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military abuse

DF Chief of Staff: 'Perpetrators of abuse don't belong in our organisation and will be held to account'

A report published yesterday details a raft of structural failures in the organisation.

LAST UPDATE | 29 Mar 2023

CHIEF OF STAFF of the Defence Forces Seán Clancy has said says there are people that perpetrated abuses still within the organisation.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a commissioning ceremony of new cadets in Collins Barracks, Clancy said that while there are good men and women within the organisation, there are people in areas of the Defence Forces who “perpetrated some of these inappropriate behaviors”. 

“I’ve always said, and I continue to say, this is not a historical issue in the organisation. This is an issue that exists today,” he added.

The report by the Independent Review Group (IRG), published yesterday, made a series of recommendations including an oversight body and removing management of complaints from military officers.

The Independent Review Group was established by the Government in the wake of allegations of widespread sexual assault, bullying and harassment across the Irish military. 

It report examines historical issues within the forces but also notes in its findings that there has been an increase in bullying and harassment in the Defence Forces in the last year.

There also findings of assaults during training in which military personnel were kicked during exercise and assaulted in shower facilities. 

The report also states that the Defence Forces must investigate suicides in the military. 

The report looked into the specifics of how misogyny in the Defence Forces affects its female members and documented reports of particular incidents, based on testimony from affected women.

Speaking today, the chief of staff said those who resist change or act in an inappropriate behavior “will be held to account, and quite frankly, they don’t belong in our organisation”.

I am ashamed. There is no question about that.

“I think I share that shame and I feel for the good men and good women in Óglaigh na hÉireann today,” he said. 

Clancy said he has spoken to men and women over the last year about the alleged bullying and harassment incidents. He acknowledged that he still does not have the power in some cases to take the necessary action.

“I am looking forward to the legislative changes, which will enable for instance the command in control, and the authority, which the Tánaiste alluded to yesterday, to give the levers to exercise that to its fullest extent, which I do not have at this point in time,” he said.

More powers needed

When asked why the chief of staff does not have the power to put someone in which allegations have been made against in the organisation on administrative leave, as the Garda Commissioner has the power to, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said that specific issue has not been raised with him to date. 

While he said he did not want to get into specifics, he said there is no place for anyone in the Defence Forces who is guilty of serious sexual assault. 

Fundamentally, legislative change is needed quickly, said Clancy, telling reporters it needs to be “brought about immediately to bring some of the immediate actions to bear”.

The wider amendments to the 1954 Defense Act need to be actioned, he added. 

“We’re an institution that has existed for over 100 years, operating under an Act of 1954,” said Clancy, who stated that the Minister of Defence recognises that the legislative process needs to be brought into the 21st century.

“And I fully support and endorse that,” said the chief of staff. 

 The chief of staff told reporters today that he is not surprised by the report, but was shocked by some of its findings. 

The reason he is not surprised is he came to the role of chief of staff at the same time as the RTÉ documentary on the Women of Honor.

“I took upon myself throughout the last year to meet men and women inside our organisation, collectively in groups, individually and together, I listened. I learned that they spoke truth to power. And from that I was under no illusions,” he said, commending the Women of Honour group. 

Concerns have been raised about what protections will be put in place to protect those that do wish to come forward and give evidence to the statutory inquiry, particularly, as cited by the chief of staff, some of the perpetrators are still within the organisation and could be in senior roles.

Martin said there are “some challenging issues” around what can be dealt with in the context of a statutory inquiry and what can be dealt with in public.

Some members may not want to come forward “in the full public glare, so to speak, and may want confidentiality in presenting their experiences to inquiry”, he said. 

He said Government is going to have to “tease that out” with all of the interested parties to ensure it “designs an inquiry that’s fit for purpose, but that also respects the privacy and sensitivity of each individual person that comes forward”. 

Report ‘will shock anyone who reads it’


Reacting to the report today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the long-awaited report into bullying and abuse in the Irish Defence Forces “will shock anyone who reads it”. 

He said the Government will “bring about the change necessary to ensure that the dignity and integrity of the women and men of the Defence Forces is safeguarded at all times”. 

