Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Ceisteanna (22)

Peadar Tóibín


22. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if her attention has been drawn to new allegations that have been made regarding abuse and bullying in the National Museum of Ireland. [10093/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Culture)

Over the past number of years the National Museum of Ireland has been racked with allegations of bullying and sexual harassment. Millions of euro have been spent so far on consultants, reports, sexual abuse experts and High Court payoffs. This, of course, does not include the very real damage that has been done to the lives of a large number of people who simply wanted to work in the premier heritage location in Ireland. Is the Minister aware of any new allegations of sexual harassment and bullying in the National Museum of Ireland?

My Department has been informed of new allegations of bullying and harassment in the National Museum. The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot discuss individual cases. The Deputy will also be aware that the National Museum of Ireland is a statutory body under the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 and I have no responsibility for the day to day operations of the museum.

While I cannot get involved in human resource matters, which are a matter for the executive and the board of the museum, my Department has provided additional support, including sanction for three specific HR positions and two temporary positions for the corporate services area of the museum.

The chair and the new board were appointed in July 2016 and are implementing change in the museum, as well as preparing new plans to improve the museum's services to the public over the coming years. My Department and I are supportive of these plans.

Separately, in light of allegations of abuse of power and sexual harassment elsewhere in the arts sector, my Department has identified a number of actions to be taken in relation to bodies reporting directly to my Department, including our national cultural institutions. These include arranging dedicated workshops for board members and senior staff of bodies reporting to the Department dealing with governance. There will be a particular emphasis on issues relating to bullying, abuse of power and sexual harassment in the workplace.

I consider that the support for the board, which I have outlined, is the most appropriate way for my Department to deal with issues of bullying and harassment.

The Minister's response is very unsatisfactory in a number of ways. Obviously she is new to the Department and she may not be aware of the deep and ongoing crisis that has engulfed the National Museum. Significant damage has been done to a large number of women who have worked in a building 100 yards from where we sit. These women were in the care of the State because the State had a role during that time as the Department was involved in those particular HR issues. These women could not receive justice. The only way they could do so was to go to the front pages of the national newspapers and tell their stories. The most frustrating thing about this is that I have been told that at the start of these allegations a senior person in the National Museum of Ireland gave a report of what happened to the Department, and the Department did not carry out anything. The report does not exist at present. If that initial report had been acted upon none of the subsequent allegations made by those women would have happened. Sitting on hands so far has only meant more people have had to suffer. I urge the Minister to take a hands-on approach to resolving this issue.

I have tabled a question on the matter to which the Minister referred, regarding a report on harassment and bullying in another institution. In the context of this being a matter in a number of institutions, and we have had reports recently on The Gate Theatre, will the Minister publish and advise what she proposes to do to empower workers, particularly young workers, whether women or men, to be able to be in a safe work environment? If they encounter harassment and bullying what can they do to ensure they can stop it?

I do not accept the fact that no steps have been taken to try to eradicate harassment in this particular area. I have the utmost sympathy for women and men who go through any bullying or harassment in the museum or any other cultural institution.

There is positive engagement with the National Museum of Ireland and a head of human resources was put in place, on an 18 month contract, on 26 February. There are also two temporary HR staff in place. In my role as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht I am in a position to support the National Museum of Ireland in ensuring these issues will not arise into the future. A complaint made on 22 February has been submitted to the State Claims Agency which notified me by letter yesterday that as the National Museum of Ireland was the employer, not me, as Minister, it would be dealing with the matter internally. Obviously, I cannot go into the detail of the case.

As I mentioned, workshops for directors and boards are being held by my Department and the natural cultural institutions have been issued with reminders of their responsibility to follow through on their obligations under employers' legislation. The Department also supports the provision of training for staff of the national cultural institutions and it is very important that that be done.

Adrienne Corless, a former staff member of the National Museum of Ireland, stated about her experience that she would rather vomit slugs than name the truths of her experience in working at the National Museum of Ireland but that if she did not do so, she would spend the rest of her life living with slug-like lodgers from her past working life eating her up from inside. The deep ramifications of what happened in the National Museum of Ireland are still surfacing. The Minister will be aware of the recently listed third third High Court case of bullying at the National Museum of Ireland. There are still questions about a large number of secondments, one of which has been ongoing for the past four years at a cost of €100,000 per annum. I believe that what happened was, in part, the result of a laissez-faire attitude on the part of the Department and previous Ministers. Will the Minister continue that process or will she bring it to an end?

I can assure the Deputy that there is no laissez-faire attitude on my part or within the Department in this area. In 2017 a staff forum, consisting of representatives of management and the staff, was set up to promote and foster good relations within the National Museum of Ireland. There was also a review of departmental documentation in 2017 which set out a number of recommendations, one of which was that we continue to support the chairperson and the board of the National Museum of Ireland in the introduction and implementation of measures to achieve enhanced HR capacity in the museum, which we have done. The National Museum of Ireland is also adhering to the code of practice, which is important. Also, an internal audit conducted in 2017 recommended the establishment of a dedicated HR unit at the museum. The HR policy was reviewed and updated and there is continual HR training for line managers across all areas of the museum. It is also proposed to develop a museum development plan setting out a long-term direction of travel for the museum.

I accept that there should never be a workplace in which people have to suffer the indignity of harassment or abuse in any form. I will be taking any step I can in that regard.

On Deputy Joan Burton's point about the Gate Theatre, I am working with it and the signatories to find solutions to all of the issues. There is an initiative taking place on 21 March, of which the Deputy may be aware, through which we hope to move matters forward and ensure this culture will not continue into the future.