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Pontins condemned over 'truly shocking' secret list of Irish Traveller surnames banned from holiday parks

Ross McGuinness
·3-min read
File photo dated 5/11/2020 of signage for Pontins. The owner of Pontins has entered into a legal agreement with the human rights watchdog after a whistleblower revealed it was using an
Pontins used a list of "undesirable guests" to exclude Gypsies and Travellers. (PA)

Holiday parks chain Pontins has been condemned after it emerged it kept a "truly shocking" secret list of Irish Traveller surnames who were banned as guests.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said Pontins had discriminated against Gypsies and Travellers using an “undesirable guest list”.

The EHRC has entered a legally binding agreement with Pontins’ owners, an exclusive investigation by The i news website first reported.

A whistleblower told the website that Pontins had used the list of surnames to discriminate against Gypsy and Traveller families.

The Pontins employee told The i that when dealing with “undesirable” customers: “You just had to lie through your teeth.”

Soldiers at Pontin's in Southport where they will be staying ahead of the start of mass Covid-19 testing in Liverpool.
Pontins has six holiday parks in the UK. (PA)

The list was uploaded to the Pontins intranet and instructed staff call handlers that people trying to book under certain surnames were “unwelcome”.

The list of 40 surnames included “Doherty”, “Gallagher”, “MacLaughlin”, “McDonagh”, “McGuiness”, “Murphy”, “Nolan”, “O’Brien”, “Stokes” and “Ward”.

On Tuesday, prime minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “This is completely unacceptable.

“No one in the UK should be discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity.

“It’s right that the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Pontins investigate and address this.”

Colm O'Cinneide, a professor of human rights law at University College London, said it was “remarkably blatant discrimination”.

Yvonne MacNamara, chief executive of the Traveller Movement, told Yahoo News UK: “While this case is truly shocking, we are not surprised.

“We frequently hear of Gypsies and Travellers being turned away from holiday parks because of their ethnicity.

“This happens across the country on a regular basis; it is unlawful and unacceptable.

“We hope this legally binding agreement leads to better practices, and we also hope other holiday providers will think twice about enacting similar policies.”

The EHRC said Pontins staff monitored calls and refused or cancelled bookings made by people with an Irish accent or surname, and that Pontins’ commercial vehicle policy excluded Gypsies and Travellers from its holiday parks.

By declining to provide its services to guests of a certain race or ethnic group, Pontins was “directly discriminating on the basis of race” and breached the 2010 Equality Act, the EHRC said.

Pontins, which has six parks in the UK, is owned by Britannia Hotels and is the trade name for subsidiary Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited.

A general view of Pontin's signage at Brean, Somerset.
Pontins has said it will work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission. (PA)

Alastair Pringle, EHRC executive director, said: “It is hard not to draw comparisons with an undesirable guests list and the signs displayed in hotel windows 50 years ago, explicitly barring Irish people and Black people.

“Banning people from services based on their race is discrimination and is unlawful. To say that such policies are outdated is an understatement.

“It is right to challenge such practices and any business that believes this is acceptable should think again before they find themselves facing legal action.

“We will continue to work with Pontins and Britannia Jinky Jersey to ensure that our agreement is adhered to and its practices improve.”

Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited said it “has agreed to work together with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to further enhance its staff training and procedures in order to further promote equality throughout its business”.

As part of the agreement, Pontins must investigate the “undesirable guests” list and its booking policy and take appropriate action.

If it does not adhere to the terms of the agreement, the EHRC can launch a full investigation.

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