Defence Forces system ‘failed’ harassed and bullied women

Retired member says military a ‘wonderful career’ but her experiences not listened to

Women who were harassed and bullied while serving in the Defence Forces have said the system is "broken" and that it "failed" them after they came forward with their stories.

Yvonne O'Rourke, a former Air Corps captain, told RTÉ's Prime Time that she and her colleagues were "so proud to wear the uniform and be part of the family that is the Defence Forces, but the system failed us and it failed us terribly".

In May, Ms O'Rourke was awarded €117,814 compensation after a gender discrimination case in which the Workplace Relations Commission found she experienced "unacceptable systematic failure.

Ms O’Rourke alleged that she was discriminated against on the ground of her gender as two maternity leave absences were treated as equal to a male officer’s absence on sick leave. She said she had been given a poor performance rating as a result.


RTÉ’s Women of Honour programme recently detailed a wide range of misconduct and abuse, including allegations of harassment, sexual assault and rape, committed over the course of three decades.


Minister for Defence Simon Coveney on Tuesday apologised to the women during a meeting and announced details of an independent review of how complaints are handled within the military.

The newly appointed Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán Clancy wrote a strongly worded letter to all Defence Forces members in the wake of the programme. It noted a need for “urgency and purpose” to ensure similar abuse is not “repeated or tolerated” in the future.

Ms O’Rourke said she felt she was “forced out” of the Defence Forces after her experiences.

Asked whether things have changed, and what would they say to young people who might want to join the Defence Forces now, retired company quartermaster sergeant Karina Molloy said "it unfortunately hasn't changed. It's still happening."

“My attitude would be don’t join yet, hold out until the protection is there,” Ms Molloy said.

Ms O’Rourke said the Defence Forces is “a wonderful career when the system is fit for purpose” but currently it was still “broken”.