Friday 18 October 2019

TDs threaten to drop out as MacGill Summer School engulfed in gender-balance row

'There is certainly no policy of not having women'

Joe Mulholland at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties in 2014. Photo: Jason McGarrigle
Joe Mulholland at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties in 2014. Photo: Jason McGarrigle

Sean Nolan

The Director of the MacGill Summer School has said there is "no policy of not having women" as a gender-balance row engulfed the well-known annual event.

Social Democrats co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall have said they will pull out of this year's event unless changes are made to panels to make them more gender balanced, with 12 women on the programme of 52 speakers at the Donegal event.

In a joint statement this morning, Deputies Murphy and Shortall said that were not aware at the time they accepted places on panels at the annual event that other sessions were 'predominantly male'.

Speaking on RTE Radio 1's Today with Sean O'Rourke programme, the event's director Joe Mulholland said efforts had been made to make the event gender balanced.

"There is at least one woman on every panel I think," Mr Mulholland said.

"It is 25pc roughly. I know that this is not enough of course. Efforts have been made by me. Efforts have been made to have a better gender balance. Efforts are also made to address political balance, socio-economic balance... I have done my best. Those who are close to me, who advise me know that every time I see them I say 'let's think about women'."

In an article published in the Irish Times this morning, Mr Mulholland said; "At times it is difficult to find the person with the correct aptitude for some of the topics."

In their statement today, Deputy Murphy said: "I find the comment from the organisers about it being ‘difficult to find people with the right aptitude’ quite offensive when the implication is obviously that that is the reason more women are not invited to speak at the event. That is simply not true or else the organisers have conducted a very limited search.

"There is an abundance of articulate and well-informed women that could have been approached to participate and weren’t. I cannot in good conscience take part in an event that has so blatantly disregarded the importance of equal female participation and for that reason I will withdraw from the session I was due to speak at unless significant changes are made across the programme."

Mr Mulholland addressed the 'aptitude' comment, telling Sean O'Rourke: "That was the total wrong term to use, I apologise and I withdraw it. The number of women who are on the programme does not represent the number invited."

In her statement, Deputy Shortall said: "Irish politics has come a long way from the male pale and stale boys club that it traditionally was. High-profile events like MacGill have a responsibility to reflect that change but also to recognise the wealth of fantastic and informed female voices across Irish public life."

Also speaking to Sean O'Rourke, Deputy Murphy said: "You do have to make a stand, the gender imbalance is so significant."

Mr Mulholland also admitted he had 'failed' to get the gender balance right.

"A lot of time goes in to this, of trying to get a coherent, cohesive programme and one that reflects social, political and economic life in Ireland. I have failed on the point of view of the gender," he said, before adding; "There is certainly no policy of not having women. Last year one panel on health had three women out of four, including Roisin."

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