Wednesday 23 January 2019

GAA steward bans female fan from breastfeeding in stands at match

St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, where the incident occurred. Picture: Sportsfile
St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, where the incident occurred. Picture: Sportsfile

Kirsty Blake Knox and Geraldine Gittens

A mother of four was reduced to tears after a GAA stadium steward told her to breastfeed her five-month-old baby in the toilets at a match last weekend.

Iseult Mangan (37), from Mayo, arrived early at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge on Saturday so she could feed her son Senan before the grounds became crowded for the match between Mayo and Kildare.

When she made her way to a stand, a steward informed her the seats in that area were reserved and that she could not breastfeed on the steps.

Ms Mangan was eager to feed Senan as she had just completed a three-and-a-half-hour car journey and knew she would be in the stadium for close to four hours.

"I met a steward and he said, 'No, sorry, you can't get up here'. I said, 'Are there any seats available at all? I'm breastfeeding my baby'.

"He said, 'You can't do that here, you can't do that in the grounds, you can do it in the toilets'."

The right to breastfeed in public is protected under the Equal Status Act (2000).

Under law, nobody can be asked to stop nursing, to leave a premises, or to use separate facilities such as a toilet.

Ms Mangan said she was stunned by the steward's response. "I asked him, 'Are you for real?' and he simply turned his head and ignored me.

"I was sickened and I was so shocked. My issue was to be told to do it in the toilets… If you saw the toilets, they weren't even flushing."

Ms Mangan tried to find another location to feed Senan and began pushing the buggy towards another seated area.

A second steward approached her and informed her that this area was reserved for people with disabilities.

At this stage, Ms Mangan had become so fatigued she burst into tears. This steward immediately tried to comfort her.

"He was so nice. I explained I needed to sit down on the steps there to feed the baby, and what the other man had just said. He couldn't have been nicer," she said.

"He called a female steward ... they let me into the stand where I sat on the step and fed the baby.

"They came back later and offered to find me a chair."

While Ms Mangan said the head steward on duty was genuinely contrite, she will never return to the stadium.

"I'll never go back … I can't believe someone in a jacket representing the GAA would say that."

She added: "It's no wonder you see women not going to matches with the family."

She said the actions of the steward seemed at odds with the ethos of the GAA, which promotes "health, family, and the community".

A spokesperson for La Leche League of Ireland, Jenny Powell, described the encounter as "extremely upsetting".

"It would be unthinkable that anyone would be asked to eat their sandwiches and drink their flasks of tea in the toilets instead of the stands," she said.

"Asking a woman to feed a baby in toilets is the same."

Last night, Kildare GAA said it was "extremely sorry".

"We have already made the necessary steps to ensure a similar incident will not happen in the future," it added.

Irish Independent

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