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Sinn Féin TD says people need 'Minister Joe Duffy' to get action on harassment and bullying claims

“Why, in 2017, must women use the front pages of newspapers to achieve justice and a workplace free of harassment and bullying?”

Peadar Tóibín
Peadar Tóibín
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

PEADAR TÓIBÍN HAS called on Arts Minister Heather Humphreys to send a “loud and clear” message to institutions receiving State funding that bullying or harassment by staff will not be tolerated.

The Sinn Féin TD raised allegations about bullying and harassment at the National Museum and Gate Theatre in the Dáil today.

Tóibín said: “In the last few weeks, a number of women have stood up and identified sexual harassment and bullying at the highest reaches of cultural institutions in the State. This takes strength and confidence because in Ireland to speak out normally means career suicide.

“These women have done massive service to workers everywhere and they must be applauded. Why, in 2017, must women use the front pages of newspapers to achieve justice and a workplace free of harassment and bullying?”

Tóibín claimed there is “a crisis” in the arts sector, stating: “The minister has levers of control. One is money. The minister can refuse to fund organisations that are not working properly.

A person’s only current recourse to justice is to go to the front page of a national newspaper or to Minister Joe Duffy (of Liveline fame) and that is not good enough.

Tóibín claimed that the Humphreys “has seen a letter detailing the bullying that is happening in the National Museum and yet it has been dismissed in the department’s report as having no legal standing”.

“A large number of people have been to the High Court and received settlements – State money. Despite this, the minister claims she has no responsibility in the matter.

“Millions of euro have been paid to consultants and for reports with regard to psychologists on this issue and yet nothing of significance is being done. Stacks of surveys detail the massive amount of complaints of bullying.

This weekend even the former director of the museum came out and said he had witnessed uncontrolled misogyny in the museum when he was leaving. He is concerned that it is still there.

“We know that a psychotherapist, who had been employed by the museum, blew the whistle and sent a letter to the department in 2011 identifying exactly what had happened. This weekend the front page of a newspaper reported another brave woman’s experience of what has happened in the museum.

“There is a forest of signposts clearly pointing the direction on the issue and yet the department’s report states that there is nothing to see here,” Tóibín said.

‘Legacy HR issues’ 

In response, Humphreys stated that everyone is “entitled to be treated with dignity, respect, fairness and equality in the workplace, be it in the National Museum or anywhere else”.

In recent times, there have been a number of alarming allegations and reports of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace relating to the arts community.

“I commend the women who have come out in recent weeks and told their stories.  It is very brave of them and I am glad they did so.”

The minister told Tóibín the museum is “dealing with a number of legacy HR issues relating to matters that happened a number of years ago and the board of management is taking steps to address these issues”.

“I cannot get involved in HR matters, which are a matter for the executive and board of the museum. I have provided additional support in dealing with the legacy issues. I have been very supportive of the chair and the members of the new board, whom I appointed in July 2016.

“They are doing a wonderful job in implementing change in the museum as well as preparing new plans to improve the museum’s services to the public in the coming years.”

Humphreys said her department has “already sanctioned three specific HR positions and two temporary positions for the corporate services area of the museum to assist in this process.” She said the report states there is “no evidence in the department of the department receiving any allegation of inappropriate sexual behaviour from June 2011 nor of anyone making a protected disclosure to the minister”.

“Other staffing matters which came to the attention of the department at that time were referred to the museum, as the employer,” Humphreys said, adding that the museum’s responsibility for its staff is “clearly set out legislation”.

“This is all dealt with in the review which specifically acknowledges that in 2012 certain allegations of bullying were referred to the museum, which rejected the issues raised. Referring the matter follows logically from the role of the institution as the employer. It refers and then any minister is bound to respect the statutory independence put in place by the Oireachtas, ” she stated.

‘Pontius Pilate’ 

Toibín said the minister’s claim she can’t get involved in HR matters was “a statement worthy of Pontius Pilate”, noting she “operates the funding for the museum”.

He said that “in fairness” to Humphreys she “responded to the crisis that developed in the theatres in recent weeks”.

Last week the minister met with the Arts Council to discuss allegations of harassment at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. In recent weeks several women have come forward with allegations of inappropriate behaviour and abuse of power by the theatre’s former director Michael Colgan.

Tóibín said: “There is a comparable gravity between the treatment of the staff in the National Museum and the other cultural institutions under the spotlight now. The minister should ensure that no cultural institution is left behind in this process. We need a proper investigation into what has happened in the National Museum of Ireland.

The minister needs to ensure that nobody in any of these institutions is ever again confused about being allowed to run institutions in this manner and still receiving money from the public purse. She needs to send the message loud and clear that money will not leave the public purse unless people get their houses in order on this issue.

In response to this, Humphreys again reiterated that she has “no involvement in the day-to-day running of the National Museum”.

“I accept there are issues at the museum and I have provided support to the chair and the board in terms of additional HR people. I will continue to work closely with the chair and the board of the museum. I will support them in any way I can to resolve the issues that have arisen,” she said.

Read: Report shows ‘toxic’ culture of bullying at National Museum of Ireland

Read: Colgan says he failed to see and ‘should have respected differences between friends and employees’

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Órla Ryan

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