Arts Council head urges women to trust Gate Theatre investigation

Orlaith Mc Bride says the credentials of independent expert Gaye Cunningham are “beyond criticism”

The head of the Arts Council has urged women who have complained about the behaviour of the Gate Theatre's former artistic director to trust an independent investigation into the matter. 

A number of Michael Colgan's accusers have rejected his public apology published by The Sunday Independent.

In the article Mr Colgan apologised for the upset caused to some of his co-workers through “misjudged behaviour.”

A number of his accusers have since suggested they will not engage with the theatre’s official investigation until all board members have been removed from it.

Independent investigation

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the director of the Arts Council, Orlaith McBride said the Gate “moved very quickly” to appoint Rights Commissioner Gaye Cunningham as an independent expert to oversee the investigation - as soon as it became clear that its original plan for an internal human resources investigation would not be sufficient.

She said Ms Cunningham’s credentials are “beyond criticism” adding that she will "absolutely conduct a very, very independent investigation."

“I think the process will allow those women’s voices to be heard and I think they will be listened to,” she said.

“I would urge those women to participate in this process,” she said. “Because, I genuinely do believe that is an independent process.”

“I don’t know Gaye Cunningham personally, but certainly in terms of her credentials; it is very clear that she is completely independent of anything that has gone on heretofore.”

Apology

In his apology Mr Colgan said: "I already knew that I was not politically correct, that I often sacrificed proper conduct for a punchline, and that, at times, could be too exacting as a boss.”

"But realising that I have been responsible for causing distress to some of those with whom I worked so closely has shocked me, and I am truly sorry."

He added that his behaviour should not be equated with sexual crimes and expressed concern that "one can be put through such a public online trial with the media as judge and Twitter as jury."

Harassment

Ms McBride said new measures announced by the Culture Minister Heather Humphries to tackle sexual harassment and abuse of power in the arts sector are about ensuring that “this kind of thing will never happen again.”

“It is about putting in place, processes, procedures and policies across the sector so that people have confidence that this can never happen again,” she said.

“It is about really looking to the future, supporting organisations so that people can forward.

“But also [...] actually asking the sector what it is they require themselves to ensure this can’t happen again; that people who are in positions of power within organisations know the limits in terms of their behaviour.”

Gig economy

She said that the gig economy in the arts sector can leave people feeling vulnerable as they move from job to job.

“People don’t feel that they have the protection of the law on their side but actually they do," she said.

"So it is about supporting individuals within the sector to recognise inappropriate behaviour and call it when it happens,” she said.

Investigation

Ms Cunningham has already begun her investigation into the allegations of inappropriate behaviour and is due to report back in January.

She will contact any current or former staff members who have spoken out on the record.

Other people wishing to come forward with concerns can contact Ms Cunningham directly via cunninghamconfidential@outlook.ie.