Defence Forces reform: Eight main recommendations from the Independent Review Group

Women of Honour review has recommended sweeping changes within the Defence Forces, from complaints to culture

1: A statutory fact-finding process

The review said a statutory investigation would “identify systemic failures, if any, in the complaints system in order to ensure accountability and transparency”. It will look at whether there have been serious failures in the complaints system in the Defence Forces and whether there has been misuse of disciplinary process. It will also look at whether there have been issues raised in the investigation of complaints concerning health and safety issues in the Air Corps in relation to the maintenance and use of hazardous chemicals and the investigation of air accidents.

2: A restorative and reform process

The judge-led review said the Government should consider setting up a restorative justice process “aimed at healing the wrongs” that have been reported while “contributing to the reform of behaviours to underpin a future Defence Forces”. This should be led “by an experienced practitioner in restorative practice”.

3: Immediate reform to the process of making a complaint of unacceptable behaviour

Serving members of the Defence Forces should be offered access to an independent, external complaints service, delivered by a professional service provider, for as long as it takes to put a trusted internal system in place. There is also a recommendation that complaints should now be made to an external HR professional rather than a commander. Members of the Defence Forces who have complaints pending should also be entitled to pause their complaint while these changes are made.

4: A revised grievance model

The Minister for Defence has also been asked to review and replace the current redress of wrongs procedure, which the review says “is no longer appropriate”, The review says that the setting aside of the current redress of wrongs procedure will “naturally require the redesign and introduction of a new mechanism for a complaints process”.

5: Recommendations for external oversight of the Defence Forces

The report contains a series of recommendations in relation to the oversight of the Defence Forces. It says the Minister might want to deliver fresh oversight through a specially-convened group, potentially on a statutory basis. It should comprise an independent chair, five independent members, a former senior member of an overseas defence department and the secretary general of the Department of Defence.

6: Addressing incidents of reprisal and retaliation

The report calls for “a zero-tolerance policy on reprisals and retaliation” backed by vigorous detection and sanction. An independent complaints system could look at any issues that come up here. There would be severe penalties for perpetrators including fines, reduction in rank and attendant reductions in pension rights.

7: Recommendations for addressing cultural issues related to gender

The Defence Forces should develop new policies on gender, inclusion and diversity. The group said that the Defence Forces should also communicate clearly to all members that misogynistic beliefs and behaviours are unacceptable, and that complaints that are upheld will be severely punished through penalties that have impact.

8: Recommendations for reforms around medical care

The review found that the medical grading system currently being used by the Defence Forces can see the discharge of valuable personnel. It recommended that there be an opportunity to retain personnel in less manual or physical roles, such as administration or certain medical positions.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times