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UK’s Pontins investigated over alleged discrimination against Irish Travellers

Pontins Holiday Park in the UK is facing a formal investigation over “continued concerns” it is allegedly discriminating against Gypsy and Traveller guests. The UK holiday resort firm could be served with an unlawful act notice by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) over allegations it discriminated against Irish Travellers over the last 12 months.

Pontins reportedly used a blacklist of “undesirable guests”, consisting of predominantly Irish surnames, with staff required to block prospective customers with those names from booking. The reports of the blacklist came from a whistle-blower, who said the company was operating a discriminatory bookings policy.

According to an analysis of genealogy data by the The Times, the policy resulted in the banning of more than one million people in Ireland and the UK from Pontins holiday parks. 

The claim of the blacklist policy was verified by the EHRC, and the organisation said practices included a list of 40 Irish surnames published on the company’s intranet page, with staff under the requirement to stop those with included surnames from booking.

Surnames featured in the blacklisting policy included Murphy, O’Brien, McDonagh, O’Donoghue, McMahon and Doherty.

The EHRC also said that staff monitored calls and turned down or cancelled bookings made by people with an Irish accent or surname. Pontins’ commercial vehicle policy also excluded those from the Gypsy and Traveller communities from its parks. 

In the aftermath of the claims, in March 2021, owner of Pontins, Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited, entered into a year-long legal agreement with the EHRC in a bid to prevent racial discrimination, according to LancsLive. 

The ECHR said that by refusing to provide its services to guests of a certain ethnic group or race, Pontins was “directly discriminating on the basis of race”, therefore breaching the 2010 Equality Act, which recognises Gypsies and Travellers as a distinct racial group. 

In a statement from the 26th May, the EHRC said it ended its agreement in February after it made Pontins aware of potential breaches of the agreement. On Thursday, the human rights watchdog said it had launched a formal investigation because it did not believe the holiday resort had complied with the agreement, and 12 months on, was still discriminating against Irish travellers. 

The EHRC said it will now be required to reach a “formal finding” that Pontins was in breach of the Equality Act 2010. In the “most serious instance”, it said it could serve the holiday park with an unlawful act notice which could be legally enforced in the courts and which would then determine any penalties.

The investigation is anticipated to take place over the course of several months, and was welcomed by Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement, who said that the findings of the investigation “should be made public”.

He said: “All children have a right to participate and enjoy the same access to services and goods without consequences of their ethnicity”.

Meanwhile, The Sun in the UK this week reported on alleged anti-social behaviour from travellers at campsites that led to an onslaught of complaints from other guests. Angry customers left furious reviews on Tripadvisor describing the behaviour of guests, believed to be travellers, at UK campsites over the April and May bank holidays.

One review said that families were escorted off the premises “for their own safety”, and the caravan park was said to be “lawless” in the evenings, and “left in a disgrace”. One disenchanted reviewer added: “If you want a family friendly place, this is not the place to go”.

However, Gypsy and Traveller community advocates have insisted that they are in fact being unfairly singled out, and that discriminatory behaviour is commonplace. 

When Pontins was accused of blacklisting customers back in March, Sarah Mann, director of Friends, Families and Travellers, told Sky News: “It’s just an all-too-common experience for Gypsy and Traveller families who find their holiday park booking refused, or the campsite or the caravan park that they hope to stay in suddenly full.

“And it’s not just holidays, either. If you want to get home insurance, if you’re in a trailer or on a site, vehicle insurance, dentist registration, wedding reception bookings, all mysteriously are unavailable once the name, the postcode or the vehicle type are known, so this isn’t a one off”.

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