Court ruling keeps fairer sex off the fairway

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The Independent Online

A premier Dublin golf club can continue to block women from membership, the Irish Supreme Court has decreed, in a ruling that a dissenting judge argued was discriminatory.

In a split 3-2 judgment, Ireland's top court ruled that Portmarnock Golf Club was not violating Ireland's Equal Status Act, because that 2000 anti-discrimination law permits exceptions for exclusively male or female clubs.

The club, north-east of Dublin, successfully appealed a 2004 Dublin District Court judgment that threatened to withdraw Portmarnock's bar licence if it didn't give women equal access to the clubhouse.

The Equality Authority of Ireland pursued the case on behalf of the National Women's Council of Ireland. It filed a 2002 complaint following similar protests against the men-only membership of the Augusta National Golf Club in the US state of Georgia.

But in their majority judgment, the three Irish Supreme Court judges noted that Ireland's law permits clubs to restrict membership to one sex, if that club's "principal purpose is to cater only for the needs of persons of a particular gender". Those needs included Portmarnock's central purpose of social fraternisation, they ruled.

One of the dissenting judges, Susan Denham, said her colleagues gave too little weight to the reality that golf was no more a "need" for men than for women. An unidentified Portmarnock club member told Irish broadcaster RTE that he didn't want women on the course because they slow down the speed of play. AP