Following allegations of discrimination and abuse against women in the military, an independent review was established in 2021 by then Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney.
The Independent Review Group was set up after the ‘Women of Honour’ featured in an RTÉ documentary and their stories garnered public outcry.
Women of Honour are a group of female veterans, who brought light on the history of sexual abuse, harassment, discrimination and bullying within the Irish Military.
The Independent Review Group established a judge-led review of the issues raised by the Women of Honour.
The Tánaiste, Micheál Martin, had received the final report of the Independent Review Group last month and has been considering it in consultation with the Attorney General.
Following this, Mr. Martin spoke in the Dáil about the findings of the report and described what happened to members of the Defence Force as “shocking and disgraceful”. He further stated that there had to be “fundamental change”.
The main aim of the report was to investigate whether there were “systemic failures” within the Defence Forces. The report details extensive patterns of inappropriate and illegal behaviour within the military.
The report was presented to the public this week; it makes for difficult reading but has outlined recommendations moving forward so that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.
The report’s recommendations encourage a future Defence Force that is a safe workplace and affords dignity and respect to members. These recommendations relate to:
- Mechanisms to address issues of a historical nature for former and serving members of the Defence Forces
- Reform of the complaints process for serving members of the Defence Forces
- External oversight of the Defence Forces
- Revised policy, practice, and procedures to address incidents of unacceptable behaviours
- Addressing incidents of reprisal/retaliation
- Training supports to address incidents of unacceptable behaviour
- Supporting a culture based on dignity and respect
- Addressing cultural issues related to gender
- Reforms to the provision of medical care services and to the Medical Corps in the Defence Forces
- Provision of adequate maternity clothing for female personnel
- Development of family-friendly policies and initiatives
- Protection of confidentiality within the Personnel Support Service (PSS)
- Complaints process for civilians and civil servants
Mr. Martin encouraged a debate in the Dáil chamber on the findings of the report and said that the Government would have to issue a response to the recommendations outlined in the report.
He further pledged to meet with the Women of Honour and other affected groups to discuss the findings of the report.
The group’s first recommendation is for a “statutory fact-finding process” to “identify systemic failures, if any, in the complaints system, to ensure accountability and transparency. ”
The group said it believed the statutory process should investigate whether there have been serious failures in the complaints system in the Defence Forces on a number of issues including sexual misbehaviour.
The report found that a “consistent and embedded theme is that some members of the Defence Forces management abuse their positions of power and command in their treatment of subordinates”.
Speaking after the report was discussed in the Dáil, Mr. Martin confirmed that the Government will move to set up a statutory inquiry into how complaints are handled.
The issues relating to the complaints system centre around the failures of that system, and the misuse of the disciplinary process. The report recommended a statutory review to investigate whether certain practices are carried out to deter complaints or as a form of retaliation.
The report details instances where female members of the military do not have the same access to promotion or to courses that their male counterparts have.
Health and safety issues were also raised in the report although not given the same attention as other issues.
The use of hazardous chemicals in the Air Corps, and investigations of air accidents were examined, and recommendations made under the medical care section of the report.
Coleman Legal’s solicitor, Norman Spicer, made submissions to the Independent Review group about the use of the drug ‘Larium’ on former Defence forces members, and the risk that this drug has since posed.
Mr. Martin said the report makes clear that the culture within the Defence Forces is “simply and entirely unacceptable.”
He further stated: “The experience of many women in particular within the Defence Forces has been appalling.”
Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, described the findings of the report as “stark” and showed “we need to change”. He expressed how the investigation has uncovered behaviours that are contrary to the ethos and values of the Defence Forces, and how those behaviours will not be tolerated.
You can read the full report here: LINK