Tuesday 19 November 2019

Coveney refuses to rule out talk at gender-row seminar

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has not ruled out attending the MacGill Summer School - under fire for a lack of female speakers - saying the decision to attend will depend on his schedule.

The Fine Gael deputy leader is provisionally slated to appear on a panel with Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, discussing Brexit and the question of the Border.

The session is entitled "Squaring the circle: If the UK is outside the customs union and the single market, a hard Border is inevitable?" Professor Brigid Laffan is expected to chair the event.

At present Mr Coveney is the only Government minister included in the draft programme for the school.

A spokesman for the Tánaiste said his office "accepts invitations to discuss Brexit at conferences and forums every week".

"The MacGill Summer School made such an invitation and, given its proximity to the Border and focus on the future of Europe, it was last week accepted in principle," the spokesman said.

"The Tánaiste's office explained to the organisers this was an acceptance in principle only and would need to be followed up in early July with a final confirmation given the busyness of the Tánaiste's portfolio.

"This remains the position on this and other requests to attend events."

Mr Coveney did not respond when asked if the issue of a gender balanced roster at the event will influence his decision on whether to accept the invitation.

Organisers of the annual political talking shop were forced to apologise this week following backlash to its draft programme which showed less than a quarter of speakers scheduled to date are female.

Criticism was levelled at the school, which takes place each year in Glenties in Co Donegal, over the lack of women, particularly in the weeks after the landslide Yes vote in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment, which has been characterised by those who campaigned for repeal as a watershed moment for women's rights.

In response the school has extended its programme to add two events: one on the referendum to repeal the Eighth and another on the failure of MacGill and other organisations to take up the challenge of ensuring gender balance in public forums.

Social Democrats TDs Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy have withdrawn from the event due to the lack of female participants and both have confirmed they will not be taking part despite the changes.

"We had sought significant changes across the entire programme to reflect the wealth of fantastic and informed female voices across Irish public life. Two token panels don't constitute significant changes to the line up," Ms Murphy told the Irish Independent.

Dr Joe Mulholland, director of the school, apologised for the lack of women in the line up and said that organisers had fallen short of expected standards.

He appealed for women to take part in a bid to transform the upcoming school.

The event will look at the issues of Ireland's place in Europe, Brexit, housing and health under the banner theme: "The Future of Ireland in Europe: The challenges ahead?"

Irish Independent

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