Iarnród Éireann apologises to same-sex couple over incident

16 Aug 2011

(via The Irish Times)


IARNRÓD ÉIREANN has apologised to a same-sex couple after a member of its staff questioned the validity of their Department of Social Protection-issued travel pass and refused to allow them board a train from Dublin to Cork on Sunday.

Noel Dolan is on disability allowance and qualifies for a travel pass which also covers his partner Juan Carlos Camacho Suarez, whom he married in Spain, where gay marriage is legal. On Sunday the couple used their pass to travel to Dublin to take part in the Noise March for Marriage Equality but on the homeward journey, an Iarnród Éireann staff member at Heuston Station said their pass was invalid and refused to allow them board their train.

The couple asked to see a superior and, according to Mr Dolan, were again told that "Irish Rail doesn't recognise same-sex marriage". Mr Dolan said he challenged this but the supervisor said that although he was not going to refuse the couple access to the train, "same-sex couples were not allowed to use a travel pass".

Yesterday Mr Dolan said: "The Department of Social Protection pays Irish Rail for tickets issued using those passes. It really is none of Irish Rail's business who I'm married to, male or female . . . as long as the pass is valid and the photo ID is valid and the spouse/partner has signed their part and there is no fraud being attempted. Irish Rail gets paid for tickets issued, end of."

He said it was "beyond comprehension that Irish Rail would behave in such a manner in 2011 with civil partnerships being legal almost eight months and same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions being recognised since early January this year".

When contacted by this newspaper, Iarnród Éireann spokesman Barry Kenny said it wished to "sincerely apologise" to Mr Dolan and his partner. In a letter sent to the couple last night, Mr Kenny said they should not have been prevented from boarding train. "We would stress that Iarnród Éireann has no policy in relation to free travel for those in same-sex or any other types of marriage. Our only role is to ensure that the provisions of the free travel scheme as set out by the Department of Social Protection are enforced," Mr Kenny said.

He said that last December the Department of Social Protection wrote to inform public transport companies of changes to the provisions of the free travel scheme arising from the Civil Partnership Act.

"These changes included the provision that the DSP [Department of Social Protection] would recognise under the free travel scheme people of the same sex party to civil partnership registration or parties to a legal relationship.

"Regrettably, our colleagues in Heuston had not been made aware of this change, and believed that they were correctly applying the provisions of the DSP free travel scheme,

Mr Kenny said Iarnród Éireann was committed to "issuing to all relevant staff around the network this week a notice to ensure that this matter is explicitly clarified, and to ensure that such an incident cannot recur".