Say No To Hate #SpeakersUnicorner, Barrow Street

On Saturday, 10 August we gathered to protest hate speech, fascism and extremism.  My speech:

Fear eats the soul. Fascism eats the soul of every country where it takes hold, by breeding fear, and hate, division and brutality. 

This country voted overwhelming for LOVE. This country voted overwhelming for COMPASSION. We voted for the rights of people to be different from us, to make their own decisions. The Irish people did not vote for hate. 

Irish voters have rejected fascists – they have no democratic mandate here. Yet they continue to attack those who have a legitimate mandate. Hazel Chu is Irish, and she has a democratic mandate. The fascists pedal the most ridiculous false mythology of what it is to be Irish – (and yet they’ve the gall to talk to us about unicorns!!)

Anyone who knows anything about Irish history recognises that we are a nation of immigrants. It is profoundly hypocritical, and dishonours our history, and the struggles and successes of millions of Irish people around the world, to attack immigrants and refugees living here now.    

Those of us who believe in democracy, we must continue to strive for what is best about us, not be torn apart by fake divisions. We must continue to honour our democracy, honour our common humanity and decency. We must say NO to Hate. 

Words matter. Violent words lead eventually to violent despicable actions.  Freedom of speech is a right, but each and every one of us is responsible and accountable for our words and the actions they may provoke. Those who pour bile on our streets and over social media must be held to account.  

We urgently need to have more robust laws in this country to address hate crimes and online abuse. 

Tormenting the vulnerable in society is not strength. Strength is upholding the rights of the most vulnerable. Courage is not picking on people’s differences to demean them, courage is standing up to intimidation. True freedom of speech is not abusing that freedom to denigrate others, it’s using it to increase our mutual understanding, to bring light not fear.  

Democracy is about choice, equity, and our responsibility to each other. So beware of those who only want to empower themselves to disempower others. Beware of those who dress themselves up as anti-corruption when all they do is corrupt the truth and make empty noise, disrupting residents here on Barrow Street, harassing people going about their daily work, and abusing people online.  

They want to keep us distracted by using far-right tactics of blaming and shaming minorities and vulnerable groups – immigrants, refugees, trans and gay people, travellers, feminists, those with disabilities. We are wise to their tactics, and we reject their fear-mongering. 

They want to keep us distracted from addressing the real causes of inequality in our society, the real challenges we face with housing, homelessness, healthcare, and climate breakdown. 

Science is real. Vaccines work. Facts matter. Diversity is strength. We will dispel their hatred with our rainbows. 

Today and everyday, we reject extremism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and sexism. We will not be distracted from building a better, fairer, more humane, inclusive, and equitable Ireland – for all who live here now and in the future. 

We are a people moving towards Love, we are a people moving towards Compassion, Kindness and Peace now, we will not be dragged back into the division and acrimony of the past.

From this street of the River Barrow, to every street beyond, today we say NO to fascist propaganda. Today we say NO to intimidation and baseless lies. Today we say NO TO HATE.

The ongoing debacle over religious control at the new National Maternity Hospital


  • The Sisters of Charity have not yet completed their full divestment from St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group – they remain as sole owners of SVHG, with religious ethos intact.
  • No religious control in day-to-day running of new National Maternity Hospital – clinical independence has been assured, but legal process to deliver this not yet completed.
  • Archbishop of Dublin still technically remains as ex-officio Chair of the Executive Committee (Board) of the National Maternity Hospital.
  • New National Maternity Hospital at Elm Park will not be in public ownership or control – the land will still be owned by SVHG and leased to State at peppercorn rent.
  • SVHG will own the hospital building, but with a lien on it so it can’t be sold or secure loans, the building will be fully publicly funded and its operation funded by the State. 
  • Despite agreement reached in spring 2017, still no sight of completed governance structure in public domain.  

The debacle over ownership, control and ethos at the new National Maternity Hospital has the key ingredients classic Irish pickle: Land, public money, church, and women’s healthcare. Let’s try and unpick the key governance, control and ethos issues which have hindered the progress of this key healthcare infrastructure. 

Despite assurances from all parties involved, the public still aren’t 100% clear about religious influence and control at the hospital and its layered governance structures.

Will the new National Maternity Hospital be publicly owned and controlled, and will religious control or influence be involved? It’s a complex issue, requiring an indepth look into the governance structures of two long-standing healthcare providers – the National Maternity Hospital, and St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group (both private companies). The third party in this pickle is the Department of Health.

