An outdoor lunch held at McKee barracks by members of the Defence Forces in June 2020 was the result of “significant leadership failings” and did not adhere to Covid legislation that was in place at the time, an independent report has found.
On June 25th, 2020, an outdoor barbecue was held at the Dublin military institution by the staff of the joint taskforce (JTF), which was established to manage and direct the Defence Force’s contribution to the national response to the pandemic.
There were about 37 attendees at the event, which was described as a work lunch by organisers, and for which alcohol was pre-purchased at a supermarket. The gathering began at about 2pm and continued until about 9.30pm.
A protected disclosure was made in March 2021 about the event, alleging a breach of Covid regulations, and the physical and sexual assault of two female members of the Defence Forces at the event.
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Hugh Mohan SC was asked to conduct an independent assessment into the gathering, including whether the relevant requirements under Covid legislation at the time were complied with fully by the Defence Forces.
The report, published on Friday night, highlighted that the JTF was a specific military response to Covid-19 and therefore “should have been aware of the strict Covid regulations that had been brought in to control the daily lives of all citizens of this country”.
“In this context the very idea of having a lunch/BBQ, as all parties now agree, was a decision which lacked judgment and ought not to have happened particularly taking into account the role of the joint taskforce and what was expected of them in light of their leadership/State role,” the report states.
Mr Mohan said there is a recognition that there were “significant leadership failings” around the event, given the provision of alcohol and “also by virtue the lack of supervision of same”.
“Therefore, in my opinion for reasons outlined, the requirements under the Covid legislation at the time were not adhered to. It may have been intended to be ‘a working lunch’, and it may have set out to be such. However, the known facts demonstrate it did not remain as such or indeed finish as such.”
On the alleged assaults, the report notes that the accused pleaded guilty to a number of charges, accepting inter alia that he behaved in a disorderly manner due to being under the influence of alcohol.
There has been a conviction for a number of offences including sexual assault in the Court Martial system and sentencing is awaited.
Some details in the report were redacted to ensure compliance with the Order of the Military Judge not to identify the convicted person or victims.
[ Barbecue at McKee barracks during Covid restrictions ‘not appropriate’ ]
In response to the publication of the report, the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin said it is “absolutely clear” that the event should not have been organised, and it was “wrong to do so during a time when many people were subject to emergency public health restrictions”.
“The organisation of this event represented very poor judgment by all concerned. The chief of staff accepts this and has applied necessary military sanctions to those involved. I have now asked the chief of staff to review this matter further,” he said.
“There is zero tolerance to any type of assault whether verbal, physical or sexual. This has absolutely no place in the Defence Forces or any other workplace. Lessons have to be learned from this event.”