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Portmarnock loses licence over discrimination

One of Ireland’s top golf courses will lose its licence to sell alcoholic beverages for a week because it discriminates against women, a Dublin judge ruled yesterday.

But District Court Judge Mary Collins said her sanction - the first of its kind imposed on a private club in Ireland - will be imposed only if Ireland’s second-highest court, the High Court, upholds her judgment after hearing an appeal from Portmarnock Golf Club. The appeal is scheduled to be heard in the autumn.

In February, Collins ruled in favour of the government’s Equality Authority, which argued the suburban Dublin club was breaching a 2000 anti-discrimination law by refusing to admit women as members.

She withheld specifying punishment until Tuesday, when she noted the club could lose its liquor licence repeatedly if it did not comply.

The 2000 Equal Status Act permits private clubs to restrict membership only if the club promotes an activity specific to a particular group.

Collins ruled that golf is played equally by men and women, so no golf club in Ireland should be allowed to bar women.

Equality Authority chief executive Niall Crowley said the punishment "gives Portmarnock the opportunity to change its policy and practice regarding women, and will hopefully act as a warning that such rules cannot be tolerated".

Portmarnock club manager Bruce Mitchell declined to comment. He previously has argued that the club doesn’t discriminate because it permits women and other non-member visitors to play at specific times during the week. He said members had overwhelmingly opposed giving membership rights to women during three debates on the subject since 2000.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland - inspired by similar protests against the Augusta National Golf Club in the United States - filed a discrimination complaint with the Equality Authority in 2002. It has argued the club’s policy means female golfers have no voting rights at the club and aren’t allowed to play at the best tee-off times.

Last year the course, founded in 1894, played host to the Irish Open, a PGA European Tour event, for the 13th time.

Under current membership rules, its only permitted female member is President Mary McAleese, the largely symbolic head of government.

"Thankfully, Portmarnock is one of only a handful of dinosaur-like institutions left in this country," said Fiona O’Malley, a Dublin lawyer. "But despite all the bad press and pressure from various women’s groups, it continues to bury its head in the sand and refuses to change its archaic and discriminatory policy."


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