Monday 16 September 2019

Independent review at Gate Theatre finds Michael Colgan has 'case to answer' over allegations

Independent review received input from 56 individuals

Former artistic director of the Gate Theatre Michael Colgan. Photo: Damien Eagers
Former artistic director of the Gate Theatre Michael Colgan. Photo: Damien Eagers

Sean Nolan

An independent review into allegations of inappropriate behaviour and abuse of power by former Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre Michael Colgan has found that he has 'a case to answer'.

The review, carried out by workplace relations expert Gaye Cunningham, was published today along with an "unreserved apology to those who experienced the behaviours reported to Ms. Cunningham" by the Board of the Gate.

The review was set up by the Gate Theatre in November of last year following a series of allegations made by a number of women in the arts industry.

The review received input from 56 individuals, including current and former employees and board members, and freelancers.

It involved face-to-face interviews, phone conversations and email and written submissions.

Following the two-month process: "The Review catalogues what Ms Cunningham reports as “credible and consistent testimonies” of behaviours that indicate Mr Colgan has a “case to answer” in respect of dignity at work issues, abuse of power and inappropriate behaviours.

"Many of the participants reported feeling they had “nowhere to go” and that feeling appeared to prevent them from invoking grievance procedures."

The report also makes 14 recommendations to make the Gate Theatre "a more positive and safe place in the future”.

Among them is one in particular reference to Mr Colgan which states: "Michael Colgan has a case to answer in respect to dignity at work issues, abuse of power and inappropriate behaviours, and the Board should consider what action, if any should be taken, acknowledging that he is no longer an employee."

Peter Crowley, Chairperson of the Board said: “The Board apologises unreservedly to those who experienced the behaviours reported to Ms. Cunningham as part of her Review. We recognise that a culture existed in the Gate whereby too much power was vested in one individual and people felt unable to speak out and we accept that the Board had an onus to be more aware of the culture prevailing in the theatre over time.

"From the time these allegations emerged, we saw it as our responsibility to respond to the specific issues as sensitively, professionally and proactively as possible. The completion of the review is a key step in this process.

"The Board is determined to use the outcomes of the Review as a catalyst for positive change and will see through this programme of change.

"I want to reassure the people who came forward that their voices have been heard and that their participation will lead to real change in how the Gate operates in the future.”

New Artistic Director Selina Cartmell said: “As the new Artistic Director of the Gate, I would like to take this opportunity to commend the bravery of all the individuals who have come forward and contributed to Ms. Cunningham's review and I endorse its independence.

"Leading the Gate Theatre through the difficult times of the past few months has been deeply confronting and challenging. We have already embarked on the journey of transforming the culture at the theatre and with the team at the Gate we will proactively be leading on Ms. Cunningham’s recommendations. I am personally committed to re-building trust within the arts community as we at the Gate collaborate, listen to others and strive for artistic excellence while creating an environment that is safe, open, equal and accessible. 

"The original founders Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir established a theatre and ethos that empowered artists and audiences to invest creatively, emotionally and spiritually in the theatre they established ninety years ago. My ambition is to build on their original vision with values of integrity, truth and transparency and transform the Gate Theatre into a cultural beacon we can all be proud of.”

The release today also states that "the Board intends to release the full Review in line with its commitment to openness and transparency, following the necessary legal review process."

It was also announced that the counselling service set up by the Gate Theatre in November last year will continue to be available to any affected persons for 12 months.

A lawyer for Mr Colgan told that Mr Colgan had no comment to make at this time.

In a self-penned piece in the Sunday Independent on November 12 last year, Mr Colgan said: "Last March, when I finally left the Gate, I was convinced that I had done a good job, believed that I had been a good boss, and that I was liked by all the staff.

"Recent revelations have made it clear that this cannot have always been the case, and that over the years there were moments where, through misjudged behaviour, I caused upset to some of my co-workers. This realisation has been deeply distressing and I sincerely apologise to anyone who was ever made to feel upset.

"I already knew that I was not politically correct, that I often sacrificed proper conduct for a punchline, and that, at times, could be too exacting as a boss. But realising that I have been responsible for causing distress to some of those with whom I worked so closely has shocked me, and I am truly sorry.

"These realisations have come with great force and I see things differently now. I belatedly realise that the seed of the problem lay in the obscuring of lines between my work and my life, the unseen problem of overlap between work and play.

"My life was my work, my work my life. My house became my office, my office became my home. My Thursday was the same as a Sunday and my 9am the same as 9pm. I led myself to believe that my colleagues were my friends. The lines had become blurred and I failed to see that when I spoke to my co-workers that we weren’t actually speaking as friends but that they remained employees and I should have respected the difference.

"I spent 33 years constantly assessing my relationship with the Gate audience but failed to properly assess the relationship I had with my staff. When they laughed at my jokes I thought it was because I was funny. I think now it was because I was their boss. When I read in a recent newspaper report that a former employee said that she thought she liked me but now realises she doesn’t, it shook me. I genuinely thought everyone at the Gate liked me.

"The conversations we had in that office felt the very same as the conversations I had with friends. I am so sorry to think that during what I thought were good times, working with that highly talented team, that I failed to notice that there were some who were feeling something else. There is no doubt that if I could re-live my time there, I would act differently. I would strictly observe the boundaries and set a stronger code of ethics.

"However, my behaviour should not be equated with sexual crimes. I take serious issue with much of the recent press and social media references to me. It is wrong that I have been the subject of gross insinuations and that my family have had to suffer totally false suggestions that I might be guilty of more than misjudged behaviour.

"We are living in a climate where to be accused is now enough to be deemed guilty. It is a worrying indictment of our times that one can be put through such a public online trial with the media as judge and Twitter as jury.

"But for the moment, the main purpose of this statement is to apologise to any person, in or out of the office, whom I have hurt. I would also like to apologise to any of my friends who may have been inadvertently upset due to my ebullient behaviour. Finally, I would like to apologise for any stress caused to the current board and management of the Gate. There is a new team in place there and the last thing I would have wanted to do is to distract them from the excellent work they have begun."

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