Everyone agrees a new National Maternity Hospital is long overdue – the current facilities at Holles Street are not fit for purpose for 21st century healthcare delivery. Like most hospital building projects in this country, it has a long and complicated history, and the longer it goes on it more it costs the taxpayer.

First announced in 2013 with an indicative budget of €150m, five years later the budget had doubled to €300m of public money and likely to be significantly more before it’s finally operational.

It’s been agreed that the new hospital will be built on the St Vincent’s Hospital campus at Elm Park. That’s on land owned and provided by the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group. SVHG was incorporated in 2001, and currently operates under updated constitution under the 2014 Companies Act as a private company (DAC) limited by shares with charitable status. Its sole shareholder are the Religious Sisters of Charity, who appoint the board, (which currently has 10 directors – 9 men and 1 woman).

In their Constitution (Memorandum and Articles), the Purpose of the company states : ‘the continuance and furtherance of the ethos, aims and purposes of the Congregation of the Religious Sisters of Charity.’ Under its Objects, Object 2 states: ‘to conduct and maintain facilities in accordance with the Health Care Philosophy and the Ethical Code of the Religious Sisters of Charity.’

Now the Sisters have stated that this will change and this Purpose and Object will be removed when a new holding company is formed, which I’ll come back to later.

Some historical context of the governance of hospitals and healthcare is useful to understanding how we got here:

St. Vincent’s was originally founded in 1834 by the Sisters of Charity. A century later in 1934 it purchased land at Elm Park for £25,000. It now has two hospitals on that site – the public St. Vincent’s University Hospital, and St. Vincent’s Private.

The National Maternity Hospital was established in 1894, and in 1903 received its Corporation Charter from the Crown. In 1936 the Charter was amended when the National Maternity Hospital was rebuilt with public money. It’s this 1936 Charter that the NMH still operates under for the purpose of its corporate governance, 4 years after the Irish Eucharistic Congress, and just months before the newly minted Constitution came into effect – a time where the Catholic Church was flexing its muscles in the fledgling Irish State, with increasing control and influence on  healthcare, education and social care in general, and specifically the chilling implication for women’s rights.

The New 1936 Charter provided for up to 100 governors of the NMH, who would establish an Executive Committee or Board to manage its affairs. The Governors elect the ordinary members of the Board at each AGM and the Master once every 7 years.

Governance is devolved to the Board  – they effectively run the hospital, with management further devolved to the Master. Unusually for the time, the charter also made specific provision for there to be a minimum quota of women on the board.

There are a number of governors who are ex-officio – by virtue of their position – and there are also a number of places on the Board that are ex-officio. These 4 positions are: The Archbishop of Dublin (who also is automatically appointed Chair); The Lord Mayor of Dublin (Vice Chair); The Master; and the parish priest of Westland Row. Alongside these ex-officio positions, there are 2 nominations of Dublin Corporation (DCC); 2 nominations of the Minister for Health, and 21 ordinary members who bring clinical and medical as well as legal, business and other technical skills to the board. There are currently about 79 governors (members) and 28 on the Board.

In 1930’s Ireland the Catholic church was most definitely seeking to stamp its authority and influence on the governance of the NMH. Nowadays, the Archbishop doesn’t exercise his right to chair, and isn’t involved in the board, but is still kept informed of significant developments. The effective chair of the board is the Deputy Chair who is elected at the first board meeting after each AGM.

So neither the current National Maternity Hospital Holles Street nor St Vincent’s are in public ownership, though both receive the majority of their operational funding from the public purse, and operate under licence from the HSE.

Apart from the usual building delays with projects of this cost and complexity, it’s the wrangling over a new governance structure for the new hospital at Elm Park site, between these two healthcare organisations and the Dept that has hampered its progression.

Negotiations reached an impasse in 2016, as the NMH wanted to retain a separate board and its mastership model; and St Vincent’s wanted all the hospitals on the campus to be run by one board with the NMH having 2 seats on that board.

Kieran Mulvey helped the two parties reach an agreement in April 2017. The new NMH at Elm Park would be run by a new company, which would be a 100% subsidiary of SVHG – so still in private control –  and ultimately owned by the Sisters of Charity as sole shareholders.

The new company – The National Maternity Hospital at Elm Park DAC has yet to be fully constituted. However, under the Mulvey agreement, this will the structure:

  • The company will retain the identity and ethos of the current NMH, with clinical, operational, financial and budgetary independence, without religious, ethnic or other distinction.
  • Its independence is assured under its reserved powers, with a ‘golden share’ held by the Minister of Health.
  • There will be 9 directors: 4 appointees of SVHG; 4 appointees of the NMH including the Master, and one international expert in obstetrics and gynaecology.
  • 2 of the NMH directors will also sit on the SVHG board.

