FLAC welcomes settlement of Circuit Court Discrimination Case taken by a woman of Romani heritage against An Garda Síochána
14 October 2021
A discrimination case taken by Professor Ethel Brooks, against An Garda Síochána on foot of an interaction with a member of An Garda Síochána at Dublin Airport reached settlement this morning before the Circuit Court. Professor Brooks was represented by FLAC.
The incident occurred when Professor Brooks visited Ireland in August 2017 to participate in a Roma Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration. Professor Brooks is of Romani heritage. She is Associate Professor of the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA and Chair of the European Roma Rights Centre.
Professor Brooks’ complaint against An Garda Síochána under the Equal Status Acts was heard in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in April 2019. In her evidence before the WRC, Professor Brooks recounted how a member of An Garda Síochána, acting as an Immigration Officer, made disparaging remarks about the Roma and Traveller community. Professor Brooks was shocked and distressed by the comments, which were reported in a national newspaper on the following day.
The WRC dismissed the complaint on the basis of a failure to comply with the strict notification requirement under the Equal Status Acts. Professor Brooks appealed that decision to the Circuit Court.
Counsel for An Garda Síochána informed the Circuit Court on Thursday, 14 October 2021, that the parties to the action had reached a settlement agreement which was read out to the Court. In the settlement agreement, An Garda Síochána have:
- Acknowledged that Professor Brooks was distressed and offended by her experience with An Garda Síochána whilst going through immigration in Dublin Airport, and that all persons should be treated with courtesy and respect regardless of background or ethnicity.
- Agreed to make a financial contribution to Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre.
- Committed to the provision of training to all members of An Garda Síochána in relation to their responsibilities under the Equal Status Acts.
FLAC Managing Solicitor, Sinéad Lucey commented today:
“The manner in which Professor Brooks was treated was appalling, but not surprising. Callers to FLAC’s Roma Legal Clinic frequently seek legal advice in relation to experiences of discrimination, including discrimination by public bodies. Results of an internal survey of Garda attitudes to ethnic minorities, which were published in the Irish Times in August 2020, showed that almost 75% of frontline members surveyed had poor opinions of the Roma Community.
FLAC very much welcomes the settlement of this important case taken by Professor Brooks and the commitments made by An Garda Síochána in the settlement agreement. We hope that the commitments made by An Garda Síochána will assist in addressing the negative attitudes and systemic issues which allow such incidents to occur in the first place.
Professor Brooks’ appeal to the Circuit Court raised significant issues of law concerning the extent to which the prohibition of discrimination under the Equal Status Acts applies to An Garda Síochána, as well in relation to the requirement for complainants to notify respondents of their intention to make a complaint which is subject to an extremely strict time limit. The Government’s ongoing review of Equality Law must bring about the removal of the existing procedural barriers to taking discrimination complaints, as well as ensuring that all public bodies including An Garda Síochána are included within the ambit of equality legislation to the fullest extent possible.”
Professor Brooks commented:
“I was very shocked and distressed by the comments made to me by An Garda Síochána on that date in 2017, and was quite shaken by the whole experience. It was something I never expected. Now I realise it's indicative of the racism and discrimination that Travellers and Roma face every day in Ireland.”
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an Irish human rights organisation, which exists to promote equal access to justice.
FLAC operates a dedicated Roma Legal Clinic and a Traveller Legal Service. In 2020, one-quarter of FLAC’s active casefiles arising from the Roma Legal Clinic concerned discrimination.
The Equal Status Acts
The Equal Status Acts 2000-2018 prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods and services, accommodation and education on the nine grounds of gender, marital status, family status, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, religion, and membership of the Traveller community.
The definition of “services” in section 2 of the Equal Status Acts is broad enough to include the services provided by public bodies. However, the scope of the Acts does not extend to the performance of the functions of public bodies generally. Therefore, it is unclear to what extent the Equal Status Acts apply to public authorities, such as An Garda Síochána, performing public functions which may not come within the definition of “services” but which may nonetheless have a great impact on lives.
Before a complaint can be lodged under the Equal Status Acts, section 21(2) of that legislation requires a complainant to notify the respondent of their intention to make a complaint. This notification must be made within two months of the alleged incident of discrimination. An analysis undertaken by FLAC of all published WRC decisions on Equal Status complaints between 2015 and 2019, shows that the number of complaints which were unsuccessful on the basis of a failure to comply with the notification requirement is increasing year on year.
Further research undertaken by FLAC suggests that the notification requirement is unique to complaints under the Equal Status Acts. The WRC deals with complaints under several pieces of legislation, none of which have a comparable notification requirement. The requirement is similarly out of step with discrimination complaint mechanisms in other EU jurisdictions. Any justification for the notification requirement is unclear. In practice, it represents an arbitrary administrative barrier to the prosecution of discrimination complaints which should be removed.
In June 2021, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth announced that his Department would conduct a comprehensive review of Ireland’s equality code with a view to “[bringing] legislative proposals to Government in 2022”. This will constitute the first full review of the Equal Status Acts and Employment Equality Acts since their introduction over twenty years ago.
US professor alleges racist outburst by immigration officer, The Irish Times (3 August 2017): https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/us-professor-alleges-racist-outburst-by-immigration-officer-1.3174917
Gardaí have negative view of Travellers, survey finds, The Irish Times (20 August 2020): https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/garda%C3%AD-have-negative-view-of-travellers-survey-finds-1.4334274