Department considers review into how it handles military abuse allegations

Dozens of allegations of sexual abuse collected by former army sergeant

Anthony O’Brien, former sergeant in the Defence Forces, has called for a public inquiry and redress for the victims of sexual abuse. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Anthony O’Brien, former sergeant in the Defence Forces, has called for a public inquiry and redress for the victims of sexual abuse. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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The Department of Defence is considering the establishment of an independent review of how it handles complaints of sexual abuse in the Defence Forces.

The move follows allegations of widespread sexual abuse against adults and children in military settings. The allegations were collected by retired Army Sergeant Anthony O’Brien who himself said he was abused by a superior officer during his service.

Mr O’Brien has become increasingly frustrated in recent months with how the Government has responded to the allegations. To date, officials have declined to open a general inquiry into potential abuse in the Defence Forces and have insisted individual complaints are a matter for the Garda.

On Thursday, Mr O’Brien met Department of Defence secretary general Jacqui McCrum to discuss his concerns.

He told The Irish Times he was informed at the meeting that the department intends to appoint an independent reviewer to assess how it should deal with allegations of sexual abuse in the military.

In follow-up correspondence Mr O’Brien asked the secretary general to send him the terms of reference for the review. Ms McCrum agreed to send these at a later date and said she would provide an update in September.

A department spokesman declined to comment on Friday. It is understood internally that no final decision has been made on the review.

Earlier this year, the Garda and the Defence Forces appealed for victims of sexual abuse in the military to come forward after reviewing the allegations of historical abuse provided by Mr O’Brien.

The allegations related to sexual abuse of both male and female soldiers, often by senior personnel, and abuse of children in the residential area of the Curragh Camp in Kildare over decades.

The allegations were passed onto Minister for Defence Simon Coveney, who, in turn, sent them on to the Garda. He also ordered that they be treated as protected disclosures under whistleblower legislation.

Call for public inquiry

Mr O’Brien had accused the Defence Forces of failing to act on allegations of sexual abuse by Defence Forces personnel in the past and has called for a public inquiry and redress for the victims.

In March, the Defence Forces said it took its members’ safety and wellbeing “extremely seriously” and urged anyone with information of alleged criminality, “recent or historic”, to come forward to gardaí. “Óglaigh na hÉireann will fully comply with any potential investigation.”

It also detailed various channels within the Defence Forces through which people can make a complaint, including through the military police and “designated contact persons”.

The Garda has told the military it is not treating the allegations as evidence of systemic, widespread abuse warranting a single, large investigation. Instead, fresh allegations would be treated as individual complaints.

The Garda believes the complaints of sexual abuse, while largely credible, reflect the level of sexual abuse within Irish society and its institutions in the 20th century, rather than any innate issue with the Defence Forces.

Gardaí from the National Protective Services Bureau have met Mr O’Brien since he first submitted the accounts of alleged abuse in May 2020.

Officers have assessed the complaints collated by Mr O’Brien and determined some have already been investigated, and in some cases prosecuted. In others, the perpetrators have since passed away.