In August 2017, planning permission was granted by An Bord Pleanála.

So at that stage, it could be summed up as  proposed clinical independence for the NMH, with no religious influence day-to-day;  BUT ultimately the company would still be in private ownership of a religious order. Which led to huge protests that the government were essentially handing over €300m of public money and our new National Maternity Hospital into the nuns’ hands – generating understandable unease about access to healthcare which is at odds with Church doctrine including abortion care, sterilisation, and access to IVF.

The Sisters of Charity responded by committing to end their involvement in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and no longer being involved in the ownership or management of the new National Maternity Hospital. They stepped down from the board of SVHG, and stated they would form a new holding company with charitable status – St Vincent’s Holding CLG –  that would ultimately own SVHG and its assets. Crucially they also stated that their ethos would no longer form a part of the new company’s purpose or objects, and that the clinical independence of the NMH would be enshrined in its Memorandum and Articles:

“Upon completion of this proposed transaction, the requirement set out in the SVHG Constitution, to conduct and maintain the SVHG facilities in accordance with The Religious Sisters of Charity Health Service Philosophy and Ethical Code, will be amended and replaced to reflect compliance with national and international best practice guidelines on medical ethics and the laws of the Republic of Ireland.”

All well and good indicating there will be no religious control or influence in either SVHG or the NMH. Except it hasn’t happened…yet. The public haven’t had sight of the new constitution of the holding group, or the constitution of the new NMH. It took 18 months for the legal document giving effect to the Mulvey deal to be circulated to the parties, and now the Minister of Health is seeking an additional Public Interest Director be appointed to the new NMH board, which would bring the number of board members to 10.

And the land? Well, the site apparently can’t be ceded or sold to the government as SVHG has loans secured with it, so it looks like the Minister is now seeking a 99 year lease on the site at a peppercorn rent. The building itself will have a lien on it so it can’t be sold or used to secure loans by SVHG.

And the urgency now? Well, if contracts allowing the commencement of key building work at the site are not signed by the Department of Health by December 31st, the entire project is in jeopardy, as new EU regulations come into effect on Jan 1st 2019, requiring zero energy standards for publicly-run facilities. If the project is delayed, plans will have to be redrawn, the costs will certainly rise considerably.

If the Sisters of Charity deliver on their commitment, I think it’s highly unlikely that there will be religious control or influence in the day-to-day running of the NMH, or effecting the experience of the people using its services. We need to see a timeline for when these changes will come into effect.

However, the New National Maternity Hospital will still not be in public ownership or control, and without change to its Charter or Constitution, the Archbishop of Dublin and the Parish Priest of Westland Row will remain as Governors whether they choose to be actively involved or not. It’s not only the governance at SVHG that needs to be altered, but also at the NMH.

Church and State are still intimately interwoven in our healthcare system, and this debacle only demonstrates the deep complexities of untangling the two.  

We’re not looking for a Christmas miracle, just for the respective organisations and the department to get the legal details and governance structures finally and fully resolved. They’ve had years to work on this, we can’t lose our new national maternity hospital over it. #OurMoneyOurHospital

Sign the petition here:

Listen to Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shorthall on NMH ownership on Sean O’Rourke

I’m voting YES to Repeal the 8th

I’m voting YES to repeal the 8th on the 25th May.
Yes because I trust women to make their own personal decisions in difficult circumstances.
Yes to allow doctors care for women without fear of an unjust and badly worded article in our Constitution.
Yes for compassion and care and an end to shame and stigma around sex and reproduction.
Yes to stop women having to travel for healthcare that should be provided at home.
Yes because what a women decides to do with her body is none of my business.
Yes because life is complicated.

The 8th is extreme moral protectionism. It protects an unrealistic notion of Ireland in the minds of a few. It demonstrates we are still collectively ashamed of sex and reproduction and the condition of being female in Ireland. Abortion, if it must happen, only happens ‘over there’ (the 1 in 5 poster of the Save The 8th campaign: In England 1 in 5 babies are aborted. Don’t bring this to Ireland). England is the still unfortunately the ultimate ‘over there’ for some in Ireland, defining ourselves by what England is not, at the expense of the healthcare of our citizens. This dangerous mix of moralism and nationalism brings into sharper view that a woman’s body is not her own, it is territory, it is property. At the moment of conception her womb and what happens with her body is treated as the property of the State.

