Tuesday 20 August 2019

No room for harassment in the Dail

Frances Fitzgerald says Irish politics must take zero-tolerance line on 'old style sexism'

Dáil Éireann. Stock picture
Dáil Éireann. Stock picture

Philip Ryan and Dearbhail McDonald

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald has insisted Irish political parties should take a zero tolerance approach to "old style sexism" in the aftermath of the sexual harassment controversy which engulfed UK politics last week.

Ms Fitzgerald said there was no woman in Irish politics who had not encountered some form of sexism.

The Minister for Business said Leinster House is a "very different place" to when she was first elected two decades ago but said this does not mean workplace harassment in politics has come to an end.

"I think the key is making sure political parties have the policies in place to begin with and also have a culture that doesn't tolerate any sort of harassment and doesn't have that old-style sexism," Ms Fitzgerald told the Sunday Independent. The Tanaiste said workplace harassment has "nothing to do with sex or sexuality" but rather is an "abuse of power".

"In the early years you would be conscious of sexist comments but as I say while I may consider that has changed over the years in the same way that reflects societal change, you can never be sure of the individual experience of women in a work setting and you have to constantly be open to supporting women and the mesage has to be you support anyone - male or female - coming forward," she said.

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown TD Maria Bailey said she had not experienced sexual harassment since she was elected to the Dail last year. But she said in all walks of life women had to work harder to get by, especially when returning to the workforce after pregnancy.

"Women have to fight harder to be taken seriously in any career," she said.

Last week, a list emerged of Conservative Party MPs accused of inappropriate behaviour towards women working in Westminster. The list detailed allegations against senior Tory figures and resulted in the resignation of Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. It also emerged female staff working for the Conservative Party had a WhatsApp group to warn each other about MPs who acted inappropriately.

The controversy followed the Harvey Weinstein controversy in Hollywood which saw dozens of claims of rape and sexual abuse made against the movie producer.

In Ireland, the arts world has been in shock over allegations of inappropriate behaviour by senior figures in the theatre industry. Yesterday, Fianna Fail arts spokeswoman Niamh Smyth said Ireland's artistic reputation risked being severely damaged by allegations of unacceptable behaviour towards female staff at Dublin's Gate Theatre.

"These claims have rocked to the core the Irish artistic community, and are a major threat to our reputation as a leading artistic nation," she said. "Every single one of these allegations needs to be investigated and the women who made these very serious allegations must be supported and offered counselling and advice."

Separately, the Tanaiste said a "whole of population" study is needed to combat sexual violence and harassment.

Ms Fitzgerald, who as Justice Minister introduced the Sexual Offences Bill, said that a new Savi (Sexual Abuse and. Violence in Ireland) report - which would cost just €1m a year to fund - was needed to bring about a comprehensive examination of attitudes to violence and experience of violence.

"We should [fund Savi] and I think we will," said the Minister in an interview with the Sunday Independent.

"I think a longitudinal, whole of population study is required and I think between a number of government departments we should be able to find that €1m. We live in a culture now where you've huge risks to young women, to young men indeed, pornography, a changed situation from when the first Savi was done, where you have different threats around personal well-being."

Sunday Independent

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