Chief legal adviser to Defence Forces moved to new role amid internal discord

‘Unprecedented’ move follows series of disputes and allegations in Legal Affairs section

Lieut Gen Seán Clancy at a wreath-laying ceremony at the UN memorial garden at Arbour Hill, Dublin, in May. Photograph: Alan Betson

Lieut Gen Seán Clancy at a wreath-laying ceremony at the UN memorial garden at Arbour Hill, Dublin, in May. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The top legal officer of the Defence Forces has been removed from his role by its Chief of Staff following a series of accusations and counter-accusations within the legal affairs office.

Col Jerry Lane, who is also a barrister, acted as the top legal adviser to the General Staff before he was removed from the post on December 16th by order of the head of the Defence Forces Lieut Gen Seán Clancy.

He remains a colonel in the Defence Forces. It is understood he has been moved into a logistics role.

Military sources said it is unprecedented for a senior legal officer to be removed in this fashion. The exact reason for the decision to remove Col Lane could not be confirmed but there have been several clashes between him and members of the General Staff, as well as with other officers in the legal section, in recent years. Earlier this year an internal investigation by a senior general found Col Lane had mistreated a subordinate in his section.

Lieut Gen Clancy sought the advice of an external senior counsel before making the decision to remove Col Lane.

A Defence Forces spokeswoman said this week it had no comment on the matter. Col Lane said, as a serving officer, he was precluded from commenting.

It is understood much of the disquiet in the legal services section relates to the issuing of a General Routine Order (GRO) in 2019.

The GRO, which was signed by then Maj Gen Clancy, granted additional powers to Col Lane, including granting him supervisory powers over disciplinary actions against troops and giving him the power to appoint prosecuting officers.

Concerns were raised within the Defence Forces that the GRO was in conflict with legislation and the matter was referred to the Attorney General’s office.

In an unusual move, the GRO was then revoked by Minister for Defence Simon Coveney in February of this year, according to documents seen by The Irish Times.

Col Lane’s removal comes after a High Court hearing which considered details of accusations within the Legal Affairs section, including allegations Col Lane abused his rank.

The hearing last May was told that Lieut Col Fintan McCarthy, also of the legal section, was seeking to halt an investigation into allegations that he was insubordinate to Col Lane.

Internal complaint

In his action, Lieut Col McCarthy says in October 2019 he lodged an internal complaint that Col Lane had abused his rank and authority by removing a course available to officers with the US Judge Advocate General Corps.

He also claimed Col Lane displayed unacceptable behaviour towards Defence Forces legal officers and had discontinued the availability of overseas service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) for legal officers.

The officer then withdrew his complaint against Col Lane after learning it had been reclassified in a way he says would have trivialised the seriousness of his complaint, he told the court.

However, he then submitted another complaint against Col Lane and also made a protected disclosure.

In June 2020, Col Lane submitted formal military charges against Lieut Col McCarthy alleging insubordination and making a false accusation against a superior officer.

It is understood Col Lane also has two complaints in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) against the Minister for Defence and another senior officer.

Col Lane was involved in a previous action against the Defence Forces in 2017 involving a report it had compiled in response to allegations he had made of corruption and misconduct within the military.

In a protected disclosure to members of the Seanad, he had complained that some officers were being granted preferential treatment when it came to appointments.

Arising out of the disclosure, Col Lane said he was subjected to a range of penalties including the threat of dismissal and involuntary retirement from the Defence Forces. Those threats were subsequently set aside.

In 2016, the minister for defence appointed Colm Smyth SC to conduct an independent review into Col Lane’s allegations.

The report was not made public leading to Col Lane taking legal action to compel the Defence Forces to release it. Col Lane withdrew the case in 2019 following discussions between the parties.