Minister to meet theatre leaders about sexual harassment

Heather Humphreys declines to be drawn on Michael Colgan’s apology at weekend

Humphreys said it was deeply worrying that Michael Colgan, above, could have been “so misguided in respect of what he felt were his freedoms to interact with the women who came forward”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Humphreys said it was deeply worrying that Michael Colgan, above, could have been “so misguided in respect of what he felt were his freedoms to interact with the women who came forward”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

Minister for Culture Heather Humphreys declined to be drawn on the apology by the former director of the Gate Theatre, Michael Colgan, at the weekend over allegations of his behaviour towards women working in the theatre.

Mr Humphreys said the Gate was not under her remit but she and the Arts Council would this week be meeting the eight leaders from Irish theatre organisations who cosigned a statement condemning sexual harassment and abuse of power in the theatre in Ireland.

“I want to work with the sector so that we can stamp out this sort of behaviour,” she said. “What we have been reading in the newspapers in recent weeks is awful.”

The Minister also said she would consider a proposal by Labour arts spokeswoman Joan Burton that a minimum of two members of staff would be on each theatre governing body or board. Ms Humphreys said many cultural organisations had staff on the board but she would certainly look at the issue.

Ms Humphreys repeatedly stressed that she could not interfere in private organisations or in HR issues that were a matter for the management and boards of institutions.

Ms Burton asked if the Minister had had the opportunity to read an apology by Mr Colgan, part of which stated that “he thought the staff were his friends and that may have been his mistake”. She said it was deeply worrying that he could have been “so misguided in respect of what he felt were his freedoms to interact with the women who came forward”.

The Minister said the culture had to be changed and that was why her initiatives included governance workshops for senior staff and board members with a particular emphasis on issues relating to bullying, abuse of power and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Fianna Fáil arts spokeswoman Niamh Smyth referred to the governance structures at the Gate and said it was inappropriate that the former Gate director was on the theatre’s board.

National Museum report

Sinn Féin arts spokesman Peadar Tóibín called for a plan to be put in place for the “disaster” in the National Museum of Ireland. He described the department’s report on bullying at the museum as a “whitewash”.

Mr Tóibín said the department had received a protected disclosure from an employee at the museum but “employed a firm of solicitors to fight that protected disclosure”.

He said that a large number of people had been to the High Court and received large settlements of “State money”. He added that millions of euro had been paid to consultants and for psychologists’ reports but nothing of significance had been done.

Mr Tóibín said there was a “forest of signposts pointing the direction on the issue and yet the department’s report states that there is nothing to see here”.

Ms Humphreys stressed that she could not get involved in HR matters. The museum was dealing with “legacy issues” and she had provided additional support to deal with those issues with the approval of three specific HR positions and two temporary positions for the corporate services area of the museum.