This moral protectionism has failed. It is bad law. Article 40.3.3 does not protect women, it does not stop abortion, it does not save lives. The 8th is about fear and control. Fear that girls and women would have autonomy over our own bodies and agency in our own personal private decisions. The 8th says we don’t trust women. The 8th is about stigma and shame.

It has cost the health and even lives of women. The price of continued moral certainty for the few has been too high for the rest of us. Abortions happen in Ireland every day. Thousands travel annually to avail of more compassionate services in our wider EU community. We need to face this reality, and serve our girls and women better. We need to ensure they can access safe and legal procedures here, in consultation with their doctors.

The 8th criminalises girls and women who have abortions here, and those who would help in their time of need. Do we really want to see our sisters, friends, mothers, daughters go to jail in their thousands for up to 14 years for taking tablets in secret? That’s what the 8th demands. If people really believe that abortion is a grave crime, then why aren’t they calling for the legal consequences to be upheld? Yet we hear little from the the Save the 8th and Love Both on criminal prosecution. It is gross hypocrisy to campaign for the retention of the amendment, prevent the decriminalisation of abortion, and not advocate for its active prosecution.

I think the reality is that no-one here really wants to see girls and women and doctors going to jail for abortion. They’d rather pretend that abortion is wrong in all instances and should be prosecuted, but don’t want to contend with the reality of women being trialled by juries and being sent to jail, shut away from family and friends. They would rather punished us through the indignity of traveling for healthcare. They’d rather we’d just keep it all a secret.  

And that’s what we’ve been doing for generations. Shame wrapped up in fear, silence, and denial. Secrecy and denial cause trauma. Girls and women have carried this traumatic burden too long. We fail every girl and women in valuing secrecy over privacy, moral judgment over necessary healthcare, and in upholding a constitutional amendment that the UN has stated violates a woman’s human rights.  

At the time of 1983 referendum, the ‘mother and baby’ homes were still in existence. That was the anti-abortion lobby’s idea of ‘care and compassion’. We now know through the testimonies of so many women and children, that these homes were anything but caring and compassionate.

Freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are rights. Religious doctrine should not dictate medical care. This was brought home to me in the starkest terms on a trip to Melbourne a few years back. I was visiting the site of the former Royal Women’s Hospital, now in offices while the precinct is being redeveloped. Just inside the entrance was an exhibition case displaying old medical instruments from the 19th century. There were two distinct sets of instruments used in difficult childbirths. The case label explained the distinction – the religion of the woman determined the set to be used. For catholic women, the instruments were to save the baby, and for protestant women they were designed to save the woman.

The design of those instruments was inherently influenced by religious bias in medical procedure. While those particular instruments are a relic of a distant past and another country, the 8th remains a blunt instrument of religious bias here and now.

I hear echoes of these attitudes from those calling for a NO vote.  As if determining the exact point that a woman’s life is in danger is always simple and clear-cut. When we have heard from so many of our leading obstetricians that the 8th hinders their ability to adequately care for all the women and girls in their care, and they abhor the continued medical exile of women.

Life and death are messy complicated processes. Twice in my life I have come close to death without knowing it. Twice I have had to be carried to hospital by loved ones, once as a baby with meningitis by my parents, once as an adult by my partner, when I was bleeding out. I needed urgent medical attention. I was saved not only by doctors, but also by the care and compassion of those who love me. The thought that our constitution denies other women medical care in their most vulnerable moments and prevents their loved ones from comforting them horrifies me. Everyone of us is vulnerable, and everyone of us needs care and support at times.

We have only just begun to listen to the testimonies, the real lived experiences of women, under the 8th. Every one of them is heartbreaking. Every one of the challenges us to listen with empathy and humility. Humility to acknowledge there are no absolutes here, and we don’t have the right to force women to continue pregnancies they don’t want or can’t have. Difficult, long-overdue conversations are happening daily now. Tender hot-spots of pain, trauma, denial and anger gently excavated, layers and centuries of misogynistic damage exposed to the air. Those conversations will continue regardless of the outcome on Friday.

The women of Ireland are strong, kind, resilient – we have endured too much for too long. It’s time we open our hearts and listen without judgement to the thousands of our sisters, mothers, daughters, who have needed care and have been failed here. It’s time doctors can fully care for women who are in the most difficult of situations at home. It’s time to support women in making our own personal decisions. It’s time to put compassion before dogma.

