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Roslyn O'Callaghan, Diane Byrne and Honor Murphy, members of the Women of Honour group, speaking to the media following the opening of the Tribunal today.

'Opportunity to be heard': Tribunal into how Defence Forces handled abuse complaints opens

Opening the inquiry in Dublin, Ms Justice Ann Power asked people to “come forward and assist the Tribunal in establishing the truth”.

A TRIBUNAL INQUIRING into how the Defence Forces deals with claims of abuse, including allegations of sexual assaults and torture, has invited members, civilians and civil servants to come forward and tell their stories.

Ms Justice Ann Power formally opened the inquiry this afternoon at the Tribunal’s headquarters on George’s Lane near Smithfield in Dublin.

She called on anyone with knowledge, documents or information relevant to the Tribunal to submit a written statement before 16 August. She said that some people have already indicated their willingness to come forward but others may have chosen not to do so until now.

“This is the opportunity to be heard,” she said. “To participate in the fact-finding process that aims to establish the truth about the complaints’ process and the culture around the making of specific complaints in the Defence Forces.”

Whether a person has had a negative or positive experience, whether they have something damaging or constructive to say, Ms Justice Power asked people to “come forward and assist the Tribunal in establishing the truth”.

While she acknowledged that people may be reluctant to share private, sensitive, confidential or personal information, the Tribunal will only allow interference with privacy rights where it is “necessary and proportionate”.

She said it is not possible to guarantee absolute confidentiality, but the Tribunal will approach such matters with sensitivity and will only disclose to third parties where it is required by law.

The first stage of the process will be for statements to be gathered from those with relevant information. The Tribunal will then assess that information and determine what evidence it must inquire into.

At Phase Three, the Tribunal will notify all those affected by the relevant evidence and they will be given an opportunity to consider it.

Phase Four will consist of oral hearings where witnesses may be cross-examined “should the need arise,” Ms Justice Power said. The judge emphasised that the Tribunal is inquisitorial, not adversarial and “it is not about winning or losing but establishing the truth”.

At the final stage, Ms Justice Power will draw up her report and make any recommendations she deems appropriate to the Taoiseach. Ms Justice Power described the work of the Tribunal as “urgent” and said she will endeavour to complete it within three years.

The Tribunal will not make findings of fact regarding any specific allegation and will make no findings of criminality, she said.

333Women of Honor Tribunal_90707916 The inquiry opened this afternoon at the Tribunal's headquarters on George's Lane near Smithfield in Dublin. Sasko Lazarov Sasko Lazarov

Outside the Tribunal building, members of the Women of Honour welcomed the opening statement. Retired army captain Diane Byrne said: “It’s very real now… it’s great to see the seriousness of it because it reflects the efforts and the importance of the issues we are raising.”

She said the gathering of statements in the coming weeks is vital. “Putting a voice to something that you have buried and you have held alone for so long and joining with other people is having a huge effect.

“So I would ask people to really consider coming forward because the freedom that comes from eliminating that sense of misplaced self-blame or shame that people are feeling, where they have no need to be feeling that, to step out into the light and say, no, it’s not okay.

“That’s very powerful and we really hope people take that opportunity so they can go and live their lives in peace without the weight of trauma hanging around their necks.”

The Tribunal was set up following serious allegations of discrimination, bullying, harassment, physical torture, physical assault, psychological harm, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct within the Defence Forces.

The Tribunal will investigate how the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence handled complaints of abuse and whether those who complained suffered reprisals in the form of retaliation, intimidation, penalty or burden.

The Tribunal has invited any members present or past, civilians or civil servants who worked with the forces since 1 January 1983 to come forward.

Those who did not make a formal complaint of abuse at the time, whether due to a perceived culture of fear of retaliation or otherwise, will be permitted to give evidence to the Tribunal.

However, Ms Justice Power said it is clear from the terms of reference that the Tribunal is not tasked with establishing whether any individual complaint of abuse is well-founded.

The Tribunal is also tasked with investigating the response of the forces and department to complaints about the use of hazardous chemicals at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel.

Anyone with relevant information is invited to email the Tribunal at or make contact by telephone at 01 5391550.

Submissions can also be made by post to The Infinity Building, Third Floor, George’s Court, George’s Lane, Smithfield, Dublin DO7 E98Y.