Michael Colgan rejects allegations of sexual harassment

Former Gate director denies he is a bully and realises he should have had a code of ethics

The Gate Theatre’s former artistic director Michael Colgan denied being a bully, shouting at staff or using profane language, in the review into allegations of inappropriate behaviour and abuse of power against him. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

The Gate Theatre’s former artistic director Michael Colgan denied being a bully, shouting at staff or using profane language, in the review into allegations of inappropriate behaviour and abuse of power against him. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The Gate Theatre’s former artistic director Michael Colgan “rejected outright allegations of sexual harassment” made against him in the findings of a review of his behaviour at the theatre.

He denied being a bully, shouting at staff or using profane language, in the review into allegations of inappropriate behaviour and abuse of power against him.

The review says he rejected the sexual harassment allegations “particularly when made under cover of anonymity”. He also said this was “not a case of ‘tip of the iceberg’ where further hidden allegations may be made”.

The review, conducted by workplace relations expert Gaye Cunningham, describes a culture evolving over the years of an “omnipotent ruler” who could not be crossed.

The report states that Mr Colgan’s behaviour included putting himself in too close proximity to staff and creating excuses for physical contact; making comments of a sexual nature to actresses; telling personal stories of a sexual nature; rubbing backs and placing “hand on knee while typing”.

The 22-page document, which has been seen by The Irish Times, and will be published on the Gate’s website on Thursday, details patterns of behaviour rather than specific instances, and those who testified are not identified. It summarises testimonies of the 56 people who participated, along with Mr Colgan’s right of reply.

The litany of issues in the testimonies reflect allegations made by seven women in The Irish Times and by others on social media.

Code of ethics

Mr Colgan told the review he now realised “he should have had a code of ethics, proper hierarchies and rules of conduct in place” and that the board should have played a stronger role in having processes and procedures for complaints and investigations in place.

Gate board chairman Peter Crowley said legal obstacles blocking the release of what was an amended version of the review had been overcome, and he was pleased to put it into the public domain.

Ms Cunningham thanked the participants “for their time, openness and honesty, and also for their patience”.

In her assessment of the board of the theatre, she describes former and current board members as committed individuals with skills and experience, who “professed their profound shock at the allegations made in the public domain” and made a commitment to “get to the bottom of the serious complaints”.

The report says while there were friendships [with board members] during his tenure, “by the end of the period, those friendships were ruptured”. She points out the current board is very different to what it was pre-2014.

Various board members “saw an ebullient side but not an abusive side” to Mr Colgan, the review says, but Ms Cunningham notes “there was an onus and responsibility” on the board “to proactively familiarise themselves with the culture of the organisation and to take action” and “this they failed to do”.

‘Systematic bullying’

Theatre senior management said they were subject to “sustained and systematic bullying and harassment”. Management did not condone verbal harassment, they said, and were powerless to challenge him for fear of being verbally abused or losing their jobs.

Mr Colgan said the theatre was a small workplace with no hierarchies or structure. He believed staff were “like a family, and sometimes if they had a row they had a row and solved it like a family”. He said he was exacting and a demanding boss, but that he believed everybody liked him. He described theatre as personality-driven.

Some interviews refer to Mr Colgan’s positive attributes, saying his “vision and enthusiasm turned the Gate from a ‘dead’ theatre into a vibrant thriving one, especially in the early days”.

He is described as charismatic and witty, with a unique and energetic approach which turned the Gate into a nationally and internationally acclaimed theatre. Participants mentioned his “unrelenting hard work, passion and determination”, said he could be kind and supportive and was a formidable negotiator for funding and resources and recognition.

Attempts to contact Mr Colgan on were unsuccessful.

Download the report (pdf) here