Two TDs to boycott MacGill Summer School without further reform
Social Democrats joint leaders say better gender balance still required
Joint leaders of the Social Democrats, Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy both wrote to MacGill Summer School director Joe Mulholland earlier this week to say they would withdraw from the event if the gender imbalance issue was not addressed. Photograph: Eric Luke
Joint leader of the Social Democrats, Róisín Shortall, has said the MacGill Summer school will need to do more to address the gender balance in its programme before she or fellow leader Catherine Murphy will participate in the event next month.
Ms Shortall and Ms Murphy both wrote to the director Joe Mulholland earlier this week to say they would withdraw from the event if the issue was not addressed.
Both were included on the programme for the 2018 school which begins next month. The long-established event held in Glenties, Co Donegal discusses political issues, public affairs, history, social issues, finance and public policy.
The two Social Democrat TDs announced their withdrawal when it emerged that only 20 per cent of the speakers lined up for the event were women. The gender imbalance controversy was exacerbated when Mr Mulholland said he had had difficulties finding people of the “right aptitude”, a comment for which he later apologised.
The event has also added two sessions to its programme - one on the abortion referendum and the other on how to address gender imbalances in general.
On Thursday evening, Ms Shortall said as of now she and Ms Murphy were not prepared to attend the event. She said they had hoped that more women would be added to the existing panels rather than creating the two extra sessions.
“We would contend there is any number of women who would be happy to participate,” said Ms Shortall.
She said the two politicians were not aware when they accepted the invitation that a small minority of the speakers were women. It is understood that both were only invited to speak in the past week or so.
“It was only on Tuesday when the issue emerged on social media that we became aware. The the big problem was the comment Joe (Mulholland) made about aptitude. I know he was apologetic but it was very insensitive and insulting and displayed an out-of-date attitude.
“I think it is time for MacGill and other public fora to ensure they have better diversity and balance,” she said.
Another participant, Fine Gael MEP Maireád McGuinness said he would be attending. She said EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel earlier launched a campaign “No Women No Panel” which she supported.
“I very much welcome the acceptance by Joe Mulholland that he has failed from the point of view of gender balance and efforts are now being made to address the deficit.
“While there is a long way to go in terms of visibility and participation of women, we are at a stage where there is a much heightened awareness of gender issues.”
The chair of the Oireachtas Women’s Caucus Catherine Martin said on Thursday the make up of such events should be reflective of the make-up of our population.
“It’s not that there is a lack of talented and articulate women in every field. You don’t have to look very hard to find them,” the Green Party deputy leader said.
“There are multiple bodies and groups you can reach out to if you’re not sure. In a year where women activists and campaigners are to the fore we do not know how we could be overlooked by such an established school as MacGill.”