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Women of Honour Group to meet Taoiseach after Defence meeting walk out

The women of Honour group have been campaigning for a full review of how the Defence Forces handled their complaints.

Image: Sam Boal

THE WOMEN OF Honour group are set to meet Taoiseach Micheál Martin next week following their criticism of a Department of Defence review. 

The group of former members of the Defence Forces who allege they were victims of sexual harassment and bullying launched a stinging attack on Minister for Defence Simon Coveney yesterday.

Coveney had announced that he secured Government approval for an independent review into allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment in the Defence Forces. 

However, the Women of Honour group, who have alleged they were sexually assaulted and discriminated against while serving in the Irish Defence Forces, described the process as “pointless” and “shameful”.

They walked out of a meeting with Coveney yesterday.

Their criticisms centre around their claim that the review is against the original terms of reference and is nothing more than an “administrative review”.  

In a statement the group welcomed the offer of a meeting with the Taoiseach.

“The circumstances of Women of Honour and countless other serving and former members of the Defence Forces involve issues surrounding dignity in the workplace, bullying, harassment, discrimination, assault, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“These issues remain in the Defence Forces and are still unfortunately real and live,” the group said. 

They said they are “devastated” and have strongly criticised Minister Coveney’s handling of the review process. 

“The issues require a legal process not a review. A one-year-long administrative review does not have the statutory protections required for such sensitive investigations to be effective and is just kicking the can down the road of pointlessness.

“The group appointed do not have the tools to compel attendance by witnesses or documents,” they added. 

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The Minister said yesterday that he was committed to examine the complaints and find a solution. 

“I have been very clear in my determination to address these matters without delay,” said the Minister.

“Both I and officials in my Department have engaged in recent months with a number of stakeholders including both serving and former members of the Defence Forces, including the original Women of Honour Group, other Groups and the Representative Associations, PDFORRA and RACO.

These engagements have brought serious issues to my attention and I have considered very carefully the respective views. It is absolutely critical that I proceed with this review to ensure that the workplace is safe for all serving members. In this endeavour, I believe I have the wholehearted support of serving personnel,” he said. 

Retired Judge Bronagh O’Hanlon has been appointed as Chair of the Group, along with Jane Williams, SIA Partners and Mark Connaughton SC.

Separately Ruth Fitzgerald SC is to conduct an independent assessment of the specific actions taken by the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces on foot of extensive correspondence received from a retired Defence Force member, in relation to allegations of sexual abuse.

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