Some of the key findings contained in the report include:

  • bullying, harassment, discrimination and sexual harassment persist.
  • women are seen as occupying a lower status in the organisation.
  • it found that, not withstanding the nature of military work, men and women, are not working in a safe environment.
  • Respondents to the IRG said there was “no point” in making complaints.
  • Legislative frameworks and HR practices are not fit for purpose and out of date. 

Varadkar said the report “is shocking and will shock anyone who reads it”. 

“Issues with bullying and harassment, some of a sexual nature, in the Defence Forces have been reported on before, but never so starkly,” the Taoiseach said.

“It’s clear that attempts were made to change things, and those attempts have failed. Unlike other issues we have dealt with, it is not historic, it’s ongoing,” he said. 

“The Defence Forces is entrusted with the defence of our state since its foundation. The Irish women and men of the Defence Forces are loyal to the flag and the uniform and are willing to defend our State and bring peace to remote corners of the world. They deserve our support and respect. The also need to respect each other, particularly women and those in lower ranks,” Varadkar added. 

“We see an organisation in critical need of fundamental and immediate culture change, which goes to the very heart of issues relating to dignity, mutual respect and duty of care,” he said. 

As noted above, Varadkar said the Government “will bring about the change necessary to ensure that the dignity and integrity of the women and men of the Defence Forces is safeguarded at all times”.

During Leaders’ Questions this afternoon, Labour leader Ivana Bacik raised the findings of the report, labelling them as “shocking”.

“It details to us really serious issues around toxic culture that pertains in the Defence Forces,” Bacik said.


Martin said that at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting Government agreed to progress, as a priority, the report’s recommendations.

The recommendations include the statutory inquiry to investigate whether there have been serious systemic failures in dealing with individual complaints, including sexual misconduct.

The setting up of an External Oversight Body to increase transparency and accountability and to drive necessary culture change throughout the Defence Forces.

The Minister also said that they would urgently reform the existing mechanisms for making a complaint to restore “faith and trust in the complaints process”.

The Government will also prepare legislation to establish an independent complaints mechanism for serving members of the Defence Forces.

New laws will be required to establish the External Oversight Body on a statutory basis.

The Defence Act, 1954 will have to be amended to allow all allegations of rape, or aggravated sexual assault in the Defence Forces in the State be referred to An Garda Síochána for investigation.

There will also be a significant programme of reform and culture change delivered by external experts, with measures to eradicate reprisals and retaliation, and develop new policies on gender, inclusion and diversity.

The report warns: “Change is required to rebuild what is clearly broken in existing systems. The recommendations in this report are radical and, if implemented, will be far-reaching.

“A failure to implement the recommendations will mean a further regression and the Defence Forces’ position could deteriorate beyond repair.”

Speaking to Newstalk’s Pat Kenny today, Karina Molloy, a former soldier who suffered alleged abuse throughout her 30-year career, said: “The dinosaurs that are left in the Defence Forces, they either shape up or ship off, and that’s the bottom line because change is coming and they cannot change the destination of the train.

“They have to stay on track now and get on board with the changes that are absolutely necessary to remove, finally, this toxic misogynistic culture that is still in the Defence Forces. 

“No amount of … unconscious bias training is going to help here. The mind of the people from the top has to change, they just have to embrace the change and that’s the bottom line.”

Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Lieutenant General Seán Clancy said his the military fully accept the findings of the report – he said the organisation “must change and we will change”. 

“The findings of this report are stark and we need to change. There is no place for any form of abuse, or failure to act on any form of inappropriate behaviour in the Defence Forces. It is contrary to our ethos and values and will not be tolerated.

“My first priority is the safety and wellbeing of our serving members and we are fully committed to achieving the necessary cultural change in our organisation,” he said.  

Women of Honour 

The Women of Honour are a number of female Defence Forces members who acted as whistleblowers in regard to their own treatment over bullying and sexual harassment in their military lives.

Their claims were detailed in a high-profile RTÉ radio documentary in late 2021.
It detailed the alleged 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 claimed they suffered depression, eating disorders and suicidal ideation as a result of their experiences, while some left their jobs in the forces.

In a statement yesterday afternoon the Women of Honour group said they welcome the Government decision to establish a full statutory inquiry.

Martin received the IRG report at the beginning of February. The Attorney General then reviewed it before publication yesterday. 

With reporting by Christina Finn and Niall O’Connor

Hayley Halpin and Tadgh McNally
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