HR issues at National Museum taking toll, claims chairwoman

A survey found over 40% of National Museum staff were at risk of anxiety or depression

Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín, chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Arts and Heritage: estimated €1.5-€1.8 million had been spent, including on legal settlements and consultant reports, at the National Museum.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín, chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Arts and Heritage: estimated €1.5-€1.8 million had been spent, including on legal settlements and consultant reports, at the National Museum. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Human resource issues at the National Museum of Ireland cost it and the State “in terms of reputation and financially”, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Chairwoman of the museum’s board Catherine Heaney said it was now working “incredibly hard” to address the issues.

Ms Heaney did not put a figure on the financial cost of the human resource difficulties.

However, Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín, chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Arts and Heritage, said he estimated that between €1.5 million and €1.8 million had been spent, including on legal settlements and consultant reports.

Ms Heaney and a team from the National Museum were attending the committee on Tuesday to discuss human resource issues.

There had been concerns about bullying at the museum and some legal action was taken by former staff. A health and wellbeing survey of staff, carried out last year, found more than 40 per cent were at risk of developing anxiety or depression.

It also found one in five employees at the institution was “often” or “always” subjected to bullying. Another 20 per cent said they were “sometimes” the victims of bullying, while one employee complained of having to deal with “bullies and perverts”.

Ms Heaney, who has been chairwoman since July 2016, said not all staff completed the survey, though two-thirds did. There were some positives in it, she said, noting that 93 per cent of staff who replied had said they were happy to come to work. She also said the survey should not have been distributed to the media.

Confidentiality obligations

She told the committee she was not in a position to discuss individual cases because of confidentiality obligations.

She said HR issues arose “even in the smallest organisations” and she would not be surprised if “anyone in this room” had to deal with such issues. She highlighted the hard work and commitment of staff at the museum, particularly during 1916.

Mr Tóibín acknowledged the good work carried out by staff before outlining concerns about alleged bullying and intimidation at the museum. He said there were three cases brought to the High Court related to bullying and he had spoken to men and women who told him they had “shattered lives”.

He queried whether a letter from senior management had been hand-delivered to the new place of work of a former employee.

Ms Heaney reiterated her commitment to confidentiality and said she could not answer.

Labour Senator Aodháin Ó Ríordáin then interrupted to say he was unhappy with Mr Tóibín’s line of questioning. He said the Sinn Féin TD seemed to have “heavily researched questions” and knowledge from an individual, but Ms Heaney and her team were “trying to run an institution”.

Independent Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell told Mr Ó Ríordáin he was “not alone”.

Mr Tóibín said he wished to “shine a light” on the issues at the museum so that the department would provide it with “necessary supports”.

Mr Ó Ríordáin responded that it might be more productive to speak about how the museum was addressing its culture.

The committee then went into private session. On resumption, 30 minutes later, Mr Tóibín said they would focus on the museum’s restructuring plans.

Museum director Raghnall Ó Floinn Uasal outlined progress, including in dispute resolution and the establishment of a staff forum. He said a full review would be carried out to ascertain what resources were actually needed in HR.