MacGill Summer School: Listing of just two male speakers on gender equality a technical issue

Organiser Joe Mulholland says other panellists are to be arranged for special session

The listing of solely male speakers for a special session on gender equality at the MacGill Summer School arose because of a technical issue, according to its director.

The new session was added to the programme by organiser Joe Mulholland following criticism over the gender balance of speakers at the event.

The programme is heavily biased towards male speakers with a ratio of two to one on the speaking panels.

However the session – which asks why "organisations such as the MacGill School are trapped in a world of gender stereotypes" – lists only two male speakers on the programme: Fintan O'Toole of The Irish Times and the writer and political columnist Gerard Howlin. The programme notes that the other panellists are to be arranged.


Mr Mulholland says O’Toole and Howlin were to be among the speakers for the original session for that final slot, which was to explore the dysfunctional nature of Ireland.

He said that by dint of circumstances the person who operates the website in what he described as a “shoestring operation” was away on holidays and he did not have the technical know-how or capacity himself to remove the two male names from the original session on a temporary basis.

He said there had been some criticism of what appeared to be an all-male panel on Twitter but said it was not the case and the panel would be comprised of women and men. He said he would like O’Toole and Howlin to remain involved in that discussion but that their names remained on the website only because they were involved in the session that was originally listed.

Total equality

Mr Mulholland said the difficulty in achieving a gender balance was not confined to the MacGill Summer School but was an issue for all similar events, and many others.

“I have been trying to improve [gender balance] all the time,” he said. “I would like to see total equality but at the moment I have not found that possible.

“If school had the resources, which it doesn’t have, I would have a researcher who would find out who is who in public life [these days]. I have to go on my own limited knowledge and I acknowledge it is limited. I am no longer involved in public life.”

Nonetheless, he maintained the number of women attending the school had grown noticeably in recent years. “We may not be growing that much with younger people but we are certainly attracting more women. There should be more women involved in the panels. I have asked for forgiveness for that and am doing the best I can to remedy that, to get a more balanced programme,” he said.

He said people had been “rubbishing” MacGill over the past few days but said the school still remained a great achievement, given that it was held in such a small and isolated place as Glenties, Co Donegal. This year marks the 38th year of the event.

Several of the invited speakers, including Social Democrats co-leaders Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy, have said they will not participate unless three is a step-improvement in the gender balance.

As of Monday, there was a total of 42 male speakers, and 21 female speakers, on the programme for the event, which takes place July 22nd-July 27th. This ratio of two to one is an improvement on the ratio of three to one five years ago, when there were 61 male speakers and 22 female speakers.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times