It’s time to stop punishing the tragedies of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormality. No girl or woman should have to prove that she has been raped or abused in order to receive this care.

The proposed legislation has been carefully and thoroughly considered, taking into account the recommendations of both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee. Those who oppose abortion already had their input and didn’t come up with anything better. That’s the democratic process. That democratic process has led to the conclusion that the 8th must be repealed so the Oireachtas can legislate. That is why we are voting on Friday – not on our own personal views on abortion, but on letting our elected representatives legislate for its control. Your vote is your democratic right. Please be fully informed with facts when you use it. Please Repeal the 8th. YES.



National Cultural Institution’s gender equality policy workshop

Creative Ireland Gender Policy Workshop hosted by Minister Humphreys
National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks  

Lian Bell & Sarah Durcan  

Thanks to Minister Humphreys, to all board members and executives & staff of our National Cultural Institutions, and to Creative Ireland for organising this day on gender equality policy.

Every one of us in this room is privileged to be both custodians of our culture and shapers of its future. The challenge is that gender inequality in many forms is still an unfortunate reality across our culture and in all our institutions. From our stages to our screens to our museums, wherever we look the absence and underrepresentation of women confronts us. The choice is simple: We can choose to continue to uphold inequality because that’s the way it always has been, or promote equality, because it’s the only way it should be. 100 years ago we didn’t have a Republic with National Cultural Institutions, and women didn’t have the right to vote. Visionary, determined and persistent people changed that. The conversations and work that you begin today will be a watershed moment in our cultural timeline – the great opportunity to finally fully include and recognise over half our population in all our cultural endeavours. A year and a half ago #WakingTheFeminists called on our National Theatre to lead the way in gender equality, and they began significant research and planning that now puts them at the forefront of this work in the theatre community. Today we are immensely grateful to you all for widening out the scope and ambition of this equality movement, so that all our institutions can become world leaders in achieving gender equality together.

Gender is the primary way we sort the world – it’s the first category we automatically sort people into – before race, age etc. Our culture is inherently biased against women and our history erases or diminishes women’s roles. We know that there are many challenges facing you in your work and organisations. And when we’re rushed, under pressure, and short on resources, we’re more likely to make stereotypical or biased decisions. Lucy Kerbel of Tonic Theatre (a company doing great and effective work in the UK in training in this area) proposes starting the equality process with a simple question that can help clarify your thoughts and motivations here: Ask yourself: “Why is gender equality important to me?” Take a few moments to think about that.


#WakingTheFeminists was a year long public campaign to raise awareness around gender inequality and to encourage publicly funded theatre organisations to embed systemic change in their governance, policy and activities.

We believe that action and change only work when individuals throughout the organisation are educated, empowered, and encouraged – everyone can then be part of the solution. But for long term change to be fully embedded and cherished by any organisation – leadership and direction start with the Board. Gender equality policies need to be championed, formulated, adopted and monitored at Board level so they become part of the organisation’s DNA. They set a focus and framework for action by the individuals who make up the executive and staff.


We called on all theatre organisations in receipt of public funding to establish and maintain equality for women artists by implementing:

  1. A sustained policy for inclusion with action plan and measurable results
  2. Equal championing and advancement of women
  3. Economic parity for all working in the theatre

This is just a start, but in the past year we have seen shifts in attitudes and actions across the theatre sector. It is now 4 years away from the deadline that we set of 2021 for our sector to achieve full gender equality.  While we are still far from seeing full equality, all the top theatre companies are grappling with how it affects their organisation, planning policies and considering the practical steps they can take. Representatives of key theatre organisations, from the national theatre to independent artists, are now working together to find practical solutions in a dedicated Gender Policy Working Group. We realised early on that by encouraging key organisations to work together, the positive impact on our community would be further reaching, which is why it is so great that we are all here today to talk to each other about our aspirations, challenges and solutions.

None of us can afford to ignore the issue – the price of exclusion is too high for women, but also for our organisations – in terms of reputation, talent acquisition and retention, and even finances, and not least to the continuing damage to our cultural future. Our audiences, stakeholders and the media increasingly notice and call out gender inequality – see the recent backlash to announcements of programmes by Druid Theatre and by Irish music festivals and literary festivals that featured few or no women artists. Taking proactive measures and communicating them well is essential.


