Defence Forces ‘will co-operate’ with any sex abuse investigation

Former members of Óglaigh na hÉireann make allegations of rape and abuse in forces

The Defence Forces has pledged to co-operate with any investigation that is launched after a series of allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and rape were outlined by former members on Saturday.

In an RTÉ documentary entitled Women of Honour, former female members of the Defence Forces, some with decades of service, made allegations of abuse and called for reform of Óglaigh na hÉireann.

Karina Molloy, who was the first woman to reach senior non-commissioned officer rank as company quartermaster sergeant, said she “could not stay silent” in relation to about a dozen separate incidents.

She described how, on her first overseas mission, she was summoned to receive a birthday present. She stood in front of a group of male colleagues, opened the present, and discovered “a pair of sexy underwear”. In the crotch was written: “I wish I was here”.

Another female recruit was told what underwear to wear and how she could not use tampons.

Other female recruits recalled experiences of sexual assault and rape. As a result of these experiences, some of these woman suffered eating disorders, distress, trauma, mental anguish and suicide attempts.

Ms Molloy said she complained of the sexual harassment and attempted sexual assault at the hands of a superior officer but was told to “forget it”.

In response to queries from The Irish Times, a spokeswoman for the Defence Forces said it would be “inappropriate for Óglaigh na hÉireann to comment on individual cases or allegations of a criminal or disciplinary nature”.

“As an organisation, we treat all incidents of sexual harassment, harassment and assault with the utmost seriousness,” she said.

‘Respect, equality and dignity’

“All serving members and former members deserve to be treated with respect, equality and dignity and have the right to carry out their duties free from any forms of such behaviour that runs contrary to Defence Forces values, military discipline and the Defence Forces code of conduct.

“We are committed to ensuring that all personnel are provided with a safe working environment as per the dignity charter for the Defence Forces.

“Óglaigh na hÉireann urges anyone who has been the victim of alleged criminality, breaches of military discipline, or who has been the victim of any such behaviour, or anyone with information of alleged criminality who is speaking on behalf of a victim, recent or historic, to present that information to the Military Police or An Garda Síochána.

“Óglaigh na hÉireann will continue to fully support, facilitate and, where required, co-operate with any subsequent investigation once initiated.”

A number of opposition parties in Dáil Éireann have called for an independent inquiry following the allegations.

Sinn Féin defence spokeswoman Sorca Clarke said: “These allegations of sexual violence, harassment, abuse and discrimination within the Defence Forces are very serious and deeply concerning.

“I want to commend all those who have bravely come forward to share their stories. The Defence Forces have a responsibility to act on these allegations and ensure that they are addressed urgently.

“There must be a zero tolerance approach to all forms of harassment, bullying and violence in all workplaces.

“I support survivors’ calls for an independent inquiry into these allegations. It is imperative that immediate action is taken to establish the extent of these issues and ensure that steps are taken to ensure justice for survivors.”

Labour defence spokesman Mark Wall also called for an “urgent review” into the culture and processes in the Defence Forces.

“The situations described are horrific,” he said. “No woman should ever have to experience what was described in the show.

“The Minister needs to immediately appoint an independent person to investigate the culture and practices as they relate to misogyny, harassment and bullying within the forces. There must be a root and branch review of what is going on.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter