Fury as Irish Centre cancels ‘radical' feminists’ conference booking amid fears over safety

Wednesday, 1st May 2013

The London Irish Centre was to be the venue for a RadFem conference

Published: 1 May, 2013

A COMMUNITY centre has abandoned plans to host a controversial “radical feminism” conference amid fears for public ­safety.

The London Irish Centre, in Camden Town, said it did not have the “manpower” to deal with the RadFem conference after receiving threatening phone calls over its initial decision to accept the booking. It has contacted police and warned activists not to turn up in June.

There have been angry debates online about the nature of the conference, the tone of which has raised alarm. 

While RadFem campaigners insist it should go ahead at the Camden Square building, demonstrators, including those who label themselves "men’s rights activists”, say the conference must be stopped. 

In one of the more bizarre points of debate, some men’s rights activists claim RadFem wants to reduce the male population of the United Kingdom to just 10 per cent.

A small number of protesters from both sides of the debate have visited the building in recent days, leaving staff feeling alarmed.

There have been vociferous debates about RadFem’s decisions not to allow transgender women into their groups, with some members claiming they are men trying to infiltrate their work. The centre said it could not risk being unable to “safeguard the area” around Camden Square.

The centre’s decision follows a controversy at Conway Hall, in Holborn, last year when a booking for the conference was torn up because of “issues around discrimination and equality legislation”.

RadFem has now asked Camden Council to allow it to host the conference at the Camden Centre.

The London Irish Centre is available to hire by a variety of groups and is sometimes used for parties and boxing matches. The Labour Party booked it ahead of the 2010 election campaign to launch its manifesto. 

The centre’s commercial manager, Neil Preston, said: “We are not equipped to deal with this. We do not have the time, staff or manpower. We have released the [RadFem] booking. 

“We thought this decision through very carefully. We didn’t decide on the grounds that anyone was being discriminated against. It’s more because it would have taken us a lot of time to handle the phone calls we were receiving and the protests. 

“We need to safeguard individuals in the area, so we called police and referred RadFem to app­roach the council. 

“The council are reviewing it, and police are investigating individuals from different groups as there were incidents of violence.”

While a council spokesman confirmed an application to use the Camden Centre had been received, a statement on the RadFem 2013 website said the group was still insisting on using the Irish Centre. Nobody from the group could be reached for comment, despite several emails and phone calls.

Its statement said the Irish Centre had succumbed to “bullying from men’s rights advocates”.

It added: “The London Irish Centre may be unlawfully and unjustifiably considering cancelling our booking but this will not stop us from holding our event and standing our ground. We do not accept the centre’s unjustifiable rejection of our booking. We have done nothing wrong. We will have our conference. It will be at the London Irish Centre from the 8th-9th of June.”

Mr Preston emphasised the booking was no longer scheduled in the centre’s diary and any problems would be met with “a phone call to police”.

The Camden LGBT Forum, which has worked in the area for 12 years, said that while “men’s rights activists had hijacked this as their victory, a majority of the lobbyists were trans-women”.

Nigel Harris, the forum’s director, said: “It’s not inclusive for any conference to ban a woman for women simply because they have decided she’s not their type of woman. 

“Their opinion is that trans-women are men attempting to infiltrate feminism, which is ridiculous and hurtful. I’m not saying there should be a blanket ban on RadFem but Camden is the wrong borough for it considering the large trans population we have.”

He added: “Who knows the real reason the centre decided to cancel. Although they may have said it happened on the grounds of hassle, perhaps they also looked into what RadFem were saying. Last year’s speakers included people who had outed trans-women on the internet.”

A spokesman for the council said any bookings that could lead to protests would see the Met Police informed, but at this stage only an application had been received. He said: “Our ability to manage the event safely will be a primary concern. A decision will be taken in due course.” 

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