A blacklist circulated by the holiday park operator Pontins telling its staff not to book accommodation for people with Irish surnames has been described as “completely unacceptable” by Downing Street.
The list of “undesirable guests” was sent to booking operators, who were told: “We do not want these guests on our parks.” It said: “Please watch out for the following names for ANY future bookings.”
The list, which included names such as Carney, Boylan, McGuinness and O’Mahoney, was an example of “anti-Traveller discrimination”, a spokesperson for Boris Johnson said. The document had a picture of a wizard holding up a wand and staff declaring: “You shall not pass.”
The attached memo said “several guests are unwelcome at Pontins, however some of these will still try and book – especially in the school holidays,” but the list only provided surnames.
A whistleblower who approached the Equality and Human Rights Commission with the policy also revealed the firm had been monitoring calls within its contact centre and refusing bookings made by people with an Irish accent or surname and was using its commercial vehicles policy to exclude Gypsies and Travellers.
The EHRC said the practices amounted to racial discrimination and breached the Equality Act 2010.
“This is completely unacceptable,” the Downing Street spokesperson said. “No one in the UK should be discriminated against because of race or ethnicity. It’s right that the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigate and address this particular problem of anti-Traveller discrimination.”
The sweeping blacklist, first reported in the I, was referred to the EHRC in February 2020.
“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,” said Alastair Pringle, the EHRC executive director.
“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 To say that such policies are outdated is an understatement.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.”
The first Pontins was founded after the second world war on a former US military base and expanded during a mid-century heyday. It now runs just six holiday parks including in Prestatyn, Lowestoft and Southport. It is owned by Britannia Jinky Jersey Ltd, which 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”.
The EHRC said Pontins had signed a legally binding agreement to prevent racial discrimination.
Sarah Mann, the director of Friends, Families and Travellers, a charity that works on behalf of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers said the blacklist was “shameful”.
“Prejudice and discrimination towards Gypsy and Traveller people is alive and thriving in society,” she said.
“It is shameful that Pontins have acted in this way for so long before they were stopped. We know from our helpline that they are not the only holiday camp who have these practices.
“Our thanks go to the Pontin’s whistleblower for doing the right thing and to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for using their powers. We all have a choice when we see discrimination – to stand by or to challenge it.”
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP, a co-founder of the all-party parliamentary group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, said he was “utterly speechless”.
“We know this kind of blacklisting has been going on for years, we’ve just not been able to prove it. The wider discrimination against the Gypsy and Traveller community is extraordinary and targeting specifically the Irish Gypsy community in the 21st century is astounding.”
The Traveller Movement, a community charity, said it was appalled but not surprised at the revelations.
“We get many calls about stories similar to this one, and we don’t believe this is an isolated incident,” said chief executive Yvonne MacNamara.
“Gypsies and Travellers experience very high levels of discrimination in this country despite being designated as ethnic groups under the Equality Act.”