Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 17 November 2021
Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport And Media
A Safe and Respectful Working Environment in the Arts: Discussion
This meeting has been convened to discuss, with representatives from FairPlé, MiseFosta and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, a safe and respectful working environment in the arts. I welcome our witnesses to the meeting. I welcome Dr. Karan Casey, co-founder of FairPlé; Ms Anna Ní Nualláin, co-founder of MiseFosta; and Ms Siobhán Ní Chonaráin of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. I also welcome: from FairPlé, co-founders Ms Joanne Cusack and Ms Niamh Ní Charra; from MiseFosta, co-founder Mr. Andrew Jackson; and from Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Ms Majella Bartley, ardchláraitheoir, and Mr. Tomás Ó Maoldomhnaigh, ardrunaí.
The format of the meeting is such that I will invite our witnesses to make their opening statements. These will be followed by questions from members of the committee. The committee may publish the opening statements on its website following the meeting. Before I invite witnesses to deliver their opening statements, which are limited to three minutes each, I advise them of the following in relation to parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if a witness's statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, he or she will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that her or she complies with any such direction.
As some of our witnesses are attending remotely outside of the Leinster House campus, please note there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present.
Witnesses participating in this session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should also be mindful of their domestic law and how it may apply to the evidence they give.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses, or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Members are also reminded that the provisions of Standing Orders, in relation to matters which are sub judice, place an onus on members to avoid, if at all possible, comment which might, in effect, prejudice the outcome of proceedings. Therefore, I will not permit any discussion or questioning which relates to any current litigation or investigation in the course of this meeting.
I call on our witnesses to make their opening statements, for which they have three minutes. I call Dr. Karan Casey from FairPlé.
Dr. Karan Casey:
I thank the committee for inviting FairPlé here today to speak. We are a feminist volunteer organisation established in January 2018 to achieve gender balance and fairness in Irish traditional and folk music. Initially advocating for equal opportunities, it became increasingly evident that it was impossible to separate issues relating to gender representation and discrimination from those of gender-based harassment and violence.
Inequality in representation was being supported by workplace culture which turns a blind eye to harassment and the assault of women. From the onset, our members began receiving unprompted, confidential disclosures of harassment and assault from women across the scene, so much so that it was clear an endemic problem existed. In 2020, the MiseFosta campaign brought further serious allegations of sexual abuse, assault, coercion and harassment to wider public attention, which in turn led to an ever-increasing number of disclosures, which continues to this day.
For almost four years we have worked tirelessly as volunteers to raise awareness and to address these issues and are very grateful for the support we have received to date. However, we have also been subjected to significant amounts of abuse, backlash and a closing of ranks. Time and energy spent on this work has been, and continues to be, at the expense of our own craft, while perpetrators continue to earn.
We are proud of what we have achieved and the influence we have had. We are proud of the solidarity that has grown between our sister organisations across the arts. We support the work of the Irish Theatre Institute, ITI, and the recommendations as set out in its report and welcome the package of measures announced by the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin.
However, the situation is grave and the measures should be far more ambitious. First, all public arts funding must be subject to strict conditions to address gender-based harassment, discrimination and violence, which includes implementing and maintaining up-to-date anti-harassment policies and procedures. Second, a statutory independent body should be established which can receive disclosures and be given the power to investigate claims of discrimination or harassment affecting those not currently protected by existing law, such as freelance or self-employed workers. Finally, funding must be increased drastically. The initial funding for implementation of the measures promised is woefully inadequate. We want to ensure the Department is committed to ensuring that these measures are sustainable and not simply a one-off. Our briefing document provides more details on these and further recommendations.
These measures are long-term, sustainable solutions which will benefit us all. However, if action is not taken, more women and marginalised groups remain at risk. FairPlé therefore urges you all to take this seriously and address this urgently to secure a safe, respectful and inclusive working environment for all in the arts.
I thank all of the women who have very bravely come forward with their stories and thank all of the campaigners. In our deliberations today, let us keep centre stage the women who have been traumatised and think of their needs at all times.
Ms Anna Ní Nualláin:
Is mise ceann de na mic léinn a thosaigh an ghluaiseacht MiseFosta. Our main aim as a collective is to change the culture of abuse within the Irish traditional music and dance scene. It began in a very organic way in June 2020 through an Instagram story that I posted, highlighting some of the abusive behaviour that had been going on. Lockdown gave everyone much time to think, and we quickly realised that many of us had spent more time consoling friends who had experienced sexual assault at recent festivals than we had spent enjoying the music. The speed at which the movement gained traction was the thing that surprised us all; from a post on my personal account, to hundreds of people, the vast majority of whom were girls and young women, coming forward, and an "RTÉ Investigates" episode helping to shine a light on what was happening, where a number of brave women stepped forward to tell their stories.
It was soon clear that many knew that abuse was happening on some scale, but nobody wanted to or felt that they could speak up about it. We realise now that although the nature of abuse is not unique to the traditional scene, there are certain endemic features that act as enabling mechanisms for abuse within the scene. These mechanisms facilitate and almost promote abusive behaviour, and also make it hard to talk about or address. For example, we are an incredibly tight-knit community with many unregulated social situations, which can be lovely, but it can also mean that your abuser is your fiddle teacher, a family friend, a well-respected musician or in your friend group. We have had reports that speaking out against abuse has lost people gigs, friendships, touring opportunities and invited further harassment through victim blaming, social isolation and ostracisation.
We have had amazing positive responses for the most part, but some have been less supportive, with people disregarding women’s stories as “salacious gossip”, “defiling our wholesome tradition” and “ruining men’s careers”. This leads me to believe that the image and reputation of the tradition is seen as more important than the safety of those who make up that tradition.
