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Thursday 30 March 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Christina J Irwin Karina Molloy.
# Karina Molloy
Former soldier who suffered alleged abuse criticises Government and military leaders
Karina Molloy turned whistleblower on sexual abuse after a 30-year career in the Irish Defence Forces.

A FORMER SOLDIER who suffered alleged abuse throughout her 30-year career has launched a stinging criticism of Government ministers, including Tánaiste Micheál Martin, and a senior civil servant for how they handed complaints. 

She has also rounded on senior military leadership going back to the 1980s for what she said were repeated failings to deal with her, and other women’s, complaints of abuse. 

Karina Molloy, who served for three decades in the Irish Defence Forces, has released a new book which catalogues a series of alleged sexual assaults during her service but it also tells the stories of her wider experiences of military life.

Titled A Woman In Defence, it documents her journey from the early days of her career in the 1980s, her tryout for the elite Army Ranger Wing, her rise to Non Commissioned Officer rank and her many foreign trips abroad to warzones on peacekeeping missions.

The book is a poignant telling of the highs of proud service, her close bonds with the men and women she served with but also the gut wrenching alleged abuse she suffered on a number of occasions.

The book tells how the Women of Honour process began following a Facebook post by a retired soldier Anthony O’Brien which asked victims of abuse to come forward.

Molloy said in an interview with The Journal that she believes that Government officials and political figures sought to avoid a statutory inquiry to prevent a flood of litigation from victims of the abuse. 

The former Irish army quartermaster and sergeant is a member of the Women of Honour – a group of ex-service women who have made allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and bullying. 

An Independent Review Group is due to present its findings to Cabinet in the coming weeks on the group’s claims. Sources have said they are anticipated to contain serious findings of abuse, and raise concerns that allegations were mishandled. 


Molloy’s book lays out how the Women of Honour women joined together and began the campaign to shine a light on the culture of omerta around abuse inside the Irish Defence Forces. 

Their claims were detailed in a high-profile radio documentary in late 2021.

Both in our interview and in her book, Molloy documents a traumatic series of meetings with a senior civil servant and Government ministers Simon Coveney and then Taoiseach Micheál Martin over the issues.

Molloy said she and her colleagues had begun the meetings on a positive note, with Coveney, Martin and the senior Department of Defence manager committing to undertaking a full and open process of investigation.

But Molloy said that changed rapidly, and that when the Government refused their request for a full statutory inquiry that it devastated the women. 

Lack of respect

The book is a difficult read, with descriptions of a number of sexual assaults. Molloy constantly spoke of upset at the abuse, but said that the ultimate insult was a “lack of respect” for her.

One of the most serious alleged incidents was an assault at a swimming pool, where she was allegedly groped by a sergeant who was acting as an instructor on a course.

There was another incident where she said an officer attacked her and attempted to undress her while she was preparing for bed.

The book also documents allegations of a number of incidents of sexual harassment which alleged perpetrators claimed were ‘banter’, including a gift of red lace underwear for her birthday with the slogan “I wish I was here” written in marker on the gusset.

Following this incident, an officer brought her to his room and allegedly attempted to force himself on her and kiss her before she ran out. That officer later apologised for his behaviour.   

Karina Mollow 4 Karina Molloy Karina Molloy, front row middle, and the first female recruit platoon at her passing out parade in 1981. Karina Molloy

On each occasion, Molloy states that when she complained about the various incidents, the military swept the incident under the carpet. 

The book documents how the Women of Honour, following the RTE documentary, were invited to meet with officials, senior officers in the Defence Forces and senior politicians to discuss their allegations.

She said that initial meetings with a senior civil servant and Simon Coveney, then Minister for Defence, had mooted the possibility of an inquiry.

In her book she strongly criticises Coveney, and said that in a meeting with the then Taoiseach Micheál Martin that he appeared uninterested – she claimed his eyes “glazed over” as they spoke.

“I think when the ministers sat back with the senior civil servant, they realised why they couldn’t do that inquiry: because it means everyone’s exposed, and the last two previous chiefs of staff may have faced action to have their Distinguished Service Medals taken off them because all these rapes and assaults happened on their watch.

“The penny finally dropped with them and they decided these girls got too big for their boots. They decided to have a whitewash inquiry here. And they’ll plámás us a bit and say ‘this is what we’re doing now and that’s it’.

“And as the Taoiseach said, you’ll get your statutory inquiry, if the IRG [Independent Review Group] report comes with that recommendation in the final report,” she said. 

Molloy said that she was the only member of the Women of Honour to participate in the IRG process. 

In a previous article, The Journal interviewed Christine Whitecross, a senior Canadian military officer who was tasked with probing the sexual abuse in those forces. 

Whitecross said that the fact that complaints were investigated by senior officers in the armed forces meant that they were not being dealt with correctly.

Molloy believes that the Canadian model of an independent grievance procedure is critical to solving the problem in the Irish Defence Forces.

“The Canadian model is the one to follow – it has taken the complaints mechanism away from the military command and has put it into the hands of the civilian police.

“That is a critical solution – give the powers to investigate these complaints to the gardaí,” she said.

10474 Women Of Honor Sasko Lazarov Women of Honour members Honor Murphy and Karina Molloy ahead of a meeting with Dáil members. Sasko Lazarov

She said that during the process she was asked by the IRG investigators to give her take on how the alleged toxic culture towards women in the Defence Forces could be solved. 


