest” list of Irish surnames to keep travellers out of its holiday parks.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last week ruled Pontins was “directly discriminating on the basis of race” and breached the 2010 Equality Act.
A whistleblower claimed staff at the chain monitored calls and refused or cancelled bookings made by certain people with an Irish accent or surname, and Pontins’ commercial vehicle policy excluded Gypsies and Travellers from its holiday parks.
The news was met with outrage last week with some even saying it was reminiscent of signs that read, ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’.
One charity that supports the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community told The Irish World that signs telling travellers they are not welcome can still be seen despite it being illegal to post such signs.
Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of the Traveller Movement told The Irish World: “We were shocked and disgusted by this blatantly racist policy. We do see and hear about this racism every day in our work. Gypsies and Travellers are treated like this every day, up and down the country. It’s not new, but many choose to ignore.
“In our view, it is simply unacceptable that in this day and age a business thinks it can get away with this type of thing. Our research The Last Acceptable Form of Racism, showed that over 90% of Gypsies and Travellers have experienced discrimination. Pontins Holiday Parks is just the tip of iceberg.
“Irish Travellers are rightfully outraged at this blatant infringement of their rights. A slap on the wrist and diversity training will not address these deep rooted issues! We are calling for a public and unreserved apology. This is the very least they can do, given the upset and distress they have caused to Irish Traveller people.”
Jenni Berlin, manager of the Equality and Social Justice Unit at Traveller Movement, told The Irish World: “Sadly these types of cases are commonplace and happen all the time. We’ve heard of holiday parks cancelling bookings when they learn the client is a traveller. We get reports of services putting up ‘No Travellers’ signs despite the fact it’s completely illegal.
“Travellers are also refused services in pubs, restaurants, petrol stations, car insurance companies, hair salons, gyms, churches and the list goes on. The depth of anti-Traveller racism and discrimination in this country is so deeply embedded that Travellers are exhausted from it.
“Most of the clients we work with settle their cases and sign a non-disclosure agreement, which stops us publicising the results for the wider public. The Pontins case is really just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission found Pontins owner Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited declined to provide its services to guests of a certain race or ethnic group.
The legal action came after the whistleblower exposed a number of practices at the budget holiday chain.
A block of Irish surnames was published on Pontins’ intranet page – with staff asked to block potential bookings from the “undesirable” list.
This included names such as Boyle, Keefe, Gallagher, McGuinness, Murphy, O’Reilly Carr, Doherty and O’Donnell and more common Irish names.
Pontins commercial vehicle policy also excluded “Gypsies and travellers” from its UK parks.
Boris Johnson’s office condemned the blacklist as “completely unacceptable”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “No-one in the UK should be discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity.
“It’s right that the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Pontins investigate and address this.”
Also quick to issue a response was the MP Conor McGinn who saw his own surname on the list.
Conor McGinn took to Twitter to say: “Irony: Pontins recently lobbied me to support its sites reopening, but would have banned me & my kids from staying there if they had.
“The list of surnames is ludicrous, but the intent behind it is no laughing matter. Nothing but the same old story, eh?”
As part of the legal agreement, Pontins must investigate the “undesirable guests” list, take appropriate action and ensure lessons are learned.
It has also been ordered to launch a review into its booking and commercial vehicle policy and consider any recommendations, as well as providing equality and diversity training for staff each year.
If it does not adhere to these terms, the EHRC can launch a full investigation.
Alastair Pringle, EHRC executive director, said: “It is hard not to draw comparisons with an undesirable guests list and the signs displayed in hotel windows 50 years ago, explicitly barring Irish people and black people.
“Banning people from services based on their race is discrimination and is unlawful. To say that such policies are outdated is an understatement.
“It is right to challenge such practices and any business that believes this is acceptable should think again before they find themselves facing legal action.
“We will continue to work with Pontins and Britannia Jinky Jersey to ensure that our agreement is adhered to and its practices improve.”
A spokesperson from Britannia Jinky Jersey said: “Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited has agreed to work together with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to further enhance its staff training and procedures in order to further promote equality throughout its business.”
Mike McGing of Brent Irish Advisory Service told The Irish World: “We all know discrimination is unlawful but this highlights that discrimination against Travellers is the so called “last form of acceptable racism”. Any Traveller refused entry should sue them for every penny and rightly so.
“There is a broader Irish issue here because the are Irish people other than Travellers with those surnames and there is apparent discrimination also in the identification of Irish accents as a disqualification criteria for entry into Pontins.
“It is sad the story appears to have almost sunk without trace already but I guess we watch this space.”
Research by the charity Friends, Families and Travellers suggests that nearly half of adults in the UK express negative attitudes toward Gypsies, Roma and Traveller people with hate crime being the most common issue reported to the police.
In 2017 EHRC said that Gypsies and Travellers were “one of the most deprived groups in the Britain” in terms of health and education.