Micheline’s Speech 09/12/14

Below is the speech given by Micheline Sheehy Skeffington to an event in NUI Galway attended by 250 people on Tuesday 9th of December 2014 ‘in the Aula Maxima, the big old meeting-hall in the NUI Galway Quadrangle.

I would firstly like to thank the 5 women behind me who, along with myself, were interviewed but not promoted in 2009 and also Mary Dempsey for joining me here today

This story started in 2009 when I was turned down yet again for promotion to Senior Lecturer by NUI Galway. That was my fourth attempt and I had been a College Lecturer since 1990. Up until then I had thought it might be because I was not good enough or not supported in the right way. But in 2009 I was convinced this was happening because I was a woman.

Only one woman was promoted in 2009 and 16 men! I knew I had no choice but to appeal. That was what my grandmother Hanna would have done. I had to honour her.

All I had then was the statistics and the conviction that this was gender inequality. I tried to get evidence through freedom of information requests but got very little. So I submitted my appeal with only a little hope of winning. It was the Equality Tribunal which changed that; they were wonderful. They insisted the university provide all the applications of everyone else shortlisted, which they resisted. Once I saw them, it was obvious I was better than or at least equal to some of the men who were promoted. That is what won my case.

But it also showed me something else: the lack of transparency in the NUI Galway promotion rounds facilitates an unequal process. In 2009, one man was promoted even though he was not eligible, another did not have a PhD. Both of those facts were cited in the Tribunal rulings, but there was much more than that! It seemed to me that research scientists were being fast tracked through the system. They were appointed near the top of the CL salary scale and promoted within four years. That is the kind of thing which is causing a lot of upset for staff who are not getting promoted round after round. There were some other questionable and potentially embarrassing promotions. These things did not come out in the tribunal rulings because the tribunal was held in secret and I think that is right. I don’t think these individuals should suffer. That is how the system here works. It is the system which is at fault. It needs to be transparent so we can all see what is going on –and in this way it can become fairer.

When I went public with my win I broke the Equality Tribunal rules. I was supposed to wait 28 days. It was fortunate I did this as I would have been silenced and they’d be able to reply to the press with ‘we cannot comment as it is under appeal’. This is what happened for Mary Dempsey who won her equality case in June. So I broke the story by surprise. On the RTEn12 O’clock news all we heard from NUI Galway was a repeat of their submission to the tribunal that they ‘utterly refuted’ the allegation of discrimination. By 5pm they had issued a statement that they accepted the verdict unreservedly. By doing this, the story died and the damage to them was limited. It stopped me from highlighting the case of the other 5 women who were not promoted as well as the problems with the 2014 round.


But it did one great thing. By accepting the ruling ‘unreservedly’ they had agreed that everything in that ruling was true. That means the five women now have a much better chance of winning a court case. They can’t go to the Tribunal because the case is now out of date, but the court will be much more expensive. That is why I offered my €70,000 damages to help them.

So then we did another press event announcing this. This time the president claimed incorrectly that I had joined his task force to address the gender problems. Why would I do that? You don’t need a task force to promote five women! I see this as a way of undermining what I was campaigning for. So I have decided to set the university three conditions for my involvement. And I want to ensure that if they want the Athena SWAN award, which I suspect is why they are now setting up a task force, they have to do these three things

  1. Promote the 5 women.
  2. Promote all 29 of the candidates who in 2014 were shortlisted and deemed suitable for promotion, but were not. This will put right the gender balance to 50% and it will put right the other injustice of all these lecturers, men and women who are repeatedly not being promoted.
  3. The aim of the task force has to be to have 50% women in all senior posts. They have to start to achieve that by ensuring they are promoting the same percentage of women as there are at the level they are promoting them from.

I am deeply honoured today to have Mary Dempsey here. Unlike me, she did not break the rules and now she has to stay silent because of her appeal. The same goes for the 29 who were not promoted in 2014, 20 of whom are appealing to the university and considering appealing to the Equality Tribunal. This is typical of what is happening in NUI Galway: everyone being kept from speaking out. It is one reason why there are such strong feelings in this place.

In the last NUI Galway 5 year plan we noticed there was no mention at all of caring for anything. You would think with us being based here on the west of Ireland our cultural heritage and our wonderful landscape, this would be important to NUI Galway. You would think with all their emphasis on medical research, they would see caring as part of their remit. But all they seem to be interested in is research grants and international ranking. That 5 year plan was all about achieving and doing. With more women on board, I believe there would be a much better balance and less of a corporate mind-set.

Today I am announcing an on-line petition. Please go to it and sign up. We are setting up a web page that leads to it. If you are NUI Galway staff or student, please indicate that and show your department. If we can get a lot of us to sign this, especially the women, but also the men and people from outside, then the university will be forced to implement these three things if they want a chance at the Athena SWAN award. We hope to then submit the petition to the governing body in the hope that they will insist that the management of NUI Galway right the injustice to the Galway 5 and the 29 who were deemed eligible this time but not promoted.

(The petition can be found at this address



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