President praises courage of women at centre of Defence Forces abuse allegations

Documentary detailed decades of alleged bullying, harassment and sexual abuse

President Michael D Higgins used his address at the Defence Forces’ Values Awards on Tuesday to express his concern for the retired female members of the organisation who featured in the recent RTÉ documentary Women of Honour.  Photograph: Tony Maxwell

President Michael D Higgins used his address at the Defence Forces’ Values Awards on Tuesday to express his concern for the retired female members of the organisation who featured in the recent RTÉ documentary Women of Honour. Photograph: Tony Maxwell

 

The review into allegations of bullying and sexual assault in the Defence Forces should be thorough, independent and wide-ranging, President Michael D Higgins has said.

The President used his address at the Defence Forces’ Values Awards on Tuesday to express his concern for the retired female members of the organisation who featured in the recent RTÉ documentary Women of Honour, which detailed three decades of alleged sexual harassment, attempted sexual assault and bullying within the Defence Forces.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has since offered to meet the women and has announced a revisiting of the terms of an independent review into how such allegations are handled.

Mr Higgins of expressed his concern “for the welfare of the women who so generously and courageously recounted their experiences on the recent and greatly distressing Women of Honour programme”.

“My concern is, I know, shared by those who have responsibility for the safety and welfare of our Defence Forces personnel. I welcome the fact that a review will now take place of the contents of the programme and of any issues surrounding bullying, harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination within the Defence Forces.

“I hope the review is wide, thorough, independent and inclusive of all issues irrespective of gender.”

Inclusive workplace

Mr Higgins said it is vital the Defence Forces is an inclusive workplace “and that false barriers are not erected on the basis of gender, religion, sexual orientation or ethnic background”.

The President paid tribute to the seven recipients of this year’s values awards. Military members were recognised for risking their life to save another, donating an organ and offering support to colleagues undergoing a difficult time.

“All of those receiving awards today have displayed that instinct for original thinking, moral courage and human solidarity, and an impressive refusal to shy away from challenges, that marks out the exceptional human being.”

Mr Higgins also thanked Chief of Staff Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, who is retiring this month, for his decades of service. “He has been a true and generous role model to so many in Óglaigh na hÉireann, and I know that he will be greatly missed by all those privileged to have worked with him.”