WRC agreed that Holy Communion mass did not constitute a service within legislation

Sean McCárthaigh 31, 2020 The Irish Times.

A claim of discrimination against a Catholic bishop by a Traveller family over their alleged treatment at a Holy Communion mass five years ago has been dismissed by the Workplace Relations Commission.

The WRC ruled that it had no legal authority to adjudicate on 10 individual complaints by members of the Sherlock family that they had been discriminated against by the then bishop of Galway Martin Drennan when they attempted to attend the mass on May 23rd, 2015.

The family, which includes six children, also alleged they were harassed at the ceremony.

They claimed Traveller women were excluded from the mass based on a dress code, even though other women who were wearing elements of clothing that were deemed inadmissible were not asked to leave the church.

The Sherlocks said they were barred due to the length of their dresses and skirts and their necklines.

Bishop Drennan, who retired as bishop of Galway in July 2016, rejected all allegations that he had discriminated against them on grounds of gender, race and their membership of the Traveller community under Section 21 of the Equal Status Act 2000.

The WRC agreed with a preliminary legal argument raised by representatives for Bishop Drennan that the Holy Communion mass provided by the Catholic Church as a religious service did not constitute a service within the meaning of the legislation.

As a consequence, WRC adjudicator, Louise Boyle, said Bishop Drennan had not engaged in prohibited conduct.

Detailed evidence in the case was not heard as a result of the WRC’s ruling on the preliminary challenge raised by the bishop’s legal representatives.

They claimed it was never the intention of the Oireachtas for religious services to fall within the jurisdiction of the legislation.

The Sherlock family had argued that the Catholic Church was the provider of a service as under the legislation a mass was a “service or facility of any nature which is available to the public generally or a section of the public”.

They said there was no exclusion clause in the Equal Status Act 2000 that allowed negative discrimination to occur.

However, the WRC said religious services or sacraments did not come within the ambit of the legislation as otherwise it would be unlawful for churches to refuse the sacrament of matrimony to persons who were divorced or of the same sex, or similarly to only ordain men as priests.

“There seems to be no reason in law or logic to differentiate between these types of religious services and a Holy Communion mass,” said Ms Boyle.

She added: “If the Oireachtas had intended to apply the principle of equal status, enshrined in the Act, to all of these situations, it would have said so in express terms.”


This is a very sad case and really shouldn’t have happened.

I have ministered to the Travellers for 44 years now.

They really are a very separate and distinct cultural community.

The women in particular can have very different lives. They are really only “special” on 4 days in their lifetime when they get to wear white – their baptism, their Holy Communion their Confirmation and their wedding day.

The women like a particular style which involves very skinpy dresses bare lega and bare shoulders.

When they turn up to church like that they are not being disrespectful. They are just being themselves.

In fact they are very religious and respectful of priests and churches.

Don’t get me wrong. I have had Traveller weddings that required me to call the police and the ambulance.

But there is a way of talking to them and dealing with them.

You don’t disrespect them or make them feel second class.

They get abused a lot by people.

And some of the Travellets behave badly.

Drennan has never struck me as the sensitive type.

I think he can be sharp and abrupt.

Anyway well done to the Travellers for standing up for themselves.