Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Lieut Gen Seán Clancy, has said he never witnessed any of the problems in the military exposed by the Independent Review Group (IRG) and heard about them for the first time after he took up his role just over 18 months ago.
However, he was “ashamed” of the issues exposed by the IRG report which included sexual assaults, including rapes, as well as physical attacks and bullying and harassment in a Defence Forces that “barely tolerated” women. When some members who were targeted took their own lives, some of the suicides were covered up as “accidental deaths”, the report found.
A member of the Defence Forces since 1984, Lieut Gen Clancy was appointed chief of staff in September 2021, and has been a senior officer for more than a decade.
“I have had a long career in the Defence Forces and I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve always had a very positive experience personally and I think most of the people who I have encountered have had positive experiences,” he told the media at a cadet class commissioning ceremony in Collins Barracks, Dublin, on Wednesday.
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“There have been pockets throughout that time frame, of course, where I’ve seen action taken, disciplinary; whether it was right or wrong, and the levels of it, that will remain to be seen in terms of judgment. Throughout my career, answering honestly, other than the disciplinary, the standard disciplinary impacts that you would have in the workplace, those standard types of practices; I would not have been aware of them.”
However, over the past year he had been taking part in sessions with Defence Forces members who had spoken “truth to power” and it was during that work that he learned of the issues.
Lieut Gen Clancy said he accepted the findings of the IRG report and was “not afraid of it” as it was an opportunity for reform.
“This is not an historical issue in the organisation, this is an issue that exists today and that has been part of my learning,” he said of his time as leader of the Defence Forces. The “good men and good women” in the Defence Forces “want to see this change” and those “who resist it or react in an inappropriate manner will be held to account”.
“Quite frankly they don’t belong in our organisation,” he said, adding he was “committed to reform”. “It’s very clear there has been bullying, harassment and misogynistic behaviour, sexual harassment, criminal activity in our organisation and that has come from the culture that has allowed [that] to happen.”
He added Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin “recognised and acknowledged the commitment I have, and my leadership team have, to drive change”.
Also speaking at Collins Barracks, Mr Martin said in the period before a planned statutory inquiry is established to examine the Defence Forces, he had been “assured” any allegations or criminality or wrongdoing brought forward would be very rapidly investigated. He added the class of cadets being commissioned on Wednesday could “move forward in a different way” and would be part of the transformation of the Defence Forces in the years ahead.
Mr Martin said any crimes that emerged during the statutory inquiry’s work would be referred to the Garda for investigation. He added any former or serving Defence Forces members who did not want to give evidence to the inquiry “in the full glare of publicity” would be “protected” and their testimony treated in a sensitive and confidential manner. The Attorney General, Rossa Fanning, would advise on what structures could be put in place in that regard.