ONE night sometime in the mid-1990s, after watching another glorious St Patrick’s Athletic victory at the Stadium of Light, me and my significant other repaired to a local hostelry to celebrate.
“A pint of Guinness and a Southern Comfort” said I to the innkeeper in a tone to fit the occasion.
He leaned forward so as to keep his voice low and said: “I’m sorry – we don’t serve women in this bar”.
In hindsight I should have come up with something witty like “I didn’t ask you for a woman” or something hostile and sinister like “Are yis all queers or what?” but instead I stood there speechless.
I was stunned. And disgusted. And a bit humiliated on behalf of my wife (she hardly batted an eyelid: “sure we’ll go somewhere else”).
So we did. Well, actually we didn’t. We went to different bar in the same pub and got served there. By this time I was in a rage and the match was well forgotten. I had visions of burning the place down or at least organising demos and boycotts.
Of course, time mellows all rages and over the following weeks I began to have a change of heart.
I’ve always been a strong supporter of personal freedom and pluralism. One of the most important fundamental rights in a democracy is the right to organise.
Left-handed people have a right to form a Left-Handed Society. In order to do so they must be able to keep right-handed people out. The Labour Party is entitled to run its organisation as it sees fit. I am a member of the National Union of Journalists. We don’t allow in non-journalists. And so on.
Social and political autonomy are vital for freedom to operate and most people accept this.
But there is a contradiction. And it’s a big one. All people also have the right not to be discriminated against as they go about their daily lives.
These two fundamental freedoms are difficult operate at the same time.
I considered this in the case of my experience in the pub. 80% of the floor area of that pub was mixed. To my knowledge only two or three bars in the whole of Dublin operated a men-only policy. It seems to me that the existence of a handful of men-only bars does not constitute a general discrimination against women.
To demand that every last bar should be mixed borders on fanaticism. So I have since returned to that bar for a drink.
Now, the Irish Open is to be held at Portmarnock Golf Club, which refuses to accept women as members. So which is more important? The right of its members to privacy or the right of equal access for women?
I think it’s the latter. From my understanding what happens in Portmarnock GC goes far beyond golf. There are social, business and political networks in operation there in which the simple exclusion of women amounts to a grave injustice.
I hope that this issue is resolved without new laws. Perhaps decency will prevail.
Naturally the poor will still be excluded, both women and men.