Women of Honour: Coveney to reconsider limits on review of abuse in Defence Forces

Group meets Minister amid concerns review will lack power to compel witnesses to testify

Members of Women of Honour group (from left) Diane Byrne, Karina Molloy, and Yvonne O’Rourke. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Members of Women of Honour group (from left) Diane Byrne, Karina Molloy, and Yvonne O’Rourke. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Women of Honour, a group of former Defence Forces members who have alleged widespread abuse, harassment and discrimination in the military, met Minister for Defence Simon Coveney on Thursday.

The meeting was scheduled amid concerns from the women that a planned review of the issue would be limited in its powers. In particular, it would lack the power to compel witnesses to testify.

The group said they welcomed confirmation by Mr Coveney following the meeting on Thursday that he would reconsider his position on how to progress the matter.

“We pointed out to him that our position remains that no meaningful change for current or future generations can be achieved without a full understanding of the failings that led us here and these failings can only be identified by a thorough investigation,” the group said in a statement.

“Under his original proposal for a review, there would have been no ability to investigate or compel witnesses who might not wish to participate,” the statement said.

Mr Coveney said he welcomed the opportunity to meet with the four women and their solicitor to discuss an independent review into the matter.

In a statement, the Minister said a “key concern” for him was to “assess systems, structures and the culture within the Defence Forces to ensure a safe workplace for all”.

In recent days, the Minister met with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre to “satisfy that our course of action is appropriate and thorough”. He said he had also heard this week confidentially from former and serving members, both male and female, who wanted to see an independent review without delay.

The Women of Honour group and the Minister have agreed to meet again in early January to “try finalise a way forward”, he said.

Retired army captain Diane Byrne told The Irish Times the Minister “took on board what the group were saying” and that it was essential to have a commission of inquiry with statutory powers.

“A lot of people don’t necessarily want the truth to come out but as victims we’re fighting for what we believe is right. We need something that really gets under the hood and investigates the nitty gritty,” she said.

“This is about what happens to people when they stand up. So many people have been destroyed because they spoke the truth.”

“This isn’t about us anymore. At the moment I can’t see my own kids following in mine and my father’s footsteps, which is really painful because I come from a military family.”

Going forward, it would be “ideal” to see an external, independent system to deal with complaints in “an efficient and timely manner that makes people feel safe and heard,” she said.

The allegations first came to light in an RTÉ radio documentary which detailed incidents of rape and sexual assault, as well as discrimination and harassment, of female soldiers, sailors and air personnel.