Women of Honour report: Statutory inquiry into military abuse likely to be recommended by review

Report will detail bullying, harassment and sexual abuse of female and male Defence Forces members over many years

A full statutory inquiry should be established to examine widespread sexual abuse and harassment in the Defence Forces, a judge-led review is expected to recommend.

The report by the Independent Review Group (IRG), established in 2021 to investigate matters first raised by a group of female veterans, is understood to make for stark and difficult reading and to detail extensive patterns of inappropriate and illegal behaviour within the military.

It will detail bullying, harassment and sexual abuse of female and male Defence Forces members over many years. The report is to be considered by Cabinet on Tuesday morning and is expected to be published later in the day.

One of the demands of the veteran group, known as the Women of Honour, was that a statutory inquiry should be established to examine the issue, instead of the non-statutory IRG process.


It is understood that having interviewed hundreds of serving and retired Defence Forces members, the IRG will recommend a broader inquiry into the matter which should have legal powers. The exact format of the inquiry is not clear but sources said it was likely to have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.

Senior figures have repeatedly made clear the report will make for difficult reading. “It will be stark, I have no doubt about that. I’m under no illusions,” Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy said last week. “I have my eyes wide open.”

Members of the Women of Honour group met Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin on Monday and were told that the report’s publication would be a “watershed moment”.

“That word itself is powerful so we are expecting history to be [made],” said retired Air Corps Capt Yvonne O’Rourke shortly after the 45-minute meeting.

However, the group was not given sight of the report or provided with further information about its contents.

According to the group, Mr Martin addressed cultural issues within the Defence Forces, connected to long-standing issues around retirement and recruitment. It is understood he undertook to implement all of the IRG’s recommendations.

“We emphasised that this is a top-down culture that needs to change, this is not something that you can change from the bottom up,” retired Army captain Diane Byrne said.

The Women of Honour group did not take part in the IRG process due to concerns about its lack of legal powers. Its members struck a cautious but more positive tone about the process after Monday’s meeting, with Ms Byrne saying there appeared to have been a “subtle shift” in approach from Government since Mr Martin took over as minister. They said trust had been broken and would be difficult to regain.

A spokesman for Mr Martin declined to comment except to say the Tánaiste “held a constructive meeting with the Women of Honour group”.

Meanwhile, Col Conor King, general secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, said his organisation welcomed the Tánaiste’s willingness to listen.

“We are hopeful that the recommendations from this report will herald a positive change for the Defence Forces, and address the shortcomings highlighted both by the Women of Honour and other contributors including our own association,” he said. “These recommendations, like all others, will only work if they are resourced with adequate funding and staff in collaboration with the representative associations.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times