Pontins blacklist of people with Irish surnames ‘completely unacceptable’, says prime minister

‘No one in the UK should be discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity’

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 02 March 2021 15:38 GMT
Pontins used ‘blacklist’ of Irish surnames to keep Travellers out, investigation finds
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Boris Johnson has denounced as “completely unacceptable” a blacklist of Irish surnames drawn up by Pontins to keep supposedly undesirable guests out of its holiday camps.

The list, distributed to the company’s call handlers, said that people with names like Boyle, Delaney, Gallagher, McGinley, McMahon and O’Donnell were “unwelcome” and should not be allowed to book holidays.

An investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that the company had been using the blacklist as part of a policy of refusing bookings by Gypsies and Travellers to its holiday parks.

Pontins owner Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited has now signed a legally binding agreement with the EHRC to prevent racial discrimination.

Responding to the case, detailed in an EHRC report published today, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “This is completely unacceptable.

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

“It is right that the EHRC and Pontins investigate and address this.”

The EHRC said that 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 had “breached the Equality Act”, which recognises Gypsies and Travellers as distinct racial groups.

The EHRC launched an investigation after receiving information from a whistle-blower, who said that the company operated a discriminatory booking policy that excluded Gypsies and Travellers.

Discriminatory practices included:

– Monitoring calls and refusing or cancelling bookings made by people with an Irish accent or surname

– A blacklist of Irish surnames, published on its intranet page, entitled ‘undesirable guests’ and requiring staff to block any potential customers with those names from booking

– Using a ‘no commercial vehicles’ policy to exclude Gypsies and Travellers from its holiday parks.

EHRC executive director Alastair Pringle 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.”

The agreement demanded by the EHRC requires Britannia Jinky Jersey Ltd to investigate the blacklist, review the firm’s booking policies and run annual equality and diversity training for staff.

If Pontins does not follow the terms of the agreement, the EHRC could launch a more wide-ranging investigation.

A spokesman from Britannia Jinky Jersey said it had “agreed to work together with the EHRC to further enhance its staff training and procedures in order to further promote equality throughout its business”.

The Traveller Movement said it was “disappointed but unsurprised” to hear of the “appalling” blacklist.

The charity’s chief executive Yvonne MacNamara said: “We’ve heard holiday camps do this sort of thing all the time. We are pleased to see the EHRC taking this course of action and really using its powers appropriately.

“We hope this sets a precedent, both for whistle blowers and for other holiday camp providers. This treatment of Irish Travellers is completely unacceptable and shouldn’t be tolerated.”

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