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Defence Forces 'commends bravery' of female members who came forward to make harassment complaints

The terms of reference of an independent review into harassment and bullying in the Defence Forces are due to be finalised this week.

File photo of female soldiers
File photo of female soldiers
Image: Gareth Chaney/RollingNews.ie

Updated Sep 13th 2021, 7:13 PM

THE TERMS OF reference for an independent review into harassment and bullying in the Defence Forces will be finalised this week, Defence Minister Simon Coveney has said.

The minister was speaking on foot of a documentary in which female former members of the Irish Defence Forces spoke about their experiences of abuse and harassment while at work, and called for acknowledgement, redress and reform from Óglaigh na hÉireann.

Women of Honour, a documentary special that aired on RTÉ Radio One on Saturday, painted a grim picture of life as a female member of the forces.

It detailed the shortcomings of reporting processes in the forces, as well as the devastating personal and professional implications of abuse and attempts to report it.

Some victims suffered depression, eating disorders and suicide ideations as a result of their experiences. Some left their jobs in the forces.

In a statement released today, Coveney said he wanted to “express concern for the welfare of the women who recounted their experiences” on the programme and “express significant concern about the allegations made”.

“All members of the Defence Forces have a right to be treated with respect, equality and dignity and to carry out their duties free from any form of sexual harassment, harassment or bullying.”

The statement also noted that Coveney “receives information on such matters both formally by way of regular reports from the Chief of Staff and by correspondence provided to him in a confidential manner by individuals who wished to have their identity protected”.

It continued: “It would be inappropriate for him to discuss individual cases, as it would be in relation to those cases which are within an independent adjudication process.

“The minister was aware of some of the complaints profiled in the programme, but not the specific details of all.

“Senior officials have personally met and interacted with some of the people who were profiled on the programme, to facilitate them in bringing their complaints forward for investigation to the appropriate competent authority, An Garda Síochána.”

The statement added that Coveney “is committed to meeting with the women profiled, should they wish to do so and will be taking steps to make contact”.

Discussions are said to be “at an advanced stage on the establishment of an independent review”.

“The purpose of this independent review is to examine current policies and procedures dealing with workplace issues such as dignity, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination.

“Terms and suggested nominees are at an advanced discussion stage and these will be formalised this week. As outlined the terms will be reviewed in light of the programme to ensure that issues raised are encompassed.”

A statement earlier this evening from the Defence Forces stated: “Óglaigh na hÉireann would like to commend the bravery of the women who recently came forward and recounted their negative experiences while serving in the Defence Forces. 

“As an organisation, all incidents of harassment, sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination are treated with the utmost seriousness and the Defence Forces share the deep concern about the allegations made. 

“Óglaigh na hÉireann has come a long way since the ‘The Challenge of a Workplace’ report in 2002 and has adopted recommendations from the Independent Monitoring Group in 2004, 2008 and 2014. 

“Our procedures are designed to deliver a ‘preventative approach’ to negative behaviour and while Óglaigh na hÉireann continually strives to improve, we fully recognise that further ​progress and work is required to ensure that incidents of harassment, sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination are identified and fully investigated.”

‘Appalling treatment’ 

Commandant Conor King, General Secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco), today said the association “should be an integral stakeholder in any such review”, adding that it has felt “sidelined by the minister” to date.

King told Morning Ireland the women profiled in the documentary were “treated appalling” and the Defence Forces “needs to reflect on that”.

He added that anyone who harasses or bullies a colleague in the Defence Forces “should be weeded out and should be punished”.

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Coveney also today said he “has been in receipt of correspondence – primarily from one source – outlining a number of allegations, including sexual assault allegations of a historical nature”.

“The allegations relate to events said to have occurred within the Permanent Defence Force. An additional specific independently led assessment of actions taken to date and whether any other actions should be adopted is also being established in relation to this specific issue,” the statement noted. 

In recent months, a whistleblower has raised concerns about alleged assault in the Defence Forces.

As reported by The Journal in March, a number of former members have claimed a culture that ignores sexual assault has developed within the organisation.

The Commission on Defence Forces, which was established in December 2020, is also due to report by the end of this December.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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