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First female Defence Forces officer achieves rank of Major General

Major-General Maureen O’Brien’s appointment to this rank was described as a “great source of pride for the Defence Forces” by Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney.

Major General O'Brien as a Brigadier General inspecting troops during her time as Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
Major General O'Brien as a Brigadier General inspecting troops during her time as Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
Image: Defence Forces

THE FIRST FEMALE in the history of the state to reach the rank of Major General was announced today.

Major General Maureen O’Brien is the first female officer to achieve this status and will now take up the role of Deputy Military Advisor to the UN Under Secretary General for Peace Operations at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The Major-General said today at Cathal Brugha Barracks that she is looking forward to her new role and that her appointment to this position shows that if you can see it, “you can be it, you just have to work hard.”

Major General O’Brien has previously worked with UN peacekeeping in East Timor, Lebanon, and Chad, where, in 2009, she was the first woman to serve as the Deputy Commanding Officer of an infantry battalion. In 2012, she became the first woman to command an infantry battalion when she was appointed Officer Commanding 27th Infantry Battalion in Dundalk.

Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, said that her appointment to this rank and this role in the UN is a “great source of pride for the Defence Forces” and the fact that she is the first woman to hold this rank shows great potential for men and women alike in the Defence Forces.

“It’s a fantastic story, and I hope it’ll be an inspiration for a lot of young women to think about the Defence Forces differently in terms of the impact that they can make.”

“The truth is: female peacekeepers can do things that men can’t do in certain settings in different parts of the world. When, for example, we’re trying to deal with the consequences of sexual violence used as a war tool […] People will talk to female peacekeepers in a way that is different sometimes to men.”

Major General O’Brien said that while there are more men, she doesn’t feel the Defence Forces are male-dominated. “I think with any organisation, when there are more men, you will have a more maybe masculine approach.”

She said more diversity brings different perspectives. “We all bring something different and men don’t all bring the same things either. But I think having women in may allow some men maybe to express themselves more.”

“Today, we currently only have 7% of our defence forces are female,” said Coveney. “That is something that has been gradually improving in recent years, but not at a pace that I would like.”

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Coveney also said the Department of Defence is aiming to get this percentage into double figures.

Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett DSM, said that he would like to see more women in the Defence Forces and said that Major General O’Brien is a role model for that.

“We have a women’s forum that is actually continually challenging me in ways that we can actually improve the work-life balance to make the organisation more attractive for women, as well as men,” Vice Admiral Mellett said, as part of initiatives the Defence Forces have to tackle the gender imbalance.

“For us, it’s not about political correctness, not about access to an extra 50% of the population, […] and it’s not just about being a better reflection of society we defend, protect and serve. It’s about capability, greater gender balance in our decision making.”

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