UCD Academic Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin has claimed that there were times during the two year period between 2015-2017 where she was advised by colleagues to take extra security measures to remain safe from her harasser.

Speaking to Róisin Ingle as part of The Irish Times Women’s Podcast’s Big Night In, Ní Shúilleabháin recounted her experience of navigating the issue whilst upholding her duties as an academic in the university.

“I got used to working with the door locked, and one day he just started knocking on the door, and came back a couple of times. It was really hard, but really, really unnerving. And at the time I thought, ‘I don’t want to make a big deal out of this. I wasn’t on a permanent contract with them, and I was very junior and I wanted to stay and I wanted to get this permanent job so I didn’t want to make a fuss.”

Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin
Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin in Soroti, northern Uganda. Aoibhinn visited Trocaire’s work in the region as part of its annual Lenten campaign. Photo: Jeannie O’Brien.

Further on, she recalls doubting the validity of her feelings about the situation and  questioning whether or not the university would follow through with her claim by ordering a full investigation.

“I began second guessing myself, because if they don’t think it’s a big deal, then maybe it’s not a big deal,” she noted. “It was said to me that if I did want to make a formal complaint, it would be my word against his.

The initial story as reported by Úna Mullally in The Irish Times in September of last year sparked national debate over the safety of women in the workplace, with particular attention paid to women working in academic fields. 

A consequence was that UCD came into the firing line over allegations that they did not approach the claims brought to them by women on campus with the appropriate level of action needed to effectively solve issues. UCD President Andrew Deeks was strongly criticised for issuing a public apology to Ní Shúilleabháin whilst also defending the university’s handling of the issue.

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In response to  the case, UCD published a four document zero-tolerance “University Dignity and Respect Policy” last October, whilst also creating their “Report and Support” in February of last year.

Over a year has passed since some of these initial amendments have been implemented and statistics show an increase in those coming forward with claims brought through the formal complaints process. The College Tribune reported earlier this year that almost twice as many students came forward through the “Report and Support” system within its introductory 3 month period than in the past three academic years. 

These figures fall into line with the 363 allegations of sexual assault and harrassment brought to the UCD Student Union during the 2018/2019 academic year alone, highlighting the apparent lack of faith that was held in the old system. 

The new mechanism of recording is still in its infancy however and the full effect of the collective measures remains to be seen. Tristan Aiken, Director of Human Resources at UCD has  made comments to the Tribune that indicate that data collected to this point may not be completely indicative of the frequency of cases of this nature on campus. Stating that: “a larger number of harassment incidents […] are not formally reported.”

Doireann O’Sullivan – Reporter