Women of Honour group calls for end to ‘smoke and mirror approaches’ within the Defence Forces

An independent review group said ‘incidents of bullying, harassment, discrimination and sexual harassment persist’ in the Defence Forces

The Women of Honour group has accused members of the Defence Forces of going to “great lengths to conceal the failures that exist” and reiterated its calls for a “complete investigation” into how allegations of misconduct were handled.

In a statement released to The Irish Times, Women of Honour called for an end to the “smoke and mirror approaches” that the group says are being used to conceal the “complex and endemic issues that exist” within the Defence Forces. The statement, which was compiled in response to an opinion piece written by Lieut Gen Seán Clancy, Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces and published in The Irish Times, called on leading figures both in the Defence Forces and Government to “lead by example” and open themselves up to “necessary scrutiny”.

Last month, an independent review group (IRG), formed in response to allegations made by Women of Honour in a 2021 RTÉ documentary, reported that “incidents of bullying, harassment, discrimination and sexual harassment persist and cannot be said to be a feature of the past only” in the Defence Forces. The report also stated that “women are viewed as occupying a low status in the Defence Forces”, while “gender and particular hypermasculinities are strong organising forces in the culture”.

Writing in The Irish Times on Thursday, Lieut Gen Clancy thanked the Women of Honour for coming forward, saying they and other victims “courageously brought their lived experiences to light”.


Lieut Gen Clancy also said “there is no place for any form of abusive, inappropriate or criminal behaviour in the Defence Forces” and the Defence Forces “stand ready to fully support the implementation of the IRG recommendations”. The Chief of Staff confirmed that a statutory inquiry would take place and reiterated his faith that it would “determine the extent of the issues brought to light in the IRG report”.

In its statement on Thursday evening, Women of Honour highlighted its lack of faith in the IRG and its findings. “The Women of Honour did not support or engage with the IRG as the scope and resultant outcome were far too narrow to address the issues that exist.

“Thanks to those who did engage with IRG, despite its limitations, it does reiterate some of the issues highlighted by Women of Honour to date. However, it by no means captured everything nor did it address statistics or accountability. That now needs to be done in the widest possible sense or the Defence Forces and all who have and continue to serve in it will unfairly remain under this cloud of shame and humiliation.”

Women of Honour also outlined its wish for any inquiry to be completely independent. “We’re looking for an independent investigation, a statutory inquiry,” said Diane Byrne, a retired Army captain and member of Women of Honour.

“We’re not looking for a fall guy or a scapegoat, we’re looking for people to account for what they knew or didn’t know. As it stands, they’re [Defence Forces leadership] putting themselves above the process where they design the solutions. There’s no trust or transparency in that. Everything that they [Defence Forces leadership] knew must be scrutinised.”

In his Opinion piece, Lieut Gen Clancy said all members of the Defence Forces should reflect on their service and “what was known through the reported incidents of inappropriate and criminal behaviour”. He described recent events as a “watershed moment” for the Defence Forces and reiterated his confidence that the statutory inquiry would “bring clarity, find facts and will support our shared determination to eliminate unacceptable or criminal behaviours within the Defence Forces”.

In its statement, Women of Honour warned that efforts to improve the culture in the Defence Forces risked being “in vain” due to a lack of consultation with the group regarding the measures listed by Lieut Gen Clancy. According to Ms Byrne, Women of Honour have met the Chief of Staff once in the previous two years.

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist