Sunday 24 June 2018

Demands for Dail audit of misconduct and bullying

Women's group want staff and politicians surveyed

PROPOSAL: Catherine Noone. Picture: Collins
PROPOSAL: Catherine Noone. Picture: Collins
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A powerful new political lobby group for women is set to demand a bullying and sexual misconduct audit of all staff and politicians working in Leinster House, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The Oireachtas Women's Caucus wants a detailed survey of all women and men working in the national parliament to establish if there is a culture of bullying or sexual harassment.

Chair of the women's caucus and Green Party TD Catherine Martin said she will this week ask her members to support a proposal calling on the Oireachtas to survey all staff and politicians on their experiences working in Leinster House.

"We want that type of survey done for every person working in Leinster House - staff, male and female, along with TDs and senators - and if this is done in the parliament we should look at surveying county councils," Ms Martin told the Sunday Independent.

A recent survey of the British parliament found one in five people working in Westminster had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour.

A steering group within the Oireachtas Women's Caucus has been discussing plans for a survey of politicians and staff for a number of weeks.

However, the proposal will be put before the group this Tuesday, less than a week after Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone claimed she experienced misogynistic bullying at the hands of a male colleague.

Fine Gael headquarters is currently investigating the complaint, which was made against a fellow senator. A senior Fine Gael source said the matter is being treated "very seriously" and, if the allegation is proved to be true, could result in suspension. Sources close to the senator alleged to be at the centre of the controversy yesterday insisted he is "innocent".

"He's no bully and he's not sexist, and he gets on well with all his Fine Gael colleagues, both male and female," the source said.

Meanwhile, another senator revealed she was forced to contact the same politician alleged to be at the centre of the current misogyny controversy over comments made towards her. The senator contacted her colleague to tell him she was unhappy with comments he made to her. The alleged unnamed senator involved in the current controversy responded to her and acknowledged the incident.

The senator who was unhappy with the comment does not wish to speak publicly about the incident or take the matter further at this stage.

However, she did want to give her support to Ms Noone as she believed she was right to make a complaint about the alleged behaviour.

Separately, Independent Senator Mary Alice Higgins, who is also the President's daughter, said she supported Ms Noone's decisions to speak publicly about alleged bullying and misogyny in Leinster House.

"We do need to improve conditions for everyone working in the Oireachtas and it shouldn't fall to individuals like Catherine to make those changes to conditions and patterns in political life," Ms Higgins told the Sunday Independent.

"We all need to be more proactive on this," she added.

Ms Higgins said a code of behaviour should be introduced by the Oireachtas which would not only address bullying and misogyny but also set guidelines for how politicians should engage while debating in the Dail and Seanad.

Sunday Independent

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