Olivia O’Leary defends MacGill school director against gender balance criticism

Broadcaster says Joe Mulholland was hugely supportive of women when working at RTÉ

RTÉ broadcaster Olivia O'Leary has defended MacGill Summer School director Joe Mulholland and said he is not a misogynist.

Mr Mulholland has apologised for the lack of gender balance at this year’s conference, saying it was “working progressively” to amend the programme before next month’s event.

The long-established event held in Glenties, Co Donegal discusses political issues, public affairs, history, social issues, finance and public policy. This year, a number of speakers have threatened to withdraw over the lack of women on panels.

He has defended the number of women speaking at the annual conference in Glenties, Co Donegal, saying he had done his best to ensure a fair representation but that at times it was difficult to find “the person with the correct aptitude for some of the topics that are discussed in sessions”. Mr Mulholland later apologised for this remark.


A draft programme of the event shows there are 45 male speakers and moderators compared to 15 female speakers and moderators.

In a letter in today’s Irish Times, Ms O’Leary said Mr Mulholland was one of the best editors she worked for while he was in RTÉ.

Ms O’Leary said she agreed the agenda of this years’s summer school “does not reflect adequately the central role women played in this momentous year for women’s rights.”

Responding to an opinion piece by Susan McKay which said MacGill Summer School was ridiculously out of tune with the times, Ms O’Leary said it gave an unfair impression of Mr Mulholland.

“Anyone who came away from Susan’s article with the impression that MacGill’s director, Joe Mulholland, was a misogynist hasn’t ever worked with him. I did for many years, and not only did he support female presenters at a time when few others did, he encouraged women reporters, producers and directors as well, and he ensured that issues about women’s rights were covered. He was one of the best editors I ever worked for,” she said.

“I have had to put up with a lot of misogynists in my time in journalism. I can smell ’em a mile off. Joe Mulholland wasn’t one of them,” she said.

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 Mr Mulholland earlier this week to say they would withdraw from the event if the issue was not addressed.