It is not feasible or realistic to expect victims, especially those who are young, to tackle this on their own. I have often asked myself why a group of young people in their teens and early twenties are dealing with hundreds of stories of abuse and have people in higher and more influential positions turn to us and ask what to do next. It is not our responsibility; it is the responsibility of those institutions and companies that promote, run, organise and receive State funding for and profit from the traditional music.
MiseFosta greatly appreciates the chance to come and speak to the committee. We support the ITI’s work and recommendations; it is a step in the right direction but there is still much more to be done. As we quickly begin the transition between having been a predominantly social media run movement to the return of in-person festivals and gigs, time is not on our side.
Thank you very much, Anna. Having listened to your statement, I thank and commend you for speaking out and going public, and exposing and highlighting the abuse and harassment that is happening. We appreciate that and it highlights the importance of this session.
Our final witness to present is Siobhán Ní Chonaráin of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann, who has three minutes.
Ms Siobhán Ní Chonaráin:
Is mian le Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann ár mbuíochas a ghabháil leis an gcomhchoiste as bheith anseo ag an gcruinniú. I acknowledge Tomás Ó Maoldomhnaigh, general secretary of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann, and Majella Bartley, ardchláraitheoir, our general registrar.
Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann welcomes the Speak Up: A Call for Change initiative by the Minster, Deputy Catherine Martin, and congratulates the Minister, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, the Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and all involved in its development. It is a timely report fostering a safer and more respectful environment for the arts.
During the past year, Comhaltas restated and widely distributed, internally and externally, its long-standing mission and ethos statement, Who We Are: Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann’s Vision, Values, Mission and Ethos, which are guided by many principles. The essence of our movement is that it is all-embracing and inclusive of everyone regardless of race, religion or ability. The core values of our services have always been underpinned by honesty, openness, fairness, the dignity of each person, free from harassment, anti-sectarian and anti-racist. We believe in the intrinsic value of every person and we aim to further the dignity of all associated with our movement. We want each individual to avail of opportunities for self-expression in the pursuit of Irish traditional music, song, dance and language. We promote inclusivity and equal opportunity for all regardless of gender, marital status, sexual orientation, age, disability, religious belief, or lack thereof, race, ethnicity or nationality. As a community participation-based intergenerational movement, Comhaltas supports the advancement of these values across the overall culture and arts sector and the elimination of any damaging behaviour.
We are voluntary organisation with 430 branches in Ireland and 18 countries, all dedicated to the preservation, promotion and development of the Irish cultural traditions, delivering services throughout the island of Ireland, the Irish diaspora and across the globe.
Comhaltas’s 18 cultural centres support its voluntary structures that collectively provide services to 3 million people annually. A multifaceted organisation, Comhaltas is widely acknowledged for its unparalleled contribution to the vibrancy of Irish traditional music today, especially among young people. This has largely been achieved through our holistic educational programme. The various strands of this programme are facilitated and delivered through our democratic structures, as are all Comhaltas events at every level up to and including Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann, which consistently attracts some 500,000 people.
Cothromaíocht: Respect, Equality, Opportunity, offers an insight into the scale and scope of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann's, CCE’s, activities and projects. It details statistically CCE's status in relation to gender balance throughout the organisation and outlines our intended delivery of a range of training and mentoring supports and resources at all levels, designed to advance further a positive and lasting culture of respect and dignity throughout Comhaltas and the overall Irish cultural sector. Throughout 70 years in existence, we have remained committed to the ideals of providing appropriate opportunities for young people and all those who engage with the Irish cultural traditions, providing opportunities for self-expression and enabling them to reach their full potential. Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann looks forward to working with the Minister and the Department in the advancement of Cothromaíocht: Respect, Equality and Opportunity.
I thank Ms Ní Chonaráin. We will now have questions from members. There are five minutes each for members for questions and answers. For witnesses attending remotely, should they wish to elaborate on any of the statements or answers, they can raise their hand and we will give them an opportunity to come in after members put their questions. If I do interrupt or cut across, it is because we are sticking to the five-minute time limit because we only have until 4.30. That said, there may be an opportunity for a second round of questions.
Go raibh maith ag all the witnesses for coming and discussing these issues in our Parliament and with our Oireachtas joint committee. I wish to commend some people, while at the same time acknowledging I will, unfortunately, leave out some people, for which I apologise. I appreciate the huge amount of work going on to create a level playing field in the arts and to create an environment free from bullying, harassment and sexual assault. That work ranges from Waking the Feminists to Women in Comedy and Women in Poetry, as well as Linda Coogan Byrne and the Why Not Her campaign and people who have experienced damaging behaviour and who now say enough is enough, they do not want to settle for the status quo. This is the first in a series of discussions we will have on a safe and respectful working environment in the arts. We will invite the Arts Council, the Irish Theatre Institute and perhaps the Minister to respond to our report at the end.
I commend, as others have done, the Irish Theatre Institute on its recent publication, A Call for Change (Towards Creating a Safe & Respectful Working Environment for the Arts). I would welcome people's response to that report. I also thank Dr. Úna Monaghan for the work and research she has done showing how gender affects participation in traditional and folk music.
I thank Ms Ní Nualláin for sharing her story. I express my solidarity with the people who came out to talk about their experiences online. I commend the musicians who spoke on the RTÉ "Prime Time" documentary about abuse and acknowledge that their bravery led to the MiseFosta movement online. I love folk music, I love the scene and I perform gigs, so I am conscious our traditional and folk music depends on the next generation to carry on its cultural wealth. We are the tradition bearers. It is important that young people from all backgrounds who are interested in music can learn, practise and perform in an environment free from harassment and abuse. My hope is the bravery of all those who have spoken out is reflected in action. The Minister is up for that. I note the improvements called for by the witnesses relating to the actions that follow on from the Speak Up report.
