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Women of Honour members retired captain Yvonne O'Rourke, former army captain Diane Byrne, and retired corporal Roslyn O'Callaghan speaking to the media after meeting Tánaiste Micheál Martin at Government Buildings. Alamy Stock Photo
Defence Forces

Women of Honour group hold 'frank' meeting with Tánaiste over inquiry terms

The group is calling for the terms of reference of the planned tribunal of inquiry into the Defence Forces to be expanded.

THE WOMEN OF Honour (WOH) group have held an “extremely frank” meeting with Tánaiste Micheál Martin this morning, saying that he has agreed to re-engage over its concerns on the terms of reference of the planned tribunal of inquiry into the Defence Forces. 

The tribunal of inquiry will examine the effectiveness of the complaints processes in the Defence Forces in respect of workplace incidents relating to discrimination, bullying, harassment, sexual assault and rape.

WOH, the support group for former and current female Defence Force members who allege they were abused in the military, has said the terms of reference of the inquiry are “flawed” and must be extended, otherwise “a great deal of people” will be excluded. 

Speaking after the meeting with Martin this morning, WOH member Diane Byrne said: “It was an extremely frank conversation but he has agreed to re-engage, so conversations will keep going to try to work out the differences that we have with the Terms of Reference.

“We’re very firm in the position that there are some serious issues here. We’re very happy to hear that we’re going to be continuing the conversation,” she said.

We’re as keen as anybody to get this resolved and move forward – but only if it is right.

The group also raised its concerns over what it earlier described as a “flippant remark” from the Tánaiste.

The group is calling for the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act to be explicitly included in the inquiry’s definition of complaints processes.

However, in a letter sent to WOH earlier this month, Martin said the legislation cannot be included because it “would be very broad and could conceivably include ‘trips, slips and falls’ that may have occurred in the workplace”.

WOH published the letter and criticised its contents, accusing the Tánaiste of minimising “extremely serious incidents and the culture that permits them, and comparing them with ‘slips, trips and falls’”.

Martin later denied that he had equated serious assaults to minor incidents.

Byrne said that Martin did not apologise for the comment during the meeting.

“We had a discussion around that and he alluded to how he meant that to be. We obviously said that we took it in a different light, and that’s it. He said it one way, we took it a different way,” she said.

She said the group would continue to explain why it feels the legislation should be included in the definition of complaints processes.

‘Conflict of interest’

She also reiterated the group’s concern about the Department of Defence handling the negotiations and that they would rather it be arbitrated through the Department of An Taoiseach.

But she said the request “has never been entertained”. 

“We always believed that it’s inappropriate. Even if it’s just a case for perception purposes, really and truly, we’re talking about the organisation, the Department of Defence, creating terms of reference that really has them included in the review of it and the investigation of it so of course, that’s a conflict of interest,” she said. 

She said the group would continue to “keep going” with the discussions if the Government continues to be “reasonable”.

Asked if the group is hopeful its’ requests would be listened to, Byrne said: “I’m always hopeful. We wouldn’t be doing this if we felt there was no point. This takes an awful lot of time, effort, energy and resources that we don’t have.

We are working mothers at home and have to turn our lives upside down every time we come in here. But we do have hope that we will eventually get somewhere with this.

We’re not going anywhere. So if we don’t have hope, what’s the point?

The group anticipates that the next meeting with the Tánaiste will be held before Christmas. 

WOH previously asked for Martin to not be included in the tribunal as the group believes his role as Defence Minister is a conflict of interest.

IMG_3816 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outside Government Buildings this morning. Jane Moore / The Journal Jane Moore / The Journal / The Journal

When asked about this today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that Martin is meeting all relevant stakeholders including WOH, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) and veterans’ organisations.

Varadkar said Martin “will listen to everyone’s contribution and not just go with what one group is saying, or any group is saying, and listen to everyone in the round and make the right decision”.

The Taoiseach noted that he had met the WOH group himself and was “very happy to meet with them”.

“But the Tánaiste is the Minister for Defence and part of my job as Taoiseach is to stand by and support all of my ministers.”

Varadkar said it’s “not unusual” for any group to want to “leapfrog” a particular minister and come to him instead but the Government “can’t work on that basis”.

Byrne told reporters that victims are aligned on what they want, but it was unclear if all representative groups were.

She said there had been previous requests for multiple groups to meet with officials at the same time, rather than one-on-one engagements.

Contains reporting from PA

Órla Ryan and Jane Moore