We understand that it can feel daunting to address gender inequality – it is a complex issue with many roots – and knowing where to begin can be challenging. However, it’s not necessarily a costly endeavour to address – it just requires attention, commitment, collaboration and smart solutions. The important part is to decide to begin somewhere, make a plan, try something, monitor its success, modify it, embed it, and repeat the process. There are examples of success, training programmes, and quality resources available to assist in this. We are not experts in gender equality nor in the methods for achieving it. But we can share some of the things we’ve learned along the way in the hope that they may be useful to you in today’s deliberations. As organisations we may do things in unique ways, but we face many common issues in regard to gender inequality, and therefore there are more common solutions that unique ones, meaning we can support and learn and improve together. We’ve handed out a short list for you today of some of those resources.

#WakingTheFeminists encapsulate this as: SEE IT, SAY IT, MEASURE IT, CHANGE IT.

Take Stock

  • ‘What does not get measured does not get fixed’
  • #WakingTheFeminists commissioned groundbreaking quantitative research into the ten of the top funded theatre organisations for 10 years. This crucial baseline data gives a picture of the current situation AND a yardstick for measuring change. Following the money is one of the most enlightening ways of understanding gender inequality at work. In theatre, as the money goes up, the number of women tends to go down.
  • Measure to detect what’s broken and refine interventions.
  • Also measure what IS working in your organisation – where are the areas you’re doing well, find out why, replicate and share.
  • Identify three key areas you can start to tackle now. Think about how you’ll measure and track change over time in these areas.
  • Numbers matter, but it’s not just a numbers game – understanding how these numbers came to be and how they work with each other is just as important.
  • It’s more about creating the conditions for success in our organisations, than solely focussing on the numbers.
  • #WakingTheFeminists is currently investigating an online platform where orgs can easily track and compare their gender equality numbers – there is the potential for this to be adapted beyond performing arts.

Unconscious Bias

  • We all have unconscious bias and implicit associations that negatively affect women (1% bias in performance evaluations can lead to only 35% women being represented at highest levels of organisations)
  • You can get a sense of your own biases by taking the Harvard Implicit Bias Test online – the link is on the list we gave you. (gender, race, sexuality, age etc.)
  • Unlearning bias at an individual level is basically impossible. 80-90% of our minds work unconsciously (Eric Kandel, Nobel laureate), and bias is set between ages of 5-7.
  • Training programmes that only make people aware of their biases are unlikely to change attitudes and behaviours, and may backfire or worsen the situation for women. (Moral licensing)
  • The pathway to behaviour change is not a change in individual beliefs, but instead a change in socially shared definitions of appropriate behaviours. We can also make changes to our systems that help to cancel out inherent bias – one of the books we have listed called What Works, by Harvard professor Iris Bohnet, is a practical guide to creating systems that counter bias.
  • Don’t just focus on raising awareness – take action, and offer specific tools that help people make better decisions e.g. combining unconscious bias training with mentoring and sponsorship programmes.

Devising Policy and Action Plans

  • Plan, but move fast. Momentum is key.
  • Declare goals publicly and be accountable for them, know what you want to achieve and make a plan for how to get there. [Accountability works better at increasing equality and diversity than diversity training alone.]
  • Set both long term targets and specific, short term goals. Keep it simple – don’t try to do everything all at once.
  • Share what you’re doing with others. Working together will yield big and lasting results.
  • Test what works and what doesn’t. Adjust and repeat as you go along.
  • Checklists can help – surgeons and pilots use then – why not let them be a tool in changing our systems?

 Final thoughts:

Importance of role models
Behavioural economics can offer many tools to create environments to help better achieve gender equality goals, and avoid many pitfalls.
Difference between equality and diversity – both are necessary.
For more thoughts and actions see Lian’s List


Athena Swan Charter gender equality in STEMM at third level education

Nina Simon on making museums and cultural institutions accessible:


How is it for women now? Linenhall Arts Centre

Growing up in Mayo, I had never heard of Dr. Kathleen Lynn. I was surrounded by strong women in my family, but for female public role models, between Grainne Mhaol and Mary Robinson… tumbleweed. That’s the crux of the problem that gave rise to #WakingTheFeminists – the continued denial and erasure of women from our collective stories.

Now being a pirate queen or president are pretty rarified career paths for most people, but a medical leader with a social conscience and radical politics, a campaigning feminist, a suffragette and a public representative, in a lesbian relationship? Kathleen Lynn was someone I could have done with knowing about growing up! However, she didn’t fit -in with the cosy national narrative of the times.