What are the power dynamics within the sector that have prevented the campaigns from reaching their goals? What are the public arts funding conditions being sought? Why do the witnesses seek an independent body? Regarding Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, I draw on the recommendations from the report. With regard to recommendation 1 in the Speak Up: A Call for Change report, has Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann considered working across the arts sector with other leading organisations in regard to recommendation 1? This recommendation states:
Demonstrate leadership and building cross-sectoral support for change.
Strong and committed leadership is needed in order to build confidence across the sector and that negative behaviours will not be tolerated and that there will be consequences for those perpetrating bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, humiliation, victimisation, assault and sexual assault.
One of the recommended actions is building cross-sectoral leadership and best practice to build a zero-tolerance approach to harmful behaviour in the arts. Has Comhaltas considered working across the sector on that? On recommendation 2, to strengthen reporting and support systems, every branch of Comhaltas must have a direct liaison person to be accepted and recognised as an official branch. They are not elected positions; they are appointed. Does Comhaltas have confidence in the support systems and reporting systems in place within branches, and do they extend to the wider events that take place around Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann, beyond the official structures?
Dr. Karan Casey:
On the power dynamics and why FairPlé has not reached its goals, we have been working, unpaid, for nearly four years, but the structural framework and power dynamic within our sector, which is folk and traditional music, make it difficult to enact change. In fairness to FairPlé and MiseFosta, we have initiated a conversation, but there needs to be more engagement from leadership. There is very little deep engagement, and we need that for our cultural shift. It should not be left up to victims of serious sexual assault and harassment to make that cultural shift.
One of the main issues that Ms Ní Nualláin alluded to in her beautiful speech was that we are a very close-knit community which is predominated by very powerful men who have not engaged. This discourages other people from engaging. By continuing to be silent on this issue, they enable predators. There are many predators. FairPlé is in receipt of information on predators it should not be in receipt of. We do not need to be. I do not need this in my life. They enable men to continue to tour. They are in their bands, they are not being taken out of their bands, even though it is known they have committed crimes. Only last week there were reports of two predators being back on the scene in two cities in Ireland.
I was appalled after the "Prime Time" programme when many of the stakeholders within folk and traditional music did not come out in support of MiseFosta, which is ,and I do not mean to be patronising, a group of young people who should not have the work they have had over the past year and a half.
I feel that, for musicians, these people seem to be tone deaf. They want to blaze out on tour and, in terms of predators going to festivals - and we are all going back out to work now - what has protected us, in effect, in the past two years or so has been the lockdown. I was on a gig and there was somebody in the building. Only for the Covid-19 restrictions, I would have had to meet him. I am now looking at taking gigs next year and judging who will be at those. I will have to plan my gigs around that, deciding whether I should go because I do not want to meet that person.
It has to be said, none of us are independently wealthy. We are all struggling, as many artists are, so it is an impossible situation. Somebody needs to take this burden of responsibility away from us. Somebody needs to put these Bills in motion, fulfil the recommendations of the ITI, set up an independent body to which people can make disclosures and roll out a policy package that talks about consent, not written by the Catholic Church, and talks about how somebody on the ground can deal with something if it happens.
Ms Siobhán Ní Chonaráin:
There were two aspects to the Senator's question. I will answer the first and then pass over to Tomás Ó Maoldomhnaigh, our ardrunaí and national liaison for vetting, child protection, vulnerable adults and that remit for Comhaltas. Regarding the Senator's question on Comhaltas engaging in a cross-sectoral manner, the principles and values we espouse are across every aspect of society and every aspect of the arts. It is a given that we co-operate. We as an organisation whose prime focus has been with young people have always had a proactive leadership role in terms of responsibility to create and nurture within the community of Comhaltas, not just as service providers but also to those who receive our services, a legacy and a lasting impact of respect and dignity where any form of harassment is not supported. In our document on our forthcoming plan and its implementation, you will find that reaches out. On the subject of child protection and vulnerable adults, and the issue of a designated liaison person, I will pass over to Tomás Ó Maoldomhnaigh to deal with that question.
Mr. Tomás Ó Maoldomhnaigh:
In regard to the question Senator Warfield posed on the designated liaison person, that is the person appointed by all our branches to liaise with the personnel and members of the branch and with other agencies such as Tusla and An Garda Síochána, if the need ever arises to liaise with them, if they have a concern about child protection issues or about vulnerable adults.
In regard to the personnel employed to deliver services in Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, such as supervision or teaching, we have in place our national vetting, and since 2011 something in the region of 9,000 people have been vetted. Many of them have been revetted on a three-year cycle. We have a structure in place to make sure the people employed to deliver services, such as teachers, have to go through that vetting, and we work very closely with the national vetting bureau on that.
Our child protection policy documents are available to view online and branches are recommended to have their own child protection policy document. They also do risk assessments in relation to child protection and vulnerable adults-----
I thank the witnesses for meeting with us today. I will start with FairPlé, and perhaps Dr. Casey, Ms Ní Charra or Ms Cusack can answer. Will they comment on the Minister's response to the Speak Up: A Call for Change report? They hinted that deficiencies remain. What are those deficiencies? As we are pushed for time, I will go through my questions and then allow the witnesses to answer. In a follow-up to that, have the witnesses any detail on what kind of agency should be created to deal with complaints? In the briefing document, section 16.3, it was mentioned that the Minister did not provide for an anonymous centralised reporting facility, and it outlines in some detail in sections 35 to 43 the need for a statutory independent body. Will the witnesses outline information in that regard?
