Wednesday 18 September 2019

'Dáil is a safe space for women to work and go about their daily life,' says Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Shona Murray

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said today that there “certainly is” 'macho' behaviour in the Dáil, but that in his experience it is "a safe place for women to go about their daily life.”

Mr Varadkar was responding to further reports this weekend of extensive allegations in relation to bullying and inappropriate behaviour at The Gate Theatre.

Several women have come forward with allegations against the theatre’s former artistic director, Michael Colgan.

Mr Colgan has said he will respond to the allegations.

Speaking today the Taoiseach said: “I don’t think that anyone can ever tolerate systemic bullying or harassment or physical or sexual assault in any workplace whether it’s the arts, or the Oireachtas or anywhere else.”

He added he is “encouraged by the fact that more people are willing to come forward and tell their stories” as a means of changing the culture.

"If people feel that they can come forward and tell their stories in time that will change the culture around these issues," he said.

However, he also said he believes “it’s important at the same time that as a society we don’t enter the crucible here; allegations are allegations and they should be taken seriously but we shouldn’t always assume they’re true and that’s why they need to be investigated first.”

None of the specific issues raised in relation to The Gate Theatre refer to allegations of criminal activity and the Taoiseach urged people to be cautious about conflating 'boorish behaviour' with more serious issues.

“I think we need to bear in mind that all forms of inappropriate behaviour or boorish behaviour or obnoxious behaviour don’t necessarily constitute systemic bullying or sexual assault so I think we need to bear that in mind," he said.

Mr Varadkar also pointed out that although The Gate Theatre receives substantial public funding it is not a public body and it's a matter for the company itself "to put in place its own procedures to investigate them properly".

In the UK, a series of allegations against scores of MP’s are being investigated by both The Tory and Labour parties.

Asked if such a dossier of incidences could emerge in Ireland, or indeed whether the Irish Houses of the Oireachtas are safe for women, Mr Varadkar said “from my experience it is a safe place for women to go about their daily lives.”

“That’s not to say there isn’t macho behaviour on occasion in the Oireachtas, there certainly is," he said.

He qualified his comment, however, by saying the perpetrators were more likely “men and women of Sinn Fein” and “the left” as opposed to churlish male members of the house.

“I’ve spoken myself about how, very often, when you’re trying to conduct normal business in the Dail you’re shouted down and interrupted constantly but that’s largely perpetrated by men and women of Sinn Fein and the left rather than men specifically," he said.

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