Chief of staff’s remarks after Defence Forces revelations ‘not credible’, say Senators

Seanad hears calls for Lieut Gen Seán Clancy to come before Oireachtas committee to explain ‘what he says he knew or he didn’t know’

Pressure is mounting on Defence Forces chief of staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy to explain remarks he made about abuses in the Defence Forces, with the Seanad told his response to the revelations was “not a credible position” and was “most worrying”.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin said the Department of Defence would be included in the terms of the statutory inquiry now being established after the independent review group (IRG) report, which he described as a “scoping exercise”.

The IRG published its report into the Defence Forces on Tuesday, setting out a litany of abuse and crimes, including sexual, that former and serving members had set out to the group.

Speaking at a cadets’ commissioning ceremony on Dublin on Wednesday, Lieut Gen Clancy said he had never encountered any of the issues highlighted by the IRG. He added he had been “fortunate” in his career as had the other people he had “encountered” during his near 40 years in the military.


While he accepted the IRG report, and was committed to the reforms required, he added he only became aware of the types of incidents set out in the report after he became chief of staff in September 2021. At that point he began meeting some Defence Forces members, who told him of the abuses.

Senator Tom Clonan, a former Army officer, told the Seanad he had in 2000 published research into the level of sexual assaults on women in the Defence Forces, which found one in four women members had been targeted in that way. He said his findings were reviewed and confirmed in 2003.

Mr Clonan supported Lieut Gen Clancy in his efforts over subsequent years to reform the Defence Forces. However, he intended writing to Charlie Flanagan TD (FG), the chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, “to have the chief of staff come in and answer specific questions about what he says he knew or he didn’t know”.

He pointed out the Women of Honour group said “they find it very hard to believe that he didn’t know about it because everybody else did”.

“And that’s the whole point of the independent review group, that the [Defence Forces], from the top down, perpetuated a system of sexual violence, and more importantly, denial, gaslighting and reprisal,” said Mr Clonan. “If within 24 hours of the publication of this report, on his first official engagement, he says he didn’t know about the violence... there are very serious questions to be answered. I think the chief of staff needs to come in here, to the Houses of the Oireachtas, and tell us what he knew and what he didn’t know. He needs to answer those questions because that is a very bad start and, to be honest with you, it’s not a credible position.”

Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty told the Seanad she was “very pleased” for the Women of Honour, whose allegations of sexual crimes, harassment and targeting in the Defence Forces led to the establishment of the IRG in 2021. Ms Doherty said the women had gained “recognition” by the findings of the IRG.

“One of the most worrying things that I saw in the headlines yesterday was the chief of staff saying that neither he, nor the Ministers, knew how bad it was because he was he who was briefing the Ministers,” she said. “It’s just not good enough, and it really isn’t reflective of what, I hate this word, the dogs on the street... it really isn’t reflective of what people were talking about on the ground to their friends and their families and their colleagues.”

She believed it was “right and proper” that Lieut Gen Clancy appeared before the Oireachtas committee and she planned to write to Mr Flanagan and request an invitation be extended to him. There was an “historical malignance” in Irish society towards abuse “and the more we try to deny it and cover it up, the more pain and trauma that we suffer”.

A response to the comments by Mr Clonan and Ms Doherty, made under privilege in the Seanad, was awaited from the Defence Forces.

The Tánaiste Mr Martin on Thursday described the IRG report as “a completely honest appraisal of the problems and a comprehensive plan to address them is the only way to honour the contribution of serving and retired personnel”.

“In that spirit, I am clear that the Department of Defence must and will be included in the terms of reference for the statutory inquiry,” he said. “It is vitally important that all the stakeholders recognise that the transformation required, including this statutory inquiry, address the issues which are important to them.”

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times