The witnesses also spoke about funding and how it needs to be drastically increased and how it is woefully inadequate. Do they know what the funding gap is, between what is provided now and what is needed going forward? Can we have a breakdown on that?
In regard to MiseFosta, Ms Ní Nualláin mentioned in her opening statement that she supports the ITI's work but that there is much more to be done. Will she expand on that?
In regard to Comhaltas, my question was on policies, protections and procedures and these have been answered.
Ms Siobhán Ní Chonaráin:
I will take the first bit. We highly recommend the Irish Theatre Institute's recommendations on the provision of resources to arts workers such as counselling services and impartial HR advice, a mediation service and legal consultation. It has the potential to be transformative but it needs to be funded, an issue to which Deputy Munster referred. However, it did not follow up on having an independent body. We feel that, for people to report, there needs to be an independent body that can look into allegations. If they are of a criminal and serious nature, obviously they will be passed over to the Garda. If they are not, then they will go through an investigative process and a register would be made - not publicly - where funding bodies could look to see if somebody was accused of a crime.
Ms Niamh Ní Charra:
I thank the Deputy for posing that question. Dr. Casey has covered much of the detail on the independent body but essentially what we need is a body that can investigate claims, that is independent, neutral, and not linked to any other bodies that provide or make decisions on funding, which have enough to be doing, frankly. Furthermore, as has been mentioned by Ms Ní Nualláin and by Dr. Casey, we have spent four years getting disclosures. We should not be the ones getting them. It should be very obvious to people who to report to when they have something to report. The body should have the power to investigate, and if the protected disclosure is upheld, it should be in a position to impose sanctions. There should be consequences.
Perhaps funding could be blocked until whomever has had a complaint against him or her has had a chance to address it. We have been passing people who come in and make complaints to us over to the Garda or we refer them to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. We have also talked to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI. However, again, it is all about having a whistleblowing mechanism where people can make these complaints. There are examples of this already in existence elsewhere; the Central Bank and the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement have systems. These things are not unknowns; they have been done before. If it is at the most serious end of the spectrum where it is criminal, it gets passed on and there are consequences to that. As Deputy Munster pointed out, sections 35 to 43 of the briefing document that we sent lay all of that out. It also brings in the idea of dispute resolution in order that we can bring about change and correct behaviour.
Individuals and organisations should be in a position where they can check if a person they are about to hire or collaborate with has been reported against, with the report being upheld, or if that person is on a register. All of that is important in terms of the funding being asked. As for funding or an idea of money, we are looking at many different recommendations, all of which need funding to resource, but €200,000 is the figure the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, mentioned. If you employ a counsellor or a legal representative, a lot of that money suddenly has been eaten up already. There are many different areas where we need funding. We need funding for training, we need funding for further research and we need various Departments to use their funding as well. For example, the Department of Justice has mentioned to us in FairPlé the idea of an awareness campaign. Those are a few examples.
Ms Anna Ní Nualláin:
On the question that was put to me as well, whenever I say there is still a lot to do, Dr. Casey and Ms Ní Charra covered all that because MiseFosta and FairPlé work very closely together. MiseFosta's demands would be exactly the same as the three demands seen in the briefing document.
Dr. Karan Casey:
There is real urgency for this. There is some sort of belief that we are looking for gigs. Personally, I have been accused of looking for attention and gigs and being difficult and dangerous.
Many of the campaigners in both MiseFosta and FairPlé have been ostracised and taken out of work for this campaigning. In Úna Monaghan's groundbreaking research, more than 125 men and women came forward to make statements. The Irish Theatre Institute, ITI, collected over 1,300 stories of harassment, coercion, bullying and sexual assault. There is a crisis out there and women have nowhere to go to.
There is a broad spectrum of transgressions, from being harassed, told what to wear, what to sing, what to say, what not to say, getting into a van - and I am talking from my own experience of men making comments, saying, "Jaysus where we you last night? You should have seen the woman in the lap-dancing club, the pair on her." - to more serious incidences of serious rape and assault. They include women, including wives and girlfriends, not being allowed to go backstage because we are distracting, backing singers being forced to give blow jobs, younger women in colleges being groomed for sexual favours, teenagers being groomed and taken away on tours, drugged and then assaulted. Women are being charmed by men who abuse their power on the stage and look for sex after gigs. Minors are being abused during their weekly music lessons. It goes on and on. Somebody needs to take this on because we cannot deal with it.
Mr. Andrew Jackson:
Excuse me for the lack of a picture, I am not in the perfect environment right now. Where FairPlé and MiseFosta may be seen as slightly different would be in terms of the age brackets we represent. These issues do not escape any age group and we have always worked in tandem and empathised with each other. We have acknowledged FairPlé's commitment to the more structural issues within the industry and the scene, and MiseFosta is more about behaviour within our age group, which also extends to the behaviour of those who work within the machinery of the scene.
In saying that, someone needs to take on an educational role in this or to set up some sort of portal or to provide training for those and the onus needs to be taken on. Not only should we learn about the tradition, the notes, the history and all the other beautiful things but we should be informed from a young age about what consent is or the dangers that are out there. If we pretend they do not exist when teaching, and I am not saying that we have explicitly pretended that they do not exist, but we have not prepared our young students for this. We have prepared them for the wonders, the hedonistic festivals, the competitions, for acquiring such a beautiful collection of music and stories and so on. They have been hit in the face with the reality upon attending their first festival.
