Sunday 16 June 2019

Senators to be asked to help in FG 'sexism' claims probe

Leinster House (Stock picture)
Leinster House (Stock picture)

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

Fine Gael senators could be asked to give their version of a confrontation between two of their colleagues as part of an investigation into alleged bullying and sexism.

Party bosses have now launched a formal probe into claims that Senator Catherine Noone was subjected to misogyny by a male colleague.

It's understood the outcome of the investigation will be known within a week.

Ms Noone has alleged that a fellow senator repeatedly speaks down to her, dismisses her views and treats her in a misogynistic way.

Sources said that Ms Noone's issues with the senator "go back years" but have intensified in recent months.

The senator at the centre of the controversy last night told the Irish Independent he was not aware of any complaint against him.

Ms Noone is understood to have alleged that some derogatory comments have been directed towards her as a result of her work on the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.

She was the chairperson of the committee which proposed allowing unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

The breakdown in relations between Ms Noone and her colleague peaked at a meeting in recent weeks.

It's understood Ms Noone was speaking when the other senator loudly cut across her and refused to let her back in.

Ms Noone has told party officials she felt drowned out by his behaviour and unable to speak.

The majority of Fine Gael's 19 senators witnessed the exchange and sources confirmed they may now be asked by party headquarters to outline their recollection of the exchange.

Ms Noone raised the long-running row - without naming the individual involved - at a private Fine Gael meeting on Wednesday, telling colleagues that it had gotten to the point where she "can't take it anymore".

In response to her contribution, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would not "stand over any bullying or sexism towards colleagues". He asked parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon to investigate the allegations further.

Last night, a Fine Gael spokesperson confirmed that Mr Heydon has written to general secretary Tom Curran "regarding an internal matter within the party".

A statement said that: "Due process will be followed and the matter will be dealt with swiftly."

It added: "Fine Gael expects party colleagues to treat all with the utmost respect, professionalism and dignity at all times.

"Any internal party matters are dealt with in the strictest of confidence and Fine Gael will not be making any further comment."

Fine Gael last year had to deal with a separate controversy which led to the resignation of senior activist Barry Walsh from the party's executive council.

It came after TD Kate O'Connell highlighted offensive tweets by Mr Walsh, including posts where he used the term "bitch" in relation to some female politicians.

Ms Noone previously described Leinster House as a "difficult environment" for women after an unrelated incident involving remarks made by pro-life Independent TD Mattie McGrath ahead of votes in the abortion committee.

He said: "The fat lady hasn't sang here yet and I'm not talking about the chairperson of the committee or anybody like that." He immediately backtracked and later contacted Ms Noone to apologise.

Ms Noone wouldn't comment directly on Mr McGrath's remarks at the time. But she spoke in general about the "reality" that Leinster House "is quite a difficult environment for women".

Irish Independent

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