She said that she had come up with a number of recommendations, which includes the removal of responsibility for the grievance process from the officer ranks. 

Throughout the interview, and across all chapters of her book, Molloy claims that military officers and non-commissioned officers refused to deal with the alleged perpetrators.

She said at times they told her to drop her grievances and allegations and at other times threatened her with negative career outcomes if she continued with the complaint.  

Molloy believes this was done to protect the rank of the individuals concerned and to protect the organisation from embarrassing incidents.

The Defence Forces, like other militaries across the globe, have their own military legal system to deal with complaints – known as courts martial. Molloy believes that is a serious impediment to dealing with the issue. 

She also recommended that instructors serve a short two-year stint in their roles to prevent a toxic outlook developing towards bullying and women. Molloy said this particularly is a “thorn in my side”.  

The campaign by the Women of Honour has a set of five demands, known as the Five ‘As’: apology, acknowledgement, action, accountability. Molloy said if those were met then their campaign would be a success. 

Molloy’s career spanned over 30 years – starting in the early 80s. While there are devastating stories of abuse, she also mentions support she received from both men and women.

Her memoir is a complex read at times, not a simple telling of life spent dealing with abuse. It is filled with nuance about military culture, the good and the bad of it, and pure honesty. 

Throughout the interview, the former soldier spoke of the actions of the men who abused her, but also paid tribute to men who helped her and supported her during those difficult times. 

She mentioned the men who were on the Army Ranger Wing course with her, and the male members who offered her support as she was singled out for bullying and abuse by instructors during a promotion course. 

The difficulty for the military is that Molloy’s allegations are detailed and she said she has files and diaries that prove the facts. 

Molloy left the Defence Forces in February 2012. Her service was 30 years and 278 days in length. She said that as she walked away from handing back her uniform she felt “nothing but relief”. 

karina-molloy-from-the-women-of-honour-group-outside-the-department-of-foreign-affairs-in-dublin-following-her-meeting-with-defence-minister-simon-coveney-picture-date-tuesday-january-25-2022 Alamy Stock Photo Karina Molloy from the Women of Honour group outside the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin following her meeting with Defence Minister Simon Coveney. Alamy Stock Photo


The Donegal woman said that her hope is that publishing the book and engaging with the Women of Honour will bring about a positive from a negative. 

She said the book was originally a way to document the life of the first female soldiers and give recognition to those who joined with her. She is also looking for “closure” to find a way to “move on with my life”.

And thirdly: “I never even thought of it while I was writing the book – [but] hopefully it will help other young girls and men to realise that they can stand up, and that you’re not alone, that there are solutions there and that you’re still in a fight but it is changing.”

Department of Defence

In a statement the DOD defended the handling of the abuse allegations. 

“Current and former Ministers for Defence have been clear in their condemnation of unacceptable behaviour in the Defence Forces and have also been clear that criminal offences, particularly sexual offences should be investigated by those who have the statutory authority combined with resources and skills.

“This will ensure that the rights of all concerned are upheld, blame can be attributed, and sanctions can be imposed.

“The Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, Micheál Martin, wishes to commend the courage of serving members and Women of Honour, who have shared their experiences of unacceptable behaviour in the Defence Forces,” it read. 

The DOD said that the “primary objective of all concerned, at the outset, was to acknowledge issues in the current workplace and to establish a course of action that would address that”.

“It was clear that there was a very critical and immediate need to address the prevailing work culture, including issues relating to the current systems, policies and procedures for dealing with unacceptable behaviour in the Defence Forces,” it added.

The DOD said that in “the duty of care obligations” to serving members, the then Minister for Defence Simon Coveney recommended to Government, the setting up of the Independent Review Group.

It said the DOD has invested significant “time and the resources” of the Department to the issue.

The Department said that the report is due shortly, and will be considered in full by the Tánaiste, in consultation with the Attorney General, before bringing it to Government and its publication.

The Defence Forces response

Recently The Journal spoke to the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Lt General Seán Clancy who said that he immediately engaged with the issue and that in the last twelve months more cases “unravelled”. 

This weekend the Defence Forces said in a statement that he “is grateful to the Women of Honour for bringing the issues of bullying and sexual harassment to light”.

This weekend’s statement from the Irish Defence Forces said that the initial action he took was to meet serving members “to listen to their thoughts and concerns regarding issues in the Defence Forces that need to change”.

He then appointed the convening of an Immediate Actions Group (IAG) in order to coordinate the implementation of a series of measures without delay.

The measures included an Independent Confidential Contact Person for former and current members of the Defence Forces & 24/7 INSPIRE hotline.

A multi-disciplinary Response Team was established and deployed to all Defence Forces locations which were tasked “to reinforce the critical components of a positive and healthy organisational climate”.

While waiting for the lengthy IRG process to conclude they decided to “to establish more enduring structures to maintain momentum and drive positive cultural change within the organisation”.

This saw the formation of the Organisational Culture Standing Committee (OCSC) which “is driving and coordinating the process of cultural change”.

This group, chaired by a senior command staff officer, has established an anti-bullying & harassment campaign, a workshop on ethical relationships and a review of the grievance procedures.

“Defence Forces Support Team was established and tasked with communicating services available to Defence Forces members

“Óglaigh na hÉireann stands ready to implement the IRG recommendations approved by the Minister,” the statement added.