Some of these predators are very self-aware of what they are doing. Whereas the rest of it can sometimes just be a lack of education or a lack of self-awareness, and just buying into a culture that is quite predatory. It is very hedonistic; there is much drink involved and there is peer pressure to go out and get the shift, and that causes run-ins where people end up doing something a bit shadier than that which is within their nature. It has been discussed during the campaign that there is a pyramid from soft harassment to really conscious, violent sexual crimes.
Thank you, I appreciate that. Apologies again for being short but we will try to move on and be fair to all members. Senator Sherlock has joined the meeting and she is substituting for Senator Hoey. I call Senator Sherlock.
I thank the committee for allowing me to attend the meeting today. I apologise that I was late in attending. I pay tribute to FairPlé and MiseFosta for their huge efforts to ensure there is greater recognition of what has happened in the sector over many years. I am here in a listening capacity more than to say anything. I might contribute at the end, if that is okay.
I thank the witnesses for coming here today and I admire their bravery in tackling this heinous behaviour. It really is disturbing.
Can the witnesses from Comhaltas expand on their statement that the pace of change is slow and there can be a reluctance to accept new norms of society? Why is this the case? They emphasised the role that bystanders have to play to call out discriminatory abuse. Does Comhaltas have a binding written policy, along with its efforts to raise awareness? By law, any adult who witnesses child abuse must report it.
On the issue of a safe and respectful work environment in the arts, the Irish Theatre Institute's Speak Up survey is disturbing reading. It strongly indicates there is a serious, fundamental, hidden, harmful and invidious culture operating across all sectors of the arts in Ireland. Is stronger protective legislation needed, particularly for freelance art workers who seem to be the most vulnerable? Should a type of statutory whistleblowing system be set up specifically for the industry?
Do the representatives of FairPlé believe the Minister should include statutory binding conditions to address gender-based harassment, discrimination and sexual harassment in all public funding contracts? Would this be part of FairPlé's campaign? What is their opinion on this?
Can the witnesses from MiseFosta elaborate on what is meant by operating an honest conversation about consent? What is their definition of consent? What support does MiseFosta need? What barriers has it encountered in its campaign?
Ms Siobhán Ní Chonaráin:
Our remarks on the pace of change in society were made as part of an overall introduction to our briefing notes and our policy and implementation moving forward. We acknowledged that society, as we know, always embraces change, perhaps. We were pointing out that it is up to us as an organisation, as it is for everybody, to make sure structures and policies move in pace with the needs that emerge in society. As an organisation, we have always been proactive in our sense of leadership. We have sought to create awareness within the organisation of what the needs are, and of the sort of atmosphere that gives everybody a sense of dignity and respect. We can elaborate further on that if the Deputy wishes.
The Deputy also picked up on what we had to say about bystanders. As a potentially influential organisation, Comhaltas is where many young people in Ireland start their journey. We see the role of the bystander, as one who feels empowered to note and create the atmosphere, to be important. I ask Ms Bartley, the ardchláraitheoir, to comment further on the role of the bystander and on our overall Cothromaíocht policy.
Ms Majella Bartley:
It is increasingly recognised that if significant changes are going to take place in the mindset of society, the role of the bystander is of utmost importance. This can be improved through raising awareness, training and education. Anybody who witnesses discrimination or abuse is always encouraged to call out such behaviour in this way. This means the secrecy under which abusers can hide will dissipate, which is important. As we see it, the role of the bystander is extremely important. It forms part of our training strategy for training and education strategy moving forward. The following would be incorporated into our training: the dangers of behaviour, the awareness of what is inappropriate, the development of support systems and positive change, the encouragement of positive learning environments, the need for all to be well informed and the importance of leadership and education being to the fore. That is our main stance when we talk about training and education in the role of the bystander.
Ms Anna Ní Nualláin:
In regard to consent, we all know that sex education in Ireland has never been the best and still is not good. That was shown very clearly when the MiseFosta campaign started. I was recording a podcast in Irish and before doing anything like that I always make sure I have all the vocabulary I will need for the session. When I came to the word "consent", I realised I did not know the word for "consent" in Irish. I had my entire education through Irish, but I did not know the word. This shows that the kind of sex education I had was completely non-existent. Our definition of what consent means to us in MiseFosta, specifically within the traditional scene - we did exactly this in an education post on our Instagram page - is that it is an enthusiastic yes, it is continued so it can be retracted at any time, it is verbal and non-verbal so it can include body language, and it is voluntary. As I said earlier, within the traditional music scene there are many unregulated social situations and a great deal of alcohol is involved, so things can get very complicated. That is where those four points come in.
We can come back to Deputy Mythen's questions. Senator Malcolm Byrne has questions to ask before he leaves to speak in the Chamber. If Ms Ní Nualláin would not mind coming back to Deputy Mythen's points later, that will be great.
I thank the witnesses for their testimony. A number of questions have been asked. At the end of this, what is important is that the stories are told and are out there, that there is a cultural change and that in the future those who engage in traditional music feel that people can perform in a safe environment. I have a question for all or any of the witnesses. What can we do, and indeed what can all of the organisations do, beyond this process to rebuild trust? We have heard quite a bit about the process. The aim of everyone here is to ensure music is played and young people are attracted into traditional music. How can we ensure we rebuild trust in Comhaltas? Going beyond the processes that have been outlined, how can we ensure this never happens again and people feel the environment is safe?
