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Mental Health

A prolonged culture of bullying and stress: What's going on at the National Museum of Ireland?

There are concerns that staff’s complaints aren’t being dealt with comprehensively after the National Museum got an easy pass at committee last week.

90432486_90432486 Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM of Ireland has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons lately, and if you’re not quite sure why, here’s a run through.

In December 2016, a Workplace Wellbeing report by an Ulster Business School academic assessed employees and found shocking levels of bullying and a lack of follow-up to concerns raised by staff. Some of the findings were:

  • 40% of staff felt that they were ‘often’, ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ bullied at work
  • Over 40% of employees at the institutions are deemed to be at risk of developing anxiety or depression
  • Almost 70% of respondents feel employee morale is poor to very poor
  • 7 in 10 employees want mental health support to help deal with stress and depression.

The report also found that 90% of people said they loved going to work, (which probably accounts for a love of their job, rather than their environment).

After the publication of the report, clinical psychotherapist Stephanie Regan was asked about her findings while employed by the Museum. It was understood that she had reported serious issues around bullying by senior staff members.

From 2008 until 2011, Regan was hired to implement an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), to identify what was negatively affecting employees, which are commonly used by companies to promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace.

In 2010 she reported a trend of incidents of bullying and severe stress to management, and shortly afterwards was told that they were putting the role of EAP at the National Museum out to tender.

As well as concerns about bullying, there have been questions raised in the Dáil about alleged inappropriate sexual behaviour by members of staff.

It’s understood intimidation and misuse of senior positions formed part of the bullying.

Protected disclosure

90436723_90436723 SAM BOAL SAM BOAL

In the intervening period between 2011 – when Regan reported her concerns over this trend of bullying incidents to the National Museum – and the publishing of the wellbeing report in 2016, although there have been some improvements, the core issues still remain (as shown by the report).

Last month, Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín told the Dáil under privilege that a document outlining the actions of National Museum management was destroyed in a government department.

He added that “a protected disclosure was made to the National Museum but there is no record of a protected disclosure on the Department’s records or on the National Museum’s records”.

A protected disclosure is a provision in law that protects workers who report possible wrongdoings in their workplace.

Referring to previous claims raised about inappropriate sexual behaviour, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys replied:

“I am advised that my Department has not received any allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour and I am not aware of any protected disclosures.

What I can say, however, is that an official in my Department received a telephone call approximately two years ago during the course of which the same issues were raised that had been previously written about to my predecessor regarding the report of 2012. I did not ignore the matter.

She then added “this is a [Human Resources] issue. I am not getting involved in Human Resources issues”.

Heather Humphreys TD Minister Heather Humphreys at the National Museum. Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

A quick note about how the management of the Museum changed over this time:

  • The director of the Museum Dr Patrick Wallace retired from his role in 2012 after 24 years in the role, telling the Irish Times that he was ‘forced out’ by pressure from the Department through various cuts in funding and recruitment.
  • Seamus Lynam was acting director from 1 March 2012 and the 7 July 2013, according to the National Museum website, and in 2013 the current director Raghnall Ó Floinn took over.
  • Catherine Heaney, former press officer of the Labour Party and Director of DHR Communications, became the Chairperson in July 2016.

No answers (or questions) at committee

Both Heaney and Ó Floinn were before the Joint Committee on Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs last week to discuss issues at the Museum.

CATHERINE HEANEY IRISH FAMILY PLANNING ASSOCIATION PORTRAIT LANDSCAPE Catherine Heaney. Gareth Chaney / Photocall Ireland! Gareth Chaney / Photocall Ireland! / Photocall Ireland!

They said from the outset that they had an “absolute obligation as an employer to maintain confidentiality and respect in terms of all our employees past and present”.

But even general questions on how the Museum is handling issues arising from these employee assessments were brought to a halt when Peadar Tóibín asked:

With regard to the allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour, has it been the policy of the National Museum to leave those individuals in situ?

Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Riordáin said that he was “uncomfortable” with the questioning, which he called “inappropriate”.

These two individuals are trying to run a national institution, they have a lot on their plate.

Other committee members agreed with Ó Riordáin’s concerns, and the questioning on the ‘HR issue’ ended.

What’s next?

90388703_90388703 Peadar Toibín. Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

As the Minister has refused to get involved, the obligation remains on the Museum to decide what the best course of action is for their staff.

Clinical Psychotherapist Stephanie Regan has confirmed that she received an FOI from the Department of Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs which shows a member of the Museum writing to the Department about Regan.

The Museum’s acting director at the time, Seamus Lynam, wrote to the Department’s Assistant Secretary General Niall Ó Donnchú about Regan in July 2013.

Among the non-redacted parts of the seven-page letter, it says that her reports of bullying at the Museum were “totally unfounded”.

There are also a number of ongoing High Court cases concerning staff members and the National Museum, which Peadar Tóibín says, coupled with surveys and supports for staff, is costing the state between €1.5 and €1.8 million.

The National Museum of Ireland released a statement to saying they know nothing about how Tóibín reached that sum of money.

Correction: A previous version of this article said that Dr Patrick Wallace was Director of the National Museum for 12 months when he in fact held the role for 24 years. The article was updated at 11.35.

Read: Department destroyed report on National Museum management, Dáil hears

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

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