Travellers claim to WRC they were discriminated against when asked to leave Iceland supermarket

The Munster additions will be the seventh and eighth Iceland stores to open here in Ireland

Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) heard that security guard sought the assistant manager “within seconds” of group walking through the door

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20 September 2022 | 0

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After being told to leave the Iceland supermarket in Finglas without an explanation two years ago, a group of five young Travellers recently claimed they were discriminated against by the supermarket.

Under the Equal Status Act, complaints were lodged against Iceland Foods (Ireland) by the group of women and girls – aged between three and 21 – regarding an incident which occurred at the Dublin store on 27 November 2020.

The Irish Times reports the alleged grounds of discrimation were race and membership of the Traveller community, according to group. However, Iceland denied these allegations.

The group’s solicitor, Christopher McCann, told the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that it would hear evidence the security guard went to find the assistant manager “within seconds” of his clients walking through the door.

In full view of other customers, the assistant manager then required them to leave the shop, McCann said, although his clients had done nothing that could “objectively justify” them being told to leave.

Despite feeling “confused and embarrassed” and believing there was a “clear implication they had been involved in some kind of wrongdoing” — the woman complied and left the store.

The eldest of the group, Megan McDonnell, told the tribunal that young Traveller girls tended to have a “similar look”, including long hair, clothes and jewellery, adding their accents also tended to identify them as members of their community.

However, Elizabeth-Jane Walsh, acting for the supermarket chain, put it to her that a group of three similarly dressed women who left the shop just before them had not been prevented from shopping.

“I believe our strong accents identified us as well,” McDonnell said. “We’re from Dublin all our lives and we haven’t got one hint of a Dublin accent,” she said.

“You didn’t have any verbal interaction with the security guard so the way you talked really has no relevance,” counsel added.

The complainant accepted that she had shopped in Iceland before and since the incident with her mother with no problems.

“And you’re sure you don’t know why? Had there been anything that happened before?” counsel asked.

“Not in that shop,” said Ms McDonnell, adding that she had been “followed around” in other stores in the past because she was “readily identifiable” as a Traveller.

Ms Walsh said her side had an “evidential deficit” in terms of defending the case. The assistant manager who spoke with the girls had been dismissed by the supermarket over a year and a half ago for reasons unrelated to the complaints at han, she said. She also said that the security guard, an employee of a contractor which was not party to the complaints, was not available either, having been “involved in a road traffic crash with a bus last week”.

Adjudicating officer Brian Dalton said it was within his power to summon the assistant manager to give evidence. However, Ms Walsh responded that her client would “prefer closure in this matter” and would therefore not be seeking an adjournment.

John Moran, the supermarket chain’s area manager for Dublin, said all employees received a staff handbook setting out the company policy on discrimination, which he said specifically identifies discrimination against members of the Traveller community. He added that managers were “100%” familiar with it and that members of the Traveller community were welcome to shop in any of its stores.

In his closising argument, McCann said: “In circumstances where no evidence of a reason for ejecting my client from the supermarket has been given and where there’s clear evidence of easy identification [as a member of the Traveller community] … I say the burden has shifted to the respondent.

“In the absence of any objective reason I would say that the respondent has failed to discharge the burden of proof,” he added.

Earlier, the tribunal heard that the security guard was a Polish national and Walsh said the adjudicating officer should “take judicial notice that a person who is not Irish would not have the ability to identify a member of the Traveller community”.

Four of the complainants have given evidence; the fifth has to be heard at a later date. Decisions on the five claims are expected in due course.

 

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