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Thursday, 23 January 2020

Joint Statement from Susan Millar DuMars and Kevin Higgins

When faced with the choice, we side with those who don’t have power rather than those who wield it.  That said, it would not be appropriate for us to comment about any of the issues surrounding #WakeUpIrishPoetry. 
 
Except to say this: the issue has been raised as to what redress individual artists and arts workers have when faced with a possible abuse of power situation of any sort. The complaints procedures within most arts organisations are in reality heavily biased in favour of those who have power and against those who don’t. They are often not worth bothering with. The arts sector has hardly any trade union representation and the artistic world is, sadly, an extremely individualistic place. In our experience, people don’t tend to stick together. So what is one to do when faced with power being wielded inappropriately against you in the arts sector?  

            Each situation is different. But we would recommend that artists and arts workers faced with such a situation consider doing the following: contact a left wing TD and supply them with details of your case, which you can do in absolute confidentiality, and ask them to put in a written question to the relevant government minister about your case. Written questions must be answered and cannot be waffled around in the way that oral questions asked in the Dáil often are. https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2019-12-18/?questionType=written
 
The TD can frame the question in general terms and supply additional specific details pertaining to your case to the relevant minister and her or his departmental officials. You need not be named in the question. When selecting which TD to approach, do not bother with any of the establishment parties as they will likely not support you. But most left wing TDs will, even if you do not live in their constituency. Remember, TDs are national, not local, representatives and are meant to represent the whole country. 

            Well over a decade ago, we briefly worked for a (now defunct) arts organisation where there were issues regarding late payment of wages, lack of contracts for employees, and related matters. We left after working there for less than a year. During the decade that followed, this organisation continued to intermittently post hostile commentary about us and our work on its official website and social media. This only stopped when we approached a left wing TD, supplying them with details, and they put a written question to the relevant minister. We were invited to meet with top officials in the relevant government department locally and we supplied them with detailed evidence. The hostile commentary ceased. The arts organisation in question no longer exists, while we continue to work happily in the sector. 
            
           The approach we took may not suit everyone. But we think it could help many. TDs’ email addresses are available on the Oireachtas website.