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Sunday 21 October 2018

Allegations must be taken seriously, but we can't assume they're true - Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Cormac McQuinn and Kirsty Blake Knox

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has stressed that bullying and harassment cannot be tolerated in the arts world, but urged caution saying such allegations need to be investigated fully.

Mr Varadkar was speaking in relation to the allegations levied at former artistic director of the Gate Theatre Michael Colgan.

Several women, including former employees at the Gate Theatre, have made claims against Mr Colgan ranging from verbal harassment to inappropriate behaviour.

Theatre director and arts practitioner Grace Dyas was the first woman to speak out.

Mr Colgan is expected to issue a statement regarding the allegations in the coming days.

Mr Varadkar 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."

Maire O’Connor, chairperson of the Gender Equality Taskforce for Higher Education, and Junior Minister with special responsibility for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Photo: Jason Clarke
Maire O’Connor, chairperson of the Gender Equality Taskforce for Higher Education, and Junior Minister with special responsibility for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Photo: Jason Clarke

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

However, he also said: "It's important at the same time that as 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."

He added: "I think we need to bear in mind that all forms of inappropriate behaviour or boorish behaviour or obnoxious behaviour don't necessarily constitute bullying sexual assault."

Michael Colgan Photo: Arthur Carron
Michael Colgan Photo: Arthur Carron

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

The board of the Gate Theatre has hired an external consultancy company, Reputation Inc, to field queries regarding the harassment controversy.

The board has held several emergency meetings in recent days to discuss the allegations. Reputation Inc says the board will issue a statement shortly.

Speaking on RTÉ's 'Claire Byrne Live' last night, Ms Dyas said Mr Colgan had "too much power".

"He wasn't accountable to anybody in that structure, he wasn't accountable to the Arts Council, he wasn't accountable to the Government, he wasn't accountable to his own board - he sat on his own board.

"He could literally do what he liked and nobody had any recourse," she said.

Arts Council director Orlaith McBride said she believed staff at the Gate were living in a "culture of fear".

Ms McBride stressed that this culture of fear is not confined to the Gate and can be found "across the sector".

Irish Independent

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