Dr. Karan Casey:
Yes, I might refer to Ms Cusack on the statutory binding conditions. I thank Senator Byrne for his questions. One of the first ways to rebuild trust is to get the sexual predators who have committed serious crimes off the circuit. If a man has raped a woman, he needs to be in jail. That is the first thing. The next thing would be for people to acknowledge that this is a problem. We have been told for four years that this is a problem and that we are making a fuss. It needs to be acknowledged and then the policies need to be put in place to deal with it, Ms Ní Nualláin and Mr. Jackson have outlined the policy on what constitutes sexual harassment. When people arrive at a gig, they could be given a page that says what constitutes sexual harassment and mentions who they can go to or report to if something happens. Of course that is difficult in the traditional and folk world because gigs and sessions can be very small and might not necessarily be for money. Therefore, to answer Deputy Mythen's question, it can be difficult to know who to go to. Who is the boss in that situation? That is a question we are asking the politicians to sort out.
The other way to build trust is for people to be heard and acknowledged. While it is incredibly brave of all of us to have come forward and reported our accounts, it is traumatising. It is retraumatising, and retriggering, and really difficult. We do not want to be sitting here talking about this issue. We need a complaints procedure to be put in place that people can avail of, as recommended in our briefing notes, to enable an investigation to be carried out. Funding needs to be expanded greatly in order for these processes to happen.
In regard to the statutory body and whistleblowing that Deputy Mythen brought up and is important, I would be happy to go in and give the names and be a whistleblower if I thought I would be protected. We would be happy to do it but we would need to be protected. In France, the French equivalent of the Arts Council for the music sector is the Centre National de la Musiquewhich has launched a protocol for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, where people can report and be protected to do so. It has given €1 million. I know they have more money but it is good. There are many practical things we can do if we all want to find a solution. That is why we are here today. We all need to be on board. This needs to be a priority. The rape of women is not allowed. I am astounded that our own community has not been more proactive and has left us standing in the rain, as it were. This needs to be a priority; otherwise it is not a community.
For practical examples of what we can do, I will refer to Ms Cusack. I hope I have answered everybody's questions.
Ms Joanne Cusack:
What Dr. Casey spoke of was the implementation and maintaining of up-to-date anti-harassment policies and procedures. The idea is that there is an appointed equality manager in every arts-funded venue, festival and organisation to whom people can go, including audiences, artists and technicians alike. They can go to this person and disclose any experiences of harassment that have happened within that environment.
We are looking for the resources to enable organisations and festivals to do this. They need the training. Staff need to be trained to deal with disclosures of harassment. The Rape Crisis Centre is currently providing an excellent training programme on how to deal with disclosures of harassment, which can be funded and extended to the arts so that when these policies are put in place, the training and the toolkit is there for the organisations and the venues.
This is all part of the bigger picture of all public funding being conditional. We are looking for policies and procedures for the benefit of all staff, contractors and participants. We want anti-harassment protocols for all venues, reporting on gender balance line-up, which includes such things as technical crew, contractors, and board staff, the provision of training for the staff in the publicly funded organisations and venues, and a disclosure of any circumstances in which allegations of harassment are upheld against a member of staff. It is also important the organisation regularly reports back to the funder on how it is managing these policies and procedures. They are just a set of conditions that needs to be put in place so that we are not constantly giving funding to predators and perpetrators. It is very simple, but it can make real change.
Ms Siobhán Ní Chonaráin:
On the question about Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and rebuilding trust, the trust in Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann can be assured. We have already accounted for our equity and gender balance within this document, and there has been a whole scoping across the organisation, not just among artists but also administration and festival organisers. In Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, our unique structure is such that there are committees of people in standing units of five who are charged with administering branches and relaying back to the full board. Our decisions are made by a group of people, which of course means that power and authority, which are so much associated with harassment, are not vested in one person. All our educational programmes have separate committees that make decisions in that regard. We account for ourselves in terms of all our public funding and that relates to our internal procedures and so forth. From our point of view any organisation and any funder can trust us to deliver not just on what we are already involved in but that which we intend to expand delivery of moving forward.
Ms Niamh Ní Charra:
The biggest question was on trust. I welcome what Ms Ní Chonaráin, Mr. Ó Maoldomhnaigh and Ms Bartley mentioned about Comhaltas. Comhaltas is just one of the organisations. The disclosures coming into us would contradict the feedback that Comhaltas is getting. I am not at all saying that things are being misrepresented. What I am saying essentially is that the mechanisms for seeing if there are issues are flawed. I want to pick up on one or two of those.
The vetting of more than 9,000 teachers and members of Comhaltas is important work and it is great to hear that is being done, but it is important to realise the reports that would come back to Comhaltas would only show somebody who had been convicted. We know the percentage of people who report assaults is minuscule, that the percentage of those against whom there is enough evidence to go to court is minuscule, and that the number of those who are convicted is minuscule again. Unfortunately, the vetting will not give the information required. It does not give a true picture.
The designated liaison person, DLP, is a fantastic system and kudos to Tomás who set this up. It is an incredibly important structure, but again it does not go far enough because the major problem is, as Dr. Casey mentioned, when things happen to people, they are traumatised and they do not know who to report to. DLP is quite Civil Service speak. I went on the Comhaltas website this morning and I could not find any mention anywhere that that system is in place. It would be a very easy, practical thing to put up the excellent report that Ms Ní Chonaráin read out about the future policies, the mission and ethos. These are all brilliant things to hear and we welcome them but they should be very clear and easy to find on the website. DLP contacts should be easy to find on the website, with explanations of why they are there and what they can do for people. That should be easy to find. At the moment it is not. There is a gap between what is happening on the ground and the information that Comhaltas is receiving. Comhaltas is in the room today, which is why I bring this up, but it goes for all organisations.
Apologies for being late; I had another meeting. I welcome the witnesses. I was not aware of the issues, to be quite honest. They are not acceptable and such crimes need to be punished. The duty is on the State and us as legislators to make sure that happens, that we support people like the witnesses, and that we put whatever resources need to be put in place to ensure this does not continue. The crux of it is in putting the proper reporting mechanisms in place and ensuring procedures are in place to deal with it.
