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Irish Rail enforcing the ban on free travel for Same Sex Couples

September 1st, 2008 · 35 Comments · Equality, Homophobia, LGBT, Same Sex Partnerships

Irish Rail staff are being advised in the art of enforcing heterosexuality in regards to the pursuit of free travel in the state. In fact you could call them the Travel Stasi for then Minister Mary Coughlan and the current Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin.

Some background

In 2001 a gay pensioner applied for a free travel pass – a companion pass which would allow free travel for himself and for his partner. He was refused and enlisted the assistance of the Equality Authority. Passes were awarded to people who were married or cohabiting as married. In 2003 the case was settled, as the regulations were not specific enough the travel pass was granted and each man was awarded €1500 in compensation.

The Department accepted that the Free Travel Pass Scheme, insofar as it did not extend benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex co-habiting couples on an equal basis, was not in conformity with the provisions of the Equal Status Act, 2000. It withdrew formally its letter of 7/11/01 in which it set out reasons for refusing the applicant’s application.

However Mary Coughlan who was then the Minister responsible wasn’t having any of it. This ruling would open the doors to all sorts of rights for same sex couples to access social welfare benefits. She needed to redefine what a spouse was – and to her that was a person of the opposite gender. To quash this sort of thing she introduced the Social Welfare Amendment Act 2004 to the annoyance of lesbians and gay men and the Equality Authority.

This document from a coalition of NGO’s, the Equality Coalition and published by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties outlines the depth of concern at the passing of the legislation which was the one of the first pieces of legislation on the statute books which enforced discrimination. *

Roll on to today when this notice was spotted in Heuston Station in a ticket checker’s cabin.


The confidential document is laminated and on display and signed by the Manager for Revenue Protection for Irish Rail and was issued on 27th January 2008. (Irish Rail is paid by the Government for each free travel pass issued.)

The first section concerns instruction to staff on the use of photo identification for free travel passes.


The second part of the notice is of interest to us :-

Please also note information from The Department of Social Welfare and Community affairs [sic] states that

From the 25th September 2004

Same sex couples are not entitled to a “married/Partner” type travel pass. Only named persons that have signed the rear of the pass and that are of a different gender are entitled to use the pass.

Earlier in the document there is an instruction on the confiscation of passes where lack of the photo identification is concerned. I assume this would apply to a person who tried to use a companion pass to bring a same sex companion with them.

There is no information from Irish Rail’s Manager of Revenue Protection on how someone using the pass should be identified – it’s a simple matter of gender seemingly.

So there you have it – from this notice it seems that Irish Rail are on the look out for older lesbians and gay men who might be using travel passes fraudulently with their partners.

I’m emailing Barry Kenny, the head of communications in Irish Rail and seeking a response on how such a document came about. I will be asking about the incidence of gay couples traveling and committing revenue offences against Irish Rail and what training staff have in dealing with the matter.

I would like to know why this notice is available for the public to see? Have Irish Rail reported on the effects of this scheme on lesbians and gay men to the various departments involved as they are a company that promotes equality for their staff and stands up against racist harrassment of staff and passengers and tries to make their services accessible for disabled people.

The fact that older lesbians and gay men can’t bring their partner on a journey with them stinks as it is without it being waved in their faces.

And what about the person who did get a pass for his partner – is he safe to take the train?? Or will a ticket checker armed with this notice stop him the next time he sees him try to use the pass that he was rightfully granted.

By the by if you are gay and work for Irish Rail you can get free travel for your partner after a certain number of years – ok it’s a different scheme and an employment benefit but it sticks in the throat a bit!

*(The Heads of Bill released this year by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in relation to civil partnership do not cover social welfare so it does not look like this situation in relation to free travel will be changed any time soon…)

Many thanks to M.E. for the photos of the confidential notices that he found easily on display in Heuston Station.

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