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Irish Group Protests All-Men Club Policy

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DUBLIN, Ireland -- An Irish women's group wants to end the men-only membership at a golf club that hosts a PGA European Tour event ' a dispute similar to that at the home of the Masters.
 
The National Women's Council of Ireland said it will lead protests to try to force Portmarnock Golf Club to admit female members before the Irish Open in July.
 
Government ministers debated Saturday whether Ireland should support the event, held at one of the country's only two clubs that bar female members. The government gives the tournament about $250,000 for tourism promotion.
 
The government's Equality Authority, which enforces antidiscrimination laws, plans to take the club to court and get ``a declaration that the Portmarnock Golf Club is a discriminating club.''
 
The dispute echoes the one at Augusta National Golf Club, which does not admit women as members. Augusta National has been threatened with protests but says it has no intention of changing its policies before the Masters in April.
 
Sports Minister John O'Donoghue said he was ``completely and utterly opposed'' to Portmarnock's membership policy but added, ``We are sponsoring an important international competition in Ireland, not the club.''
 
Cabinet member Willie O'Dea said the government should not be associated with the club and should have lobbied the PGA European Tour to move the tournament elsewhere.
 
PGA European Tour officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.
 
O'Dea, the government's minister for promoting equality, said Portmarnock's policy appeared to violate equality legislation enacted in Ireland in 2000.
 
The Portmarnock club management insisted its policy of allowing women to play the course but not be eligible for membership did not violate Irish antidiscrimination legislation.
 
Under current membership rules, its only permitted female member is Irish President Mary McAleese.
 
The wind-swept course was designed by German golfer Bernhard Langer and is bounded on three sides by the Irish Sea. Another top Irish course, the Royal Dublin, also bars female members.