It is fair to say the Government supports are not there. What supports do the witnesses believe need to be put in place? Apologies if this question has already been answered.
The Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, is looking at the issue of vetting. It might be a good idea for organisations to make a submission to her and the Department. This is something about which she is proactive in changing. As one of the speakers just said, a minuscule number of the figure of 9,000 people mentioned will have been convicted. Reports have to made and it takes years for cases to get to court. Some never get to court. All these things need to be flagged within that system. It might be an opportunity now for the witnesses to make a submission on Garda vetting and changes that need to be made. It may be one of the simple asks. I read the document and there were a significant number of asks, but if the witnesses were to say what changes they wanted us as a committee to prioritise and have made, and with which we could go to the Minister and ask for them to be implemented now, what would they be?
Dr. Karan Casey:
I thank the Senator. I appreciate everybody's support but that is the job of the committee. Nobody looking at this would disagree we need these changes. For ourselves, the most important element is an independent body that can investigate claims. That takes the burden off us and we do not need it. We need to go out and sing, and that is what I want to do. People should be able to report across the spectrum - I do not want to label them as minor transgressions - but there is belittling and condescension, putting women down or bullying them. This supports or props up the more serious crimes of harassment, sexual harassment, assault and rape. There should be a separate statutory body as a mechanism to take these complaints, investigate them and hand over the more serious matters.
There should be a package across all the arts, and I cannot state that strongly enough. This is not just about folk and traditional, which I love, but it takes in all the arts. There is the question of harassment, what it is, who to go to if something happens in the workplace or at a session, and consent. Training could be rolled out very easily by Comhaltas, which I work for often and admire greatly for its fantastic work. It has not been and I ask all stakeholders to come up with this.
The final request we have is funding. If women contact this complaints process, they should have funding for legal representation and counselling. We really need counselling and I am in counselling. Women in FairPlé are vicariously traumatised, having absorbed hundreds of accounts of abuse. It is very difficult to absorb that, as Ms Ní Nualláin will testify. We could do this and work together for solutions. People along the way have said that of course they will help, and while I do not want to accuse anybody of platitudes, members really need to get this sorted out.
Ms Joanne Cusack:
We are looking for existing equality legislation to be reviewed or reformed. Basically, we are not sure now if existing equality legislation covers freelance artists in the workplace. If it does cover freelance artists, that must be relayed in an awareness campaign so people know what to do and who to go to if they have experienced harassment or assault. If it does not cover freelance artists, including those in music, arts and everything else, there must be a major reform. Artists deserve to be protected in their workplace just as much as anybody else or anybody going into a Government building.
Ms Niamh Ní Charra:
I might be able to answer some of Deputy Mythen's questions from earlier. The big part of this independent body would be that it would essentially act as a human resources department for us because we do not have one. We are not employees, generally speaking, and if we are employees it might be for a day in a festival. We would go to the next festival and the one after that. There are unique and societal matters that can be compared with various others sectors that match, but there is an added layer in our case of the freelance nature of our work. For example, Deputy Mythen is a proud union member but freelancers and the self-employed were not even legally allowed to join a union until quite recently. It might have been three or four years ago and members might be able to confirm that. It is an example of our more exposed nature to all these difficulties.
Ms Niamh Ní Charra:
It would be very important that it would not come in under any Department but be independent. The Arts Council is not responsible for everybody and, for example, Comhaltas is funded separately. It is just one example and there are quite a number of other bodies funded separately. The body should be completely independent and have judicial powers. That is a major aspect of it. The Departments dealing with the arts or justice matters could be involved in informing how this gets set up, but it should not come in under any of them. There is precedent and we have listed quite a few in the briefing document. These are similar types of bodies that exist in other areas that have the independence that is so important and that have those investigative powers. They have the power afterwards to sanction where complaints have been upheld. Does that answer the question?
As Senator Warfield said earlier, most of us are fans of the traditional scene and music. I understand it is growing in popularity and experiencing a massive bounce back, which is fantastic to see. We cannot let our admiration of the art mask or cloud what is happening in that scene. The witnesses have outlined some of the horrific incidents described by the people coming forward from the scene, mainly women. This session is so important for us to listen to that feedback. The witnesses have made some great suggestions for action instead of words and setting up systems and independent bodies, as well as reform within some of the organisations to ensure this type of act does not happen and is called out. The witnesses have listed some of the horrific occurrences, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and harassment. They mentioned 1,300 stories that came from Dr. Monaghan's work. That is shameful and should not be happening. In what type of settings were the incidents that have been outlined happening?
Dr. Karan Casey:
They were across the board in theatres. There may have been some protection but this happened at sessions, fleadh houses, after the gig or at the fleadh. My own incident happened on a tour bus. Another point we did not mention is that these incidents may happen in multiple jurisdictions. If they happen on tour, it is difficult for the women to report them because they are moving to the next gig. Members must remember we do not have lots of money. In fairness to Ms Kate Barry, she wrote this briefing document when it really should be a civil servant's job. These incidents happen backstage or behind the pub, you name it.
They happen everywhere. That is the problem.
Ms Anna Ní Nualláin:
On my personal social media page I have heard stories about the fleadh house and from there in the taxi on the way to the festival club, at the session afterwards, at the house party, outside of and at the back of the fleadh house. Every situation one can think of, I have heard a story about. They are only the ones I have heard personally. One can imagine how many others there are. In every situation one can imagine, there has been an incident.
