THE LONDON Irish Centre has found itself in the middle of a furious spat after making a U-turn on its decision host a radical feminism conference this summer.
And despite the Centre’s change of heart, one of the conference’s organisers told The Irish Post that she still expects 400 women to descend on the venue next month.
Protesters confronted staff at the London Irish Centre (LIC) in April after it emerged that Off to Work, the company subcontracted by LIC to manage its commercial bookings, had accepted an application from controversial feminism group Radfem to use the venue for its annual conference.
Off to Work has cancelled the booking “to protect the safety of our venue staff”. In a statement, the company cited its inability to cater to the “increased operational demands” of the conference because of its limited infrastructure.
The decision has been reached, it added, “without pressure from any group concerned with the subject matter of the conference”.
Speaking to The Irish Post, a member of Radfem disputed Off to Work’s decision. She blamed activists from anti-feminism group MRA London for intimidating LIC staff by “yelling and shouting” at them and sending hatemail. She also said that the names of London Irish Centre staff had been posted on men’s rights blogs.
In a private letter to Radfem seen by The Irish Post, a manager from Off to Work lists three reasons why the cancellation was made.
- “The safety of personnel working at the London Irish Centre from protestors against RADFEM visiting the venue. Already this has had negative repercussions on staff morale and thoughts are towards further visits expected which have the potential to interfere with guests visiting the venue and endangering staff not trained for this type of conflict.”
- “Specific personnel being mentioned. The inclusion of managers names and faces by protestors online is unfair to involve staff completely separate from the RADFEM group. Again causing anguish as it involves personal details and not within the remit of their roles of the company.”
- “Finally the decision was made to maintain a healthy partnership between the London Irish Centre Charity and Off to Work. So after a number of emails sent to both innocent parties from protestors alike, this took its toll on all included and ate in to staff time that are not involved with the conference.”
One protestor from MRA London told The Irish Post that members of the group had not employed abusive protest tactics. But he admitted they interrupted a meeting at the centre to hand over guideline documents for dealing with ‘groups posing extremist risks’.
A spokesperson for Camden Police confirmed that an allegation of harassment was made last month. “Officers assessed the information available to them and a decision was made that this did not constitute harassment of an individual,” he said, adding that there is no further police investigation at present.
Sources at LIC’s Irish charity denied they knew about any yelling, hatemail or other abusive behaviour. But they acknowledged that several complaints had been received and that the names of welfare director Jeff Moore and chief executive David Barlow had appeared on men’s rights blogs.
Mr Barlow described the protest by men’s rights activists as “a fairly quiet incident” involving “five or six people”.
Employees of the charity were hesitant to comment and expressed their frustration at having to spend so much time dealing with the issue, which one employee stressed is Off to Work’s responsibility.
Radfem previously caused controversy when its planned conference in London’s Conway Hall last year was vetoed after it emerged organisers would not admit transgender women by restricting tickets to “women living as women”.
A spokesperson for Radfem said the group told Off to Work that the conference would attract protests prior to making the booking. She added that they asked the company to consult the Irish charity before accepting their application and that they were told this had been done.
“We are disappointed that the Irish Centre is not standing up to this hate group,” the spokesperson said. “We believe we have a democratic legal right to meet in peace. And we hope the Irish Centre will let us in on the day because we are going to be turning up.”
She claimed that around 400 women will turn up at the Centre on June 8, the day the conference was initially scheduled to commence.
Of the 489 people invited on Facebook, 131 have already confirmed that they planned to attend. It is not clear how many still plan to attend following news of the cancellation.
Mr Barlow stressed that Off to Work will be responsible for the security of the building if Radfem fulfils its promise.
He denied being made aware of the event prior to the booking and said that, unrelated to this incident, the two stakeholders in the London Irish Centre are planning to improve communication between each other at a managerial level.
Off to Work’s director, Philip Atkins, said: “The only thing I have to add at this time is that we are assisting Radfem to find an alternative venue solution for them.
“Our decision was an operational, logistical and staff safety one and we wish Radfem a successful conference elsewhere. The police and the local authorities are aware of the situation.”
Mr Atkins refused to comment on whether Mr Barlow had been consulted on Radfem’s booking before it was confirmed.