Saturday 24 August 2019

MacGill Summer School to enlist more women in 'gender balance' dispute

Organisers of influential political event forced to apologise

Catherine Murphy, left, and Róisín Shortall withdrew over the gender imbalance. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Catherine Murphy, left, and Róisín Shortall withdrew over the gender imbalance. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

The MacGill Summer School has extended its programme and increased the number of female participants after it faced criticism over the gender balance of the event.

The event's organisers were forced to apologise after the draft programme revealed a line up of just 12 women compared with 44 men.

Two of the event's high-profile female speakers, Social Democrats TDs Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall, yesterday withdrew from the influential political talking shop over the gender imbalance. The deputies were the only female TDs billed to speak, out of a cohort of eight.

Ms Shortall said: "Irish politics has come a long way from the male, pale and stale boys club that it traditionally was."

Her colleague Ms Murphy told the Irish Independent the pair regretted having to withdraw, but it was necessary to discuss the gender issue that had emerged, even if it was uncomfortable.

Last night, the director of the school, Dr Joe Mulholland, admitted the organisers had "fallen short of the very high standards for which MacGill has become known".

MacGill Summer School director Joe Mulholland. Photo: Arthur Carron
MacGill Summer School director Joe Mulholland. Photo: Arthur Carron

"Without question, women are under-represented numerically on our panels notwithstanding the strengths and high calibre of those women who accepted our invitation to contribute," he said.

"This is something we very much regret. We are determined, in the short period remaining before MacGill 2018 commences, to do all that we can to redress this imbalance.

"To this end, we are working progressively to include in the programme two new sessions. One will focus on the recent referendum on Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. The other session will be tasked with cutting to the very heart of why MacGill and other organisations and public forums in Ireland have not embraced effectively gender balancing.

"To achieve this we need help and I would ask our audiences and particularly women to assist us in transforming MacGill 2018 by participating in the debates in Glenties which will help establish new foundations in our ongoing pursuit of building a better Ireland in the years ahead."

Dr Mulholland said the school accepted a mistake had been made and the error had to be remedied.

Ms Shortall told the Irish Independent that the organisers need to be "proactive in getting women to go onto the panels".

"Mr Mulholland needs to take the steps to contact women and if he does achieve equality for women on panels, Catherine Murphy and I will consider attending," she said. "But this can't be tokenism, there's a need for gender balance.

"I welcome the apology but it's important they go beyond adding two panels, they need as close as possible, parity of women speakers with men across the board."

The annual current affairs talking shop, which takes place in Glenties, Co Donegal every July, will this year examine topics around the theme "The Future of Ireland in Europe: The challenges ahead?".

Women billed to speak include Vicky Phelan, whose court challenge revealed the CervicalCheck scandal, INM Group Business Editor Dearbhail McDonald, and RTÉ's Ingrid Miley.

Separately, Dr Mulholland confirmed to the Irish Independent the school received up to €18,000 in State funding in recent years from Donegal Co Co. The funding did not come with any attached conditions in respect of gender balance.

Irish Independent

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