Robust complaints procedure central to Defence Forces’ cultural change, committee told

Prof Brian MacCraith says the country’s most senior officer had acknowledged there was a widespread lack of faith in the existing system

Establishing a complaints system that members trust and believe in will be key to transforming the culture within with the Defence Forces, members of the recently appointed External Oversight Body (EOB) have told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.

EOB chair Prof Brian MacCraith told the committee that the country’s most senior officer had acknowledged there was a widespread lack of faith in the existing system due to fear of reprisal which, Prof MacCraith said, left members of the Defence Forces who believed they had been wronged believing they had “nowhere to go”.

Prof MacCraith said that while EOB in its early work listening to the lived experiences of serving members of the Defence Forces had heard many positive stories, even a small number of “bad individuals” could have a negative impact on a large number of serving members.

“That’s why we have zeroed in on the complaints processes as fundamental. And we have it from all our engagements, all our engagements without exception, that there is no confidence in the complaints process in the Defence Forces.


“We have it from the Chief of Staff that there is no confidence in the in the complaints process. So that itself creates a culture where people who are offended for serious or not so serious reasons feel, most of them, that they have nowhere to go. So, to us, that’s a major driver of the cultural transformation that we need to address and that’s why there’s such urgency about it in our view.”

Among the members of the committee scrutinising the Defence (Amendment) Bill 2023, Senator Gerard Crughwell and Cathal Berry TD, both former members of the Defence Forces, each suggested that there had been a disproportionate focus in the reaction to last year’s Independent Review Group Report on Dignity and Equality issues in the Defence Forces on the allegations relating to sexual harassment and assault.

Senator Craughwell suggested it had amounted to an “obsession”.

More broadly, they suggested the report and the publicity it generated an unfair portrayal of life as a serving member of the Defence Forces.

EOB member Julie Sinnamon said that from its initial engagement “with staff to establish with what the reality is . . . certainly the lived reality of a lot of people we spoke to reflects what was in the IRG report. Not everybody, but I think the important thing is to use this opportunity now, to make the changes to the complaints system and to ensure the oversight body is very actively involved with all the players to make sure that what we come out with at the end of the day is something which is going to support the cultural change”.

There was general support among members of the committee for the representative bodies in the Defence Forces, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) and PDForra, to have members on the EOB.

However, despite suggesting at the meeting’s outset that the body’s existing members would like to have the scope to appoint up to two additional members with particular areas of expertise, Prof MacCraith said the composition of the committee in that regard was a matter for the Minister and Government.

Several politicians also raised concerns expressed by the two representative bodies at last week’s meeting of the committee regarding what they said they believe is a gagging effect of the legislation with regard to public commentary by the organisations on Government policy. But the EOB members said they did not have a view on the issue as it was not within their remit.

  • See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & Britain
  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times