Inquiry into claims of bullying and sexual misconduct in Defence Forces set to begin

Tribunal of inquiry will investigate allegations of discrimination and harassment in Defence Forces made by Women of Honour members

A judge-led independent review was established to examine dignity and equality issues in the Defence Forces. The Government subsequently agreed to implement the recommendations of this review – including that a statutory fact-finding process should be set up. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

A new tribunal of inquiry to examine the complaints process in the Defence Forces in relation to bullying, discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct is to get under way imminently.

The tribunal’s establishment follows allegations of abuse and misconduct in the Defence Forces made by members of the Women of Honour group.

On foot of these claims in January 2022, a judge-led independent review was established to examine dignity and equality issues in the Defence Forces. The Government subsequently agreed to implement the recommendations of this review – including that a statutory fact-finding process should be set up.

In a statement, the Women of Honour welcomed the establishment of the tribunal, saying: “While the Government tried to offer us half-measures, like independent review groups, we fought from the beginning for a statutory tribunal of inquiry, and while it has been too long coming, we hope it will finally get to the truth.”

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Members of the group had already begun work in preparation for the tribunal, the statement said, while urging present and former members of the Defence Forces to contact the group in order that their personal testimony can form a core part of the tribunal. “This tribunal process is potentially the most significant investigative opportunity to promote the essential cultural change required within the Defence Forces,” it added.

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The tribunal, formally launched on Thursday by Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin, will be chaired by Ms Justice Ann Power.

The Tánaiste said: “The establishment of this tribunal of inquiry, along with increased levels of investment, is another important step in the renewal of our Defence Forces as a rewarding career where every individual feels valued.”

The chief of staff of the Defence Forces, Lieut Gen Seán Clancy also welcomed the news. “Since being appointed I have made it abundantly clear, there is no place for any form of abusive behaviour in the Defence Forces. We are working tirelessly to redesign our grievance procedures and HR policies, rolling out mandatory sexual ethics and respectful relationships workshops and holding people to account for misconduct and misbehaviour.”

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The tribunal will also have the power to investigate the response to complaints made regarding the use of hazardous chemicals within the Air Corps headquarters at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, Dublin.

Separately, the mandatory retirement age for members of An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service and the Defence Forces will rise from 60 to 62 years under new legislation published by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent