Insubordination charges against senior Defence Forces officer dropped ahead of High Court hearing

Matter related to long-running discord in military’s legal affairs unit over actions taken by colonel

Charges of insubordination against a senior Defence Forces officer relating to a long-running row in the military’s legal unit have been withdrawn.

Lieut Col Fintan McCarthy had been charged with insubordination by his superior, Col Jerry Lane, after Lieut Col McCarthy sent a complaint about Col Lane’s actions.

Last year, Lieut Col McCarthy took a judicial review in the High Court to prevent the insubordination charges against him proceeding.

However, it is understood he was contacted last week by lawyers for the Minister for Defence and told that now the charges had been dropped the Defence Forces would not be contesting his case. A full hearing of the matter scheduled for January will be set aside.


The matter relates to long-running discord within the Defence Forces legal affairs office where staff had been critical of actions taken by Col Lane.

Col Lane, who is also a barrister, acted as the top legal adviser to the General Staff and the head of the Legal Service before he was transferred from the post last year by order of the head of the Defence Forces, Lieut Gen Seán Clancy.

In June 2020, Col Lane submitted formal military charges against Lieut Col McCarthy alleging, among other things, insubordination and making a false accusation against a superior officer.

Before bringing the charges, the colonel demanded an apology and claimed Lieut Col McCarthy’s complaint showed his “manifest lack of respect and integrity”.

The charges related to a complaint made by Lieut Col McCarthy in October 2019 with the General Officer Commanding alleging that Col Lane had abused his rank and authority by removing a course available to officers with the US Judge Advocate General Corps.

Lieut Col McCarthy also claimed Col Lane displayed unacceptable behaviour towards Defence Forces legal officers and had discontinued the availability of overseas service with United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon for legal officers.

The Chief of Staff appointed another colonel to investigate the insubordination charges. That concluded last week, when Lieut Col McCarthy was informed the charges were being dropped.

Much of the discord within the legal unit related to the issuing of a General Routine Order (GRO) in 2019.

The GRO, which was signed by then Maj Gen Clancy, granted additional powers to Col Lane, including granting him supervisory powers over disciplinary actions against troops and giving him the power to appoint prosecuting officers.

Concerns were raised within the Defence Forces that the GRO was in conflict with legislation and the matter was referred to the Attorney General’s office.

In an unusual move, the GRO was then revoked by the Minister for Defence last February.

Col Lane has himself been involved in a previous legal action against the Defence Forces relating to a protected disclosure alleging officers were being granted preferential treatment when it came to appointments.

Arising out of the disclosure, Col Lane said he was subjected to a range of penalties including the threat of dismissal and involuntary retirement from the Defence Forces. Those threats were subsequently set aside. An investigation was carried out into his alleged mistreatment but the report was not published, leading Col Lane to take a High Court action. Col Lane withdrew the case in 2019 following discussions between the parties.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times