Three members of the Travelling community in Killarney who were served lunch but refused drink at a well-known hotel have failed in their claim of discrimination.

Judge David Waters said a licence holder was entitled to refuse people drink for "a variety of reasons" and no reason need be given.

Refusing to serve someone did not necessarily mean discrimination, Killarney District Civil Court heard.

Other members of the Travelling community were being served alcohol at The Killarney Court Hotel for a Christening party - at the same time as the applicants - between 2pm and 3pm on 23 March last, the court heard.

The Killarney Court Hotel was also where the Tom Rights, a Traveller group formed to highlight alleged discrimination in Killarney pubs and hotels, held their meetings in the run up to 2017 St Patrick's Day parades, the court heard.

The application was brought under Section 19 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 and the Equal Status Act 2000. Penalties can include temporary closure of the premises or compensation at the district court.

Solicitor for the hotel, Conor Murphy, said the hotel and licensee Riobard Lyne were so against discrimination that the same hotel was where Travellers met to discuss discrimination, and they felt "quite aggrieved" at the claim being brought against them.

"My client will say you were barred from the premises previously," Mr Murphy said to Vera O'Donovan, of 36 Deerpark Crescent, Killarney.

Ms O'Donovan denied she had ever been barred for insisting on being served after the bar had closed.

She described how on 23 March, she was accompanied by her elderly parents and her husband, and the group had lunch at the hotel as a birthday celebration.

They had been served food, but when she went went to buy drinks at the bar, she was refused and the security person called.

Ms O'Donovan said the bartender told her that she had been instructed to serve her food only, and not drink. 

"She said I can give ye food, not drink. I got offended by it when she said 'ye'. I took it to mean 'ye' meant Travellers," Ms O'Donvoan told Judge Waters.

She did not seek an explanation at the time because her elderly parents were with her and she did not want to delay.

A Christening party was taking place and other members of the Travelling community were being served, she said.

Ms O'Donovan said a few weeks later she served notice on the hotel under the Equal Status Act warning of possible legal for discrimination on the grounds of membership of the Travelling community. The hotel made no reply, the court heard.

A second person, John O'Brien of 211 Ballyspillane, Killarney, said on the day in question, he went to order two Baileys for himself and his wife after lunch, and he was refused.

"They can take your money for food and hunt you out for drink," Mr O'Brien said.

He rejected the hotel's claim he had previously been barred, saying he had never been barred and never been in trouble because of fighting.

He told the court he saw other Travellers at a Christening party being served.

"I have lived 54 years in Killarney, all my life. I know what discrimination is," said Mr O'Brien.

He "assumed" he was refused because he was a Traveller, he replied to Judge Waters.

Hotels in Killarney were "too cute" to say their refusal was because he was a Traveller, he added.

Asked by the judge if he understood what discrimination was, Mr O'Brien replied: "I do very well. All my life."

The hotel had "a reputation for serving "certain members" of the Travelling community," but it did not serve all Travellers, Mr O'Brien said.

A third applicant would be giving the same evidence, their solicitor Paul O'Donoghue said.

Judge Waters said for the case to succeed, the "sole reason" drink was refused had to be because of membership of the Travelling community.

He also said a licensee was entitled to serve food and not serve drink.

"A publican has a duty of care and can refuse for a variety of reasons with impunity, but what they can't do is discriminate," Judge Waters said.

"What appears to have happened is for some reason alcohol was not served to them and I'm being asked to make a leap and say that's because they were members of the Travelling community," the judge said.

The judge pointed out that other Travellers were being served, and said that there was no discrimination on the basis of membership of the Travelling community.

That the applicants had been refused purely on the basis of being Travellers had been "flatly contradicted", the judge said.