Ex-Defence Forces ombudsman feels ‘awful’ abuse victims did not feel free to come to her

Paulyn Marrinan Quinn urges victims ‘don’t suffer in silence’ and come forward in the wake of the review group report

The first ombudsman to the Defence Forces has said she feels “awful” that members did not feel able to come forward with complaints of abuse during her tenure.

Paulyn Marrinan Quinn, a barrister who served as military ombudsman between 2005 and 2012, said she expected some complaints of a sexual nature after he appointment and suspected that there must be some degree of underreporting.

She noted a 2001 study which found more than 50 per cent of female Defence Forces members felt they been “bullied, harassed and sexually harassed”.

However, she said that during her years in the role she received no complaints of sexual harassment. Ms Marrinan Quinn said she feels “absolutely awful” that members did not feel “free and able to come forward”.


She urged victims to take the opportunity to come forward now and urged them not to “suffer in silence”.

She was speaking to reporters at the PDForra annual conference in the wake of the report from the Independent Review Group (IRG) which detailed allegations of widespread abuse, including sexual abuse, discrimination and bullying, within the Defence Forces.

Ms Marrinan Quinn said the extent of the “atrocities” detailed in the report was shocking and alarming.

The unique hierarchical nature of military service, and its close-knit, collegial nature may be responsible for the dearth of reports in previous years, she said.

“To step outside that and make a complaint has to be very difficult in the chain of command structure for people.”

She said even in cases not involving sexual harassment, Defence Forces personnel often treated a complaint to the ombudsman as a last resort and grappled with their decision to come forward. “In my opinion, and I can stand by this, there was never a complaint made lightly. You didn’t have members of the Defence Forces making spurious complaints.”

The barrister also criticised the mothballing of Defence Forces oversight structures which were put in place previously and were considered at the time to be international best practice. This included the Independent Monitoring Group (IMG) which produced reviews of military workplace culture between 2001 and 2014.

In its final review in 2014, the IMG urged military management to conduct further reviews concerning workplace dignity, bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination in the Defence Forces.

However, this did not take place. Now, in the wake of the IRG report the Government is setting up a new oversight body, as well as a statutory inquiry into the allegations contained in the report.

“This was an intelligent piece of work. Why was it not followed on?“ she asked. “It’s a pity because now it looks as if we’re going to have to go back ... and start at the beginning.”

The templates for an oversight system are already there, she added. “I just hope that 20 years from now that this has not been let go the same way.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times