Gate trustee expresses ‘deep concern’ at Colgan allegations

Nicholas Kearns with Martin McAleese welcome moves by Gate board to investigate women’s claims

“We think the Gate should conduct an investigation into the conduct and behaviour of Michael Colgan,” says National Women’s Council of Ireland chairperson Orla O’Connor. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

“We think the Gate should conduct an investigation into the conduct and behaviour of Michael Colgan,” says National Women’s Council of Ireland chairperson Orla O’Connor. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Former High Court president Nicholas Kearns, a trustee of the Gate Theatre, has expressed “deep concern” at the allegations that its former director, Michael Colgan, bullied and sexually harassed employees over a seven-year period.

Seven former female employees, who worked in close proximity with Mr Colgan, have told The Irish Times that Mr Colgan bullied and humiliated them inside and outside of work and that he would frequently touch some of them inappropriately.

On Sunday night, Mr Justice Kearns issued a statement on behalf of himself and fellow trustee Martin McAleese in response to the women’s accounts.

“While the management of the Gate is a matter for its board, the trustees of the theatre are deeply concerned about allegations made against its former artistic director.”

In reference to the Gate’s board of directors’ undertaking to listen to the stories of employees who have made allegations against Mr Colgan, Mr Justice Kearns said: “We welcome actions taken by the board to investigate these allegations and its efforts to ensure that a safe and respectful working environment exists for all who work in the theatre.”

The Gate has three trust members. The third is Peter Crowley who is also the chairman of the Gate board of directors.

On Friday, the Gate announced that it would appoint an independent resource to deal with allegations of misconduct, and asked anyone affected to contact them confidentially by email.

In response, several of the woman who have made allegations against Mr Colgan, including two who spoke to The Irish Times on Saturday, questioned the independence of any investigation “that is funded and administered directly by the Gate” and said they would not be contacting the theatre.

‘Undermines our confidence’

“Michael Colgan sat on the board of the Gate for many years. This undermines our confidence in the impartiality of the current board,” the women said in a joint statement.

The Arts Council, which contributes a large amount of the Gate’s funding, said an independent review was needed but that it was up to the theatre to initiate it, not the Government.

Speaking to The Irish Times on Sunday, Orlaith McBride, director of the council, said: “We would encourage the Gate Theatre to take all appropriate action when responding to these allegations. If an independent investigation is the most appropriate way to do it then we would encourage them to do it.”

Ms McBride said she did not think the onus was on the Government to launch an inquiry. “Ultimately, responsibility for all of this is vested in the board of directors of the Gate Theatre.” The main reason was that “there is no regulator for the arts in Ireland. These are all independent organisations so there is only so far the State can go. The leadership needs to come from the Gate Theatre.”

Ms McBride said the council was not aware of any issues regarding Michael Colgan and his treatment of staff at the theatre. “In our conditions of funding it says where there are any matters of material interest being reported or decided by the board, or being discussed at board meetings, that the recipient or individual organisation has a responsibility to furnish the Arts Council with all explanations, all documentation etc. The Gate has never, ever to date informed us of any allegations.”

Incredibly aggressive

She confirmed there was an incident involving an Arts Council member in 2010. Representatives from the Gate, including Michael Colgan, were attending their regular meeting with David Parnell, who was head of theatre for the council. This was to discuss funding and any other issues. During the meeting, Mr Colgan “became incredibly aggressive to David Parnell. David made a formal and verbal complaint to the council.” She says it was subsequently “agreed that never again would David be put in a position that there wasn’t a senior member of the management team present when he would meet representatives from the Gate Theatre. That has been the way ever since.” She said Mr Colgan apologised to Mr Parnell personally, and that the behaviour was never repeated.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has also called on the Gate to initiate an independent investigation to examine not only employees’ experiences but the experiences of anyone who has worked with Mr Colgan over the years.

“It’s a very serious issue for the board of the Gate,” NWCI chairperson Orla O’Connor said. “Based on the revelations in The Irish Times piece [on Saturday] we think the Gate should conduct an investigation into the conduct and behaviour of Michael Colgan.”

In a statement, Minister for Culture Heather Humphreys said human resources issues “at the theatre were a matter for the management and board”.

The chairperson of the Gate’s board, Peter Crowley, said on Sunday the board had nothing new to say on the matter. It earlier stated that the Gate has set up a confidential email address for anyone who wished to communicate concerns about experiences they had. It said it would also appoint an independent professional to look into the issues raised.

‘No report of bullying’

Mr Colgan (67) stepped down from the Gate in February this year after running the theatre for 37 years. Afterwards he took up a role as a “creative consultant” with the Ballymore Group, a property development company owned by Seán Mulryan.

On Sunday the group said, in light of the revelations, it had carried out an investigation into Mr Colgan’s work with the company.

“The situation is that Ballymore have done an investigation internally with regard to the few meetings Michael Colgan attended and there is no report of bullying or inappropriate behaviour,” Ballymore’s chief operating office Paul Keogh told The Irish Times.

“We have requested a meeting with Michael Colgan to discuss his consultancy with Ballymore but he has not been answering his phone.”

Attempts to contact Mr Colgan yesterday failed. However RTÉ reported that he had said he would issue a statement but did not indicate when he would do this.