I had also never heard of Helena Moloney before she came to my attention through the Abbey Theatre’s 2016 programme launch last October. Helena was an Abbey actress, and had introduced Kathleen to the Cuman na mBan movement. The Abbey used a quote of hers in its advertising “We saw a vision of Ireland – Free. Pure. Happy. We did not realise this vision, but we saw it”.  Yet there was only one female writer and three female directors mentioned in its programme. I was annoyed that I had been ignorant of Helena, Kathleen and many of the other women involved in 1916. Why had I never heard of them? And who else had I not heard about? What other stories and histories had been muted, sidelined, buried?


The Abbey was right that 1916 and the intervening century require interrogation. Those at the forefront of the Celtic Revival understood that the nation had to be imagined before it could be created – that we create ourselves through stories.


It’s important to interrogate our dominant narratives from time to time. Being overwhelmingly male-focussed, The Abbey’s programme missed the true opportunities for interrogation. It matters who is in charge of our stories, and it matters who is doing the telling. So, it was with complete delight that I heard about the plans for the Kathleen Lynn exhibition – where the Abbey missed out, visionaries such as Marie Farrell and her colleagues here in Mayo have taken up a torch to reconnect us with our lost, invisible women. It’s even more gratifying that they have chosen to do so through a county wide tour featuring contemporary artists responding to the social and cultural issues of today.


It was like those of us who worked in theatre were sleepwalking until last October – in denial of the deep inequities that were staring us in the face. Or, more likely, just focussed on keeping the show on the road in a recession. Then we woke with a start to realise – hold on a minute here – there’s something not right in this supposedly liberal, equal, meritocratic arts community. The cultural diet that has informed my own sense of self has been seriously deficient, and the statistics bear this out: 11% of history is written about women; less than 15% of plays on our main stages are written or directed by women; less than 28% women’s voices are heard on air; less than 16% of our films are written or directed by women.  In some cases the statistics for women’s work have diminished, not increased over time. We can go backwards as easily as we go forwards – there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ progression towards equality over time. Just ‘waiting our turn’ is not going to work.


For women, it’s been a century of disconnection and stunted growth. We’ve all been culturally famished. Boys and men are spoon-fed their cultural icons and heroes, breakfast, dinner and tea. Our present is malformed from a past where male creativity has been feted and feasted, and female creativity starved.


Yet women are the majority of the population, the majority of ticket buyers and audience members in our theatres, but a minority as far as what happens on our stages. Girls have precious few external structures from which to build positive complex versions of ourselves as women. We have to really dig deep to uncover what is reburied in every generation – women’s creative and public achievements, our contributions to culture, to society, to science, to history, to the economy. This cultural archeology is ceaseless and exhausting for those of us who go looking for a past that will connect us to a different future – an escape route from the patriarchy.


Women’s cultural space matters as much as our political space, our economic space, and our physical space. These all work together to either diminish or affirm our humanity and equality. And what women have to say through our artistic work is not just for a female audience, it’s for everyone, in as much as male work is assumed to be for everyone. And, yes, in case you are all wondering, there is quality in equality! A meritocracy only works effectively when there is an even playing field. The issues affecting women in theatre are the same as those that affect most working women: opportunity, advancement, access to childcare, bullying and harassment, lower pay.


Following the unprecedented social media outcry started by Lian Bell, over the Abbey’s Waking The Nation programme,  #WakingTheFeminists was born – and quickly become a globally recognised grassroots movement.  At 1pm on 12th November 2015 – in an event that sold out in under 7 minutes – over 600 people bore witness at the Abbey Theatre to a moment of great change in the performing arts in Ireland. 30 women working in all areas of theatre took to the main stage to document their experience of gender inequality in theatre. A massive outpouring of personal testimonies and support came from all over the world including Oscar award winning actors Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, Irish actors Saoirse Ronan, Gabriel Byrne and Brian F O’Byrne, and writer Emma Donoghue, among many others.


Our aim in #WakingTheFeminists is simple: Equality for women in Irish theatre. We call on all theatre organisations in receipt of state funding to establish equality for women by implementing:

    • Policies and actions for inclusion with measurable results
    • Equal advancement of women artists
    • Economic parity for all working in the theatre

#WakingTheFeminists has passed into the global lexicon as a reference to gender equality. With the constant media references, and even an Irish Times Theatre Award, the issue of gender equality in the arts has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds. While it feels like there’s been a huge shift in our cultural consciousness, it’s easy to forget that nothing has objectively changed yet: male artists are still in the vast majority on our main stages. Real change takes time. However, we know how to fix this problem and are actively going about addressing it. We understand the causes are structural and systemic. The solutions have to work at board level, at executive level, and throughout each organisation, supported in turn by Arts Council policy.

