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Workshops on sexual harassment and bullying to be held for Irish arts groups

The announcement follows allegations of harassment and bullying made by women who worked at the Gate Theatre.

Image: Kozlik via Shutterstock

THE GOVERNMENT HAS announced a series of measures aimed “to drive out” sexual harassment and abuse of power in the arts community.

Among the actions the culture department will take are establishing workshops on harassment and bullying, encouraging other cultural organisations to come forward with any allegations, and sending out reminders to various cultural groups about their legal obligations as employers.

In the past few weeks, a number of women have come forward and made allegations of inappropriate behaviour by a former artistic director of Dublin’s Gate Theatre Michael Colgan.

On Monday, the director of the Arts Council said it is clear that there was a “culture of fear” at the Gate Theatre, after several women came forward with allegations of harassment and bullying.

Orlaith McBride said that “women were afraid to articulate experiences… There was a culture of fear where people were afraid to come forward”.

Colgan has not responded to the claims as yet, but told RTÉ News that he intends to issue a statement without specifying exactly when he would do so.

Today, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys said that she had invited eight leaders from major theatres, who recently co-signed a statement condemning sexual harassment and abuse of power in the theatre in Ireland, to meet with her and the Arts Council next week.

The Department stated that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways in which the Department and the Arts Council can create a safe culture and environment for workers.

Humphreys said in a statement that “there have been a number of alarming allegations and reports of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace relating to the arts community”.

“…the initiatives I am announcing today with the Arts Council are intended to facilitate the entire sector to work collectively to drive out unacceptable behaviour.”

Humphreys has also been engaging with the chair of the Abbey Theatre this week.

“Arising from conversations with the Abbey Theatre,” Humphreys said, “I will also be collaborating with our National Theatre to facilitate an industry-wide consultation exercise that will be held in partnership with the Arts Council.

“Our hope is to hold the consultation by the end of the month.”

The specifics

Workshops for board members and senior staff of bodies reporting to the department will be organised by the government. The workshops will deal with governance, the role of the board, the board’s relationship with the executive and their legal responsibilities.

There will be a particular emphasis on issues relating to bullying, abuse of power and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Minister will also extend an invitation to all cultural organisations and arts centres around the country to avail of similar training. The workshops will be delivered to interested parties at a series of “regional information days”.

The Department also intends to remind cultural bodies of their legal obligations to report allegations, by immediately writing to them to seek assurances of their compliance with employment legislation.

Accelerate a planned review of compliance by bodies reporting to the Department with the requirements of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies.

These are not the first bullying allegations that Humphreys has had to deal with – earlier this year it was claimed that the National Museum of Ireland had a “toxic” culture of bullying. The Museum has claimed that it has been “working hard” to hard to ensure that the correct processes and controls are put in place.

- With reporting from Sean Murray

Read: Calls for Gate theatre chairman to stand before Oireachtas Committee following Colgan assault allegations

Read: ‘The Dáil is no Westminster – but it certainly is a boys’ club’

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