‘Lower ranks’ in Defence Forces ‘denigrated’ by officers in classist system, review finds

IRG concludes ‘ruling elite’ of officers ensured enlisted personnel could not ‘challenge’ their position

Classism was rife within the Defence Forces, with a “ruling elite” of officers “denigrating” other personnel to ensure their supremacy was not challenged, the Independent Review Group (IRG) found.

The concept of officers being regarded as superior, and being treated as such, was about 70 years out of step with the rest of Irish society, the IRG said. The entry system to the Defence Forces needed to change so recruits would be judged on the abilities they demonstrated in training.

The IRG also concluded the division of Defence Forces personnel into officers who command and lead “enlisted personnel”, who are not officers, was not only “unacceptable and baseless” but was a very poor form of management.

The “lower ranks” suffer “physical, emotional and other forms of denigration, bullying and harassment” in order to “ensure they do not challenge or seek to take over from the ‘ruling elite’”. This is done “under the guise of ensuring a disciplined force”.


Furthermore, those in the “lower ranks” were suppressed, ensuring their careers could not advance via “restricted access to the training and experience which would equip them to operate at the more senior levels”. This was aimed to “ensure that they will not seek to change the status quo”.

Even among the officer ranks in the Defence Forces, those who joined based on qualifications gained in civilian life – such as engineers and doctors, among others – were not regarded as the “elite”. Only those officers who joined through the Cadet School, and did all of their training in the Defence Forces, could be regarded as being truly “elite”.

The distinction between direct entry officers and other officers was akin to the “distinction between upper and lower classes in times gone by”. And the “class system” generally in the Defence Forces “pervades behaviours and attitudes throughout” the Army and “at times” in the Naval Service and Air Corps.

“The class hierarchy was characterised as ‘the elite and the rest’ and ‘master and servant’, with all the snobbery, condescension and denigrating attitudes and behaviour that go with that,” the IRG said of its interviews with former and serving Defence Forces members.

“The separation of facilities by officers [and] enlisted members fed into the same class system. In modern Ireland, this is not only unacceptable and baseless as a way of managing or leading an organisation, but it is ineffective in fostering an organisation where status and respect are earned, not gained as an automatic entitlement of rank,” the IRG said.

The IRG noted Ireland had “moved on from that bygone 1950s era” and the Defence Forces also needs to make “that modernising change from 1950s beliefs and behaviours to those of today, a 70-year leap”. This change must begin at the Cadet School and spread through the whole organisation.

The IRG said one option would be to have “a common entry point” rather than some personnel entering the Defence Forces as officers and others as enlisted personnel. If all recruits joined on the same basis, and had equal status when they entered basic training, there could be “selection for specialist roles – including roles as officers – based on performance and demonstrated competencies”.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times