We have met with the boards and executives of key theatres including The Abbey, The Gate, Druid, Rough Magic, Dublin Theatre Festival, Dublin Fringe Festival, and Project Arts Centre. At a second public meeting in Liberty Hall on International Women’s Day in March, these organisations outlined their response to the issues and restated their commitment to making gender equality a reality.  


As well as commissioning groundbreaking quantitative research, #WakingTheFeminists is in talks with Tonic Theatre about tailoring their highly successful ADVANCE programme specifically to address gender inequality in theatre in Ireland, and ensure female talent rises to the top. There are once-off costs associated with this research and training for which we are fundraising. The issue of gender equality is not however an issue of funding per se – it is an issue of programming choice. We all support greater public funding for the arts, but women’s work should not be an optional add-on, funding dependent.

We have set a deadline – five years to achieve full gender equality in Irish Theatre. We know how theatre works and we believe this is achievable.


While we are working directly within the sector, here are some ways everyone can get involved and help support the movement:

  • Start counting #WTFCount is a simple way you can raise awareness and help change the numbers: every time you go to the theatre, take a picture of the programme, and count the number of women and men in each role. Share your results on facebook or twitter.
  • Get in touch @WTFeminists
  • Buy some merchandise and spread the message – available from Project Arts Centre


Looking out from the stage of the Abbey on the 12th November I was shocked by the depth of feeling, by the anger expressed with dignity, by the sheer number of women of all ages and backgrounds affected by inequality. I was furious at the full realisation of what we all had lost and continue to lose, artists and audiences alike. For the women and men organising the event, it was clear that the most effective solution would be in the best tradition of theatre – a sector-wide collaborative commitment.  Anger burns short, but determination burns long, and the core group of #WakingTheFeminists working week-on-week to drive the campaign are fuelled by that determination. The public campaign will continue throughout this year. The legacy will last generations. Women of the theatre will no longer fade into the wings, no longer be told, ‘wait, wait, not yet, not good enough, not ready’. We will not wait. Our audiences will not wait. The time for action, the time for equality is NOW.

Closing speech #WakingTheFeminists, Abbey Theatre

On behalf of #WakingTheFeminists, a sincere thank you to all the Abbey Board, the Director and CEO Senator Mac Conghail, and to all the staff who accommodated us here today.

Thanks to my co-chair, Senator Ivana Bacik. To our amazing colleagues who have pulled off an incredible amount of work to get us here, Rough Magic for the use of the space all this week, and the student volunteers from the Lir Academy. To all our colleagues in the theatre and the arts, we thank you for engaging so forthrightly and passionately over the past two weeks.  Thanks to Lucy Kerbel for sharing her experiences with Tonic theatre.  She shows us there are many ways forward.

How can we in the arts interrogate and reflect society with integrity, if we do not hold our own leaders to account and interrogate our own practices?  

It has been a difficult, humbling and yet tremendous time. Frankly, let’s face it, it’s been a difficult 100 years. I feel deep sadness and fury for what we have lost, for talent cut short, snuffed out or exiled, for the important conversations muted. We have been famished without fully realising it. Today we have heard something about the true cost of that for us all.

But it will be tragic if our daughters and granddaughters have to stand here again in 50, or a 100 years time to demand the recognition of their equality.

Equality for women matters on this stage, on every stage, and in every sphere.  We do not stand here and politely request it.  We stand here, in our full strength and brilliance, and demand what is our right as 50% of the population – equality and economic parity.  

This is also just the start of discussion on the solutions.  Ultimately it’s simple –  commit fully to supporting and programming more women artists, putting their work centre stage.  We all have more work to do to achieve full equality, inclusion and diversity in theatre.  We will continue that work, together, with respect and honesty.  But, alongside those conversations, there must be action, and from that action there must be results.

In our national theatre, funded by a woman, co-founded by a woman, and with a mighty Queen charging forth on its logo, this call goes out from this stage, to every stage, to the leadership of all theatres and arts organisations. We must look at our programming practices, and beyond that look at our commissioning and our marketing and our pay and contracting and employment structures – look at everything we do and root out this blight of inequality.

Those three women are not spinning in their graves – their wake is over – today they are rising with us. Listen up: We are all ready for you. Get ready for us. NOW. It’s just time for some RESPECT.