Anger at Gate Theatre decision not to publish full review

Chairman says board has been as transparent as possible but cannot put theatre in jeopardy

Former Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan: Gaye Cunningham’s report  found that he had “a case to answer”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Former Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan: Gaye Cunningham’s report found that he had “a case to answer”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A decision by the Gate Theatre board not to publish the full report into allegations of inappropriate behaviour and abuse of power by the theatre’s former artistic director Michael Colgan has been harshly criticised by a number of those who took part in the review.

While the report’s recommendations were published earlier this month the theatre board has said its legal advice indicates that the release of the full report would breach the guarantee of confidentiality given to the 56 people who spoke to the inquiry.

The report found Mr Colgan had “a case to answer” and said “a culture existed in the Gate whereby too much power was vested in one individual and people felt unable to speak out”.

Lian Bell of Waking of the Feminists campaign, who participated in the review, said she was “disappointed and angry” at the decision not to publish the full report, which was compiled by workplace relations expert Gaye Cunningham.

In a Facebook post Ms Bell said she understood Ms Cunningham hoped “to be able to frame at least some of what she wrote in a way that would allow for publication. Whether she failed in that aspiration, or the board are deliberately keeping her work under wraps, it’s incredibly insulting to the people who took part in it to not be part of a transparent process.”

‘Seismic’

She wrote that “unless the board takes some kind of action on what is in that report that is visible, seismic, and transparent, I fear they will have damaged the reputation of the theatre even further”.

Ms Bell also told The Irish Times at the weekend that many of the 56 people who participated in the review did so as “it was the only option for a lot of people to have their voices and opinions heard”.

She suggested the Gate might commission Ms Cunningham to write a follow-up document that can be published. “If everyone wants to be able to publish something, then they just need to make it happen.”

Independent theatre producer Anne Clarke, formerly Gate deputy director, suggested participants be given sight of the report, and an opportunity to waive the guarantee of confidentiality if that was the issue that was preventing its release.

A prominent theatre professional who participated in the review, who did not wish to be named, said she and others expected their stories to be heard, “otherwise why would you do it?” Not to publish opens the theatre up to accusations of a cover-up or whitewash, she said.

‘Utter disgrace’

Another participant, who also wished to remain anonymous, told The Irish Times it was “an utter disgrace and cover-up”. She said a number of participants felt “utterly disappointed, cheated and derided. Despite Gaye Cunningham’s best efforts, the board and Arts Council are going to bury it.”

The decision not to release the review, commissioned by the theatre, was “following a thorough legal review”, Gate chairman Peter Crowley said. “The board has been strongly advised that release of the full review is not appropriate in the context of the undertakings provided on confidentiality to those that took part.”

This decision came two weeks after the theatre’s board apologised unreservedly to “those who experienced the behaviours reported” to the review.

Responding to the outcry, Mr Crowley on Sunday said the 14 recommendations made in the report it published earlier this month were “the precise, verbatim conclusion of the report, which we have published in full”. He pointed out that the review was set up within a framework of confidentiality and anonymity; “this was asked for and this was promised”, and that could not be dismantled now.

Mr Crowley said the board’s objectives were to be “as open and transparent as possible”, but “the board cannot go so far as to run legal risks that would put the theatre in jeopardy. People have to decide. There is a new team in the Gate that needs people’s support, and they have to separate how they feel about Michael Colgan from that.”

Concerns

Mr Crowley stressed he was happy to talk to anyone with concerns and said “the board has no hidden agenda. Its only objective has been to be as open and fair as possible while making sure the Gate survives to continue to serve the community.”

Writer-producer Grace Dyas’s blog in November 2017, about an experience with Mr Colgan, ignited a rush of testimony to the review process. Ms Dyas opted not to participate in the inquiry. This weekend she posted a message on Facebook saying: “I know a lot of people who participated in the end because they were almost guaranteed it would be published. How maddening that this situation has actually contributed further feelings of betrayal and being let down to the people who were victims of this behaviour. Important to remember, that this decision will be very welcome in some quarters.”

‘Sold a pup’

Many comments on Ms Bell’s post were angry: “The board can’t be so naive surely as to think that’s the end of that then. These women have been sold a pup and our anger and rage needs to be heard”; another asked: “who is served by the silence?”

Mr Colgan has declined to comment bar writing an article in the Sunday Independent where he took “serious issue” with some coverage, saying his actions should not be equated with sexual crimes. He apologised for causing distress, saying he had failed to see the difference between friends and colleagues.