Former Young Greens Chairperson speaks out against “massive culture of harassment”

Jamie McCarron

TTara Gilsenan looks into her camera, in front of the peace symbol decoration and dark green vines hanging on her bedroom wall.

“Don’t tell the Greens that they’re plastic,” she joked, her North Monaghan accent somewhat strangled by her rural Monaghan internet connection.

Whether or not her vines are made from plastic is low on the list of the Green Party’s current concerns after suffering loss after loss in the past few months. Most notable of which is their association with the controversial Mother and Baby Homes legislation and the high profile resignations it led to in late October, including Gilsenan herself.

Gilsenan, like so many other Young Greens, feels betrayed by the Green Party’s Dail record. But the party’s unwillingness to do anything about its sexual harassment problem was also a major factor in her decision to resign.

“It was within the Young Greens, at our meetings and events,” Gilsenan recalls candidly, speaking about how another member of the organisation would touch her inappropriately and make comments about her appearance.

Even after Covid-19 restrictions meant that Young Green meetings went online, the harassment didn’t stop. She noticed that another young woman was also being harassed by the same man. When asked if she noticed a bystander effect in those meetings, she nods slowly.

“There were moments where things were very extreme and I felt in danger, but there were other moments where he would constantly belittle us and talk over us, and mostly that’s what people saw. They could’ve done something and didn’t bother. They just saw two women being victimised and thought ‘that’s what it is to be a woman in politics’ when it shouldn’t actually be like that” said Gilsenan.

The frustration in her voice is evident; after trying to shed light on this behaviour since February, Gilsenan says that nothing meaningful has been done.

Before becoming Chairperson of the Young Greens she had been Secretary of the Rural Young Greens, a policy officer in the Mná Glasa Óga, which she helped to establish and a founding member of Trinity College Young Greens. After her prodigious work in the party’s affiliate groups, the way her report of sexual harassment was treated left her saddened.

“I felt like I wasn’t wanted, nobody was listening to what I was saying. They were kind of using me, because I was young, I was rural, I was a woman. I ticked a lot of boxes for them but whenever it came down to me actually having an issue no one wanted to solve it” she explained.

“The other girl being harassed eventually left the party. We were very uncomfortable and desperate. They had no structure in place to deal with this. We were in limbo quite a while,” Gilsenan says, with a combination of anger and despair.

She says that the Green Party seeks out “informal resolutions” but that this definitely wasn’t an option for her. “I made a complaint once against one of our senators,” Gilsenan immediately corrected herself. “Sorry, one of the Green Party’s senators, It’s hard to get out of that habit.”

Gilsenan had complained about a senator in the party and was “put on the phone with them to talk it out. But the idea of getting on the phone with someone that’s harassed you for months and having to talk it out? That shouldn’t happen. It’s like something from primary school. It doesn’t work as an adult when you’ve got serious issues.”

After being elected as Chairperson in September, she decided to use her platform to speak out against the problems she noticed in the Young Greens.

During the Green Party’s online conference in early October Gilsenan gave a ten-minute speech, as was tradition for the Chairperson of the Young Greens. But her speech was far from traditional, condemning the party’s establishment for their actions in government, before scolding them for their reluctance to deal with the harassment its members face.

Her confrontational approach in the speech’s video recording seemed at odds with the relaxed and open young woman in front of the plastic vines. Gilsenan said that under her bold exterior, she was petrified.

“I was shaking like a leaf. I was being broadcast to the entire Green Party and to journalists. So it was very scary. I knew that the only way they’d take it seriously is if I was convicted enough to raise these issues out loud.”

“I cried for about two hours after but it was worth it and I’d do it again,” she added, without a hint of hesitation.

Her speech and eventual resignation spurred a flood of online harassment aimed at her from all sides of the political divide.

“I had to lock my Twitter quite a few times. It’s very hard to exist as a young woman on Twitter, that’s all I’ll say.”

She pauses, clearly searching for the right words. “I can deal with online abuse from other parties. But when people in your own party are attacking you, saying that you’re naïve, it just chips away at you. There’s a massive culture of harassment but it’s not just sexual.”

She continues saying: “A lot of the misogyny I faced trying to report these problems came from older women, and they’re like ‘I lived through it and I was fine.’ But we shouldn’t have to put up with this. We shouldn’t have to deal with harassment from the other gender because of what’s between our legs. What century are we living in?”

With a resumé like Gilsenan’s, and a degree in European Studies from Trinity College about to be added onto it, you would expect a career in politics from the twenty-one year old.  But Gilsenan no longer has such aspirations.

“Getting involved in a political party again isn’t something I’d jump into lightly. I wouldn’t advise someone to do that. I have trauma after what I went through in the GP. I know I’m not the only one. Especially for young women politics isn’t the place to be. After the experience I’ve had I couldn’t tell a young woman to join a political party, I’d advise against it. There’s a nasty culture to it. But I’d say… be politically aware. Ring your TDs. Get onto the streets, protest, shout” she said.

Jamie McCarron

Image Credit: Young Greens