Ms Anna Ní Nualláin:
Many of the people I would deal with are very young. Some of them would have been minors when it happened. For many victims, they do not realise for some time after it happens that they have been assaulted. They are in denial and trying to convince themselves that what happened was not that bad and they make excuses for the other person. There is such a lad culture nobody wants to ruin the buzz or cause a fuss and so people let things go. It is very often months or years down the line before a person acknowledges that what happened was not on. At that point, the question is whether there is any point going to the Garda to report what happened at a fleadh house. It is so difficult that many people do not want to report. If they do, it is retraumatising and often it does not get them anywhere.
Dr. Karan Casey:
People of my generation would have called that groping. I thank the younger campaigners for teaching me the language, for teaching us all and for being very brave in reframing this behaviour as sexual assault and rape. My age group in particular has been silenced over the years. The difficulty often is that the person is in very precarious employment. It is not like we all have masses of money. We have to put up with a lot of this behaviour because, often, we have to go back to work with these people.
I want to inject a bit of hope into this. It is great that we are here. I thank all of the campaigners and women who have come forward. I particularly thank Senator Warfield, who has been very good. We need to think about what we want. We need to ensure that the four-year-old girl, who is a dark-skinned child living in Ennis and learning to play the fiddle, can, in 20 years' time when she will be 24, go to a session wearing whatever she wants; lead the tunes and sing whatever songs she wants; go to the toilet without having to bring her pint with her in case it is spiked; go outside later and walk down the road in the dark; and go to practice and, when returning home in the dark, not need a chaparone and be able to get to her door, put her hand in her pocket for her key and not look over her shoulder. That is what we are all working towards. It is really important that we keep that in mind.
Mr. Andrew Jackson:
I thank Dr. Casey for that very powerful contribution. I would like to add to what Ms Ní Nualláin said. Not only do the victims realise what happened was not on, but when a more mature version of themselves comes to terms with the reality of what was done, it can be retraumatising. Having internalised all of that trauma, to come forward about it and discuss it with friends is a very traumatising experience. The person can go through similar emotions, if not worse, once he or she has realised what was done to him or her. During the campaign, I personally have witnessed - this is where my passion in all of this comes through in sympathising with my friends - physical reactions to relaying a story. Imagine having to do that in a cold, clinical setting such as a Garda station, where you do not know the garda or, worse, you may know the garda and that is the problem. Some of the girls close to us were considering going to Dublin to one of the crisis centres or main Garda agencies - I do not remember the correct title of it. One can imagine what it must be like for people to have to travel from some of the more western counties all the way to Dublin to tell their stories in a cold setting and during a pandemic. There needs to be some type of bridge to protect our younger people. From what I have seen, it does not get any easier when people are older, only that that they are more aware of what is available to them.
Ms Siobhán Ní Chonaráin:
I want to acknowledge the stories of Dr. Casey and Ms Ní Nualláin. The term "fleadh house", which has been used many times, can be associated with Comhaltas but, as we know, can be an event in the broader musical scene. From out point of view, we see our policy and the training programme as reaching out to that entire culture to educate and empower those who are attenders and participants. The programme is open to young people upwards and it is about growing those skills of confidence as people move forward in that broader traditional world.
This document is not just about our organisation; it is about our commitment to forward education in the broad but traditional Irish cultural scene and Irish cultural traditions. We have quite a scope abroad in terms of the Irish diaspora as well.
I thank everyone for their contributions. It has been a very constructive meeting. I want to comment on recommendation 1 in A Call for Change, which is about demonstrating leadership and building cross-sectoral support for change. We need to action that and mobilise institutional leaders, key talent and public figures in the arts to speak publicly about the immediate need for change. I would like the call to go out from this committee to key talent in the music, traditional music and folk music industry to speak publicly in support of the women and men and the need for cultural change across the arts.
Do the witnesses believe the Minister should make sure to include in all public arts funding contracts statutory binding conditions to address gender-based harassment, discrimination and sexual harassment? I would welcome the witnesses' opinion on this and on whether it would be part of their campaign.
Dr. Karan Casey:
Yes, absolutely. The policy is set out on the FairPlé website, written by women such as Joanna Cusack and for which she was unpaid. The work is done. We now just need to roll it out. We do not need more platitudes; we need the independent body to be set up and to put out the anti-harassment policies and funding to radical women.
I pay tribute to the committee for hosting this session. It has provided MiseFosta and FairPlé an opportunity to bring these issues to a higher level and to set out their detailed proposals. It is now up to us as legislators to ensure the right conditions and culture are brought about. Much was said about conditionality. I fully support the view that we as legislators need to think very seriously about how we introduce conditionality into funding right across the arts.
With regard to the independent body, Dr. Casey spoke earlier about France. We can certainly look to it and at what it has done. Perhaps there are other countries which have put an independent body in place and that this is a conversation for another day. I would like to hear those examples from other countries as that could act as a useful model for us when we are looking to developing that, in conjunction with our witnesses, in the future. I thank the Acting-Chairman for that.
I thank members, all the witnesses who attended today and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which is just one of a number of organisations involved, and which has come in today, which we greatly appreciate. I am grateful, in particular, to Fair Plé and Mise Fosta. I join with Dr. Casey in thanking the many women, in particular, who have come forward, told their stories and who have begun this campaign to get a much fairer and better system to ensure that this does not happen again. The onus is on us, as legislators, to not fail the people who have come forward and who have shown bravery in telling their stories, which was not easy to do. It is over to us now to take on board everything the witnesses have said today.
The committee is adjourned until 11.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 24 November when it will meet in private session via Microsoft Teams. Following a suspension, the meeting will resume in public session for an engagement with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, and the Minister of State with responsibility for sports and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jack Chambers, to discuss the key priorities and legislation of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media insofar as they relate to the remit of this committee.