Cork hotel ordered to pay €11,000 for turning away Traveller family celebrating Confirmation

Cork Hotel Ordered To Pay €11,000 For Turning Away Traveller Family Celebrating Confirmation
The Workplace Relations Commission ruled the Oriel House Hotel discriminated against the group when they were turned away despite having a booking. Photo: iStock
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Gordon Deegan

A four-star hotel has been ordered to pay out a total of €11,000 in compensation after declining to host a Traveller’s girl Confirmation celebration due to "overbooking".

At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudicator Thomas O’Driscoll ordered the pay-out after finding that Oriel House Hotel Ltd, trading as the Oriel House Hotel, discriminated against three individuals under the Equal Status Act on the grounds that two of them are members of the Traveller community.


The Oriel House Hotel in Ballincollig, Co Cork is a member of the Talbot Collection hotel group.

The mother of the girl celebrating her Confirmation, Margaret O’Sullivan, stated her daughter was making her Confirmation on July 6th, 2021, and it was decided they would celebrate the occasion by booking rooms and having a meal at the Oriel House Hotel.

On the day in question, Ms O’Sullivan booked four rooms, an evening meal and breakfast for the party of guests, for which she paid €600 upfront with a Visa card.

However, when the O’Sullivan party arrived at the hotel reception desk on the day of the celebrations, the receptionist said: “Sorry we’re overbooked.”


The receptionist then told Ms O’Sullivan that the rooms were being cleaned after she said she had a reservation.

The hotel manager arrived shortly after to confirm that there was an overbooking and accommodation could not be provided.


Ms O’Sullivan told the hearing that when she told the children they could not stay at the hotel, “they became terribly upset and started crying”.

Ms O’Sullivan said they were “scurried” out of the hotel lobby, in what she felt was a humiliating way, in front of other people.


Ms O’Sullivan said she felt it was quite clear that the managers wanted them off the premises as soon as possible.

Ms O’Sullivan said an assistant manager followed them to the car park and asked her sister, Theresa O’Sullivan, if she wanted the €600 back in cash.

When Theresa O’Sullivan replied “yes”, the assistant manager took out a wad of cash amounting to €600 and handed it over.

Ms O’Sullivan told the WRC of how humiliated and hurt she felt by the hotel's refusal of accommodation, adding that her children were deeply upset and the older one, especially, knew the reason for the refusal.


Ms O’Sullivan arranged for her children to go to the cinema that night to forget what had happened, but they came away early from the film because they were so distressed, she said.

Asked by her solicitor, Sinead Lucey, of the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), as to how the hotel staff might identify her as a Traveller, Ms O’Sullivan said she “talks like a Traveller and looks like a Traveller”.

Ms O’Sullivan spoke of being proud of being a Traveller and her Traveller culture. She outlined how Travellers like to dress up for special occasions, especially the girls, who were wearing distinctive dresses and jewellery on the day.

'Hard to accept'

In his findings, Mr O’Driscoll stated that even if there had been an overbooking, it was “hard to accept that the practice of a four-star hotel would be to corral discommoded guests with children, who were not members of the Traveller community, quickly out of the lobby in front of other people and offer them a substantial wad of notes as a rebate in the car-park”.


“This was done without any offer of food, though a meal was booked, despite having told them that their rooms were being cleaned and to wait a while in the lobby,” he added.

Mr O’Driscoll said he was satisfied that the three complainants, Margaret O’Sullivan, Theresa O’Sullivan and Joseph O’Donovan, who is Margaret O’Sullivan’s long-term partner but is not a Traveller, felt “humiliated and embarrassed” when they were ushered out of the hotel after the great disappointment of not being able to celebrate an especially important occasion.

Mr O’Driscoll ordered the hotel to pay Margaret O’Sullivan €5,000 for discriminating against her, €3,000 to Theresa O’Sullivan and €3,000 to Joseph O’Donovan, as he was associated with members of the Traveller community on the day and was also discriminated against.

In his findings, Mr O’Driscoll found that Margaret and Theresa O’Sullivan’s membership of the Traveller community was the material fact as to why they were denied accommodation and meals at the hotel.

The hotel denied discrimination and stated there had made a mistake in taking the reservation on the day the late booking was made.

The hotel also rejected that the O’Sullivan party were easily identifiable as Travellers to hotel staff.

In evidence, the hotel manager said she had no idea the O’Sullivans were members of the Traveller community, adding that Travellers had regularly attended the hotel for various events prior to the day in question.

In his findings, Mr O’Driscoll said he felt the hotel manager’s evidence that there was an overbooking was unconvincing.

Mr O’Driscoll also said the manager’s evidence that she had no idea that the O’Sullivans were members of the Traveller community was not plausible.

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