I left Ireland for myriad reasons. I needed to leave, to try on new things, to breathe different air, to be in a different pond with different fish, to see if America would fit me (it doesn't). But most importantly, I needed to get away from the deafening silence that pervades through our island.
Abuse of power is a well-documented thing in Ireland. We have a solid track record of it, ranging from plain old stupid to destructive and heartbreaking; Irish society and history is riddled with power abuses.
Complaints were made against the former director of the Gate Theatre, Michael Colgan. After a lot of toing and froing, an investigative report was commissioned by the board of the Gate. Many people contributed to this report. It seemed, for a while, like something restorative might actually happen.
But, nothing is ever as it seems.
The board of the Gate has taken the decision not to publish the report. Peter Crowley, chairman on the board, responding to the anger about this decision, said "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".
This statement puts the burden of justice back onto the complainants, asking them to set aside what they say happened to them, to support the new team at the Gate. It tells them to separate how they “feel” about Michael Colgan. This final comment is the most egregious. Telling victims to separate how they “feel” about the man they claim harassed them from an institution that was complicit is about as insulting as it comes.
This whole tactic feels like a modern, dressed-up, make-over version of “ah sure it wasn’t that bad”.
When you are subject to abusive behaviour, you can lose your innocence. You can lose your self-esteem. You can lose your sense of worth as a human being. You can lose your faith, your trust in people. You can live in fear. Depression, anxiety, PTSD can all rear their ugly heads. That’s not how a person “feels”, that’s trauma.
For decades, the board of directors at the Gate Theatre sat by and allowed Michael Colgan to abuse his position and his power. It was not okay then, and it is not okay now. It doesn’t matter that there is a new team in the building. It matters that these people say it happened and nothing, so far, has been done about it.
Yet again, we have the ubiquitous "report with recommendations in Ireland". We could paper the country with them. The Arts Council of Ireland and Minister Josepha Madigan have a moral and public duty to ensure that workers in our sector have safe working conditions and the victims of alleged abusive behaviour receive the restorative justice they deserve.
The theatre community has an opportunity to be leaders in eradicating sexual harassment, assault, discrimination, gender pay inequity, and all the other humiliating, awful plagues we endure. This is a golden moment for Irish theatre. There is hope here. There is a path forward.
If a sector that dresses up for a living, makes things up, and prances around a stage in a wig and pantaloons can’t get some restorative justice, then who the hell can? If a business that prides itself on being liberal and expressing itself can’t provide safe working environments for everyone, then who can?
The chairman of the board of the Gate stated, “People have to decide.” And they do. People have to decide if they will accept another silencing. People have to decide if they can trust another public institution that has so far shown us no reason to be trusted.
We don’t need another report with recommendations. We need action and justice. We need to know that the testimonies of 56 people and the experiences of those who chose not to participate will be honoured and respected. They broke the silence. They spoke up. They deserve better than this. Let’s decide on that.