The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has called for an independent investigation into allegations of harassment at the Gate Theatre, against its former director Michael Colgan.
The call came as the head of the Arts Council said there was a culture of fear at the Dublin theatre where people were afraid to speak out.
A total of seven women have made allegations against the former theatre director over the last number of days, some of which include claims of inappropriate sexual comments and unwanted physical contact.
The Gate Theatre set up a confidential email address to deal with claims and said it was appointing an independent HR adviser. But those channels were rejected by the claimants, on the basis of the impartiality of the board.
Speaking yesterday, director of the NWCI Orla O’Connor said Mr Colgan’s dual role as a board member and chief executive during his time at the Gate was a “very unusual circumstance”.
She suggested a “very independent” body should carry out an investigation into alleged harassment at the theatre.
“It needs to be a body doing the investigation that is very independent of the [Gate] board because that’s certainly some of the concerns that the women are raising,” Ms O’Connor said.
“Many of the people on the board will have been board members when Michael Colgan was also a board member.
“We need to see a more fully fledged independent investigation, one that is not controlled by the Gate Theatre. There’s a wider investigation needed here than what the Gate is currently saying,” she said.
Meanwhile, the head of the Arts Council, Orla McBride, described a culture of fear at the theatre.
“I think what’s very clear in relation to what has emerged over the last number of days in relation to the Gate Theatre is people were afraid. There was a culture of fear in the Gate Theatre and people were afraid to come forward,” she said.
Others to speak out yesterday included former High Court president Nicholas Kearns, a trustee of the Gate Theatre, who expressed “deep concern” at the allegations.
Siptu arts officer Karen O’Loughlin also commented yesterday, on harassment within creative industries, and said a “workplace is a workplace”.
“It was generally felt that people in the arts got away with a lot under the guise of artistic endeavour or artistic temperament. A workplace is a workplace, regardless of whether it’s an artistic workplace or not,” she said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also spoke out yesterday about the allegations. He ruled out the setting up of an independent inquiry into allegations at the Gate but welcomed people coming forward but said allegations need to be investigated first.
Meanwhile, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys said: “HR issues at the Gate are a matter for the management and board.” However, she “strongly” encouraged any victims of sexual harassment to come forward.
Super junior minister for Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said there was a “revolution” happening in all sectors of society as women seek to have their voices heard. However, the minister said she had not experienced any sexual harassment in the Oireachtas.
Allegations against Michael Colgan
Several theatre professionals have made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against former Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan.
Playwright Grace Dyas was the first to publicly allege Mr Colgan had acted inappropriately towards her.
“We were at the Dublin Theatre Festival and after the launch, we all went across the way to the Oak Bar and I saw Michael and he offered to buy me a drink. I accepted and he said: ‘You’ve lost so much weight I’d almost have sex with you’,” Ms Dyas claimed.
Annette Clancy, a former theatre manager, also alleged Mr Colgan had acted inappropriately.
In a job interview, she claimed he referred to her massage therapy qualifications and said: “Well I wish you’d give me a massage someday.”
Playwright Elizabeth Ciara Smyth claimed Mr Colgan touched her body and passed comments about it.
“Constant touching of my thighs, back and very occasionally my bum while I sat beside him typing from his dictation. He made frequent comments about the size of my breasts and whether or not I’d contemplate a breast reduction, considering my small frame,” Ms Smyth said.
Ruth Gordon, a producer, who was interviewing for a role at the Gate Theatre was allegedly asked by Mr Colgan if she planned on having “a load of babies”.
“He eventually asked a few job-related questions and then said: ‘What age are you, Ruth?’ Put on the spot, I told him my age reluctantly. This was swiftly followed up by: ‘How do I know you’re not going to go off in 18 months and have a load of babies?’,” Ms Gordon said.
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