Independent external review to examine Defence Forces abuse allegations

Coveney meets women who raised allegations of sexual harassment, attempted assault

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney TD speaks following the meeting at Iveagh House, Dublin, on Tuesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney TD speaks following the meeting at Iveagh House, Dublin, on Tuesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney has said he will set up an independent external review after allegations of sexual harassment, attempted sexual assault and bullying were raised by women in the Defence Forces.

Mr Coveney met with serving and retired personnel on Tuesday, which he said were “emotional, difficult meetings, but they were shining a spotlight on something in the Defence Forces that needs to change”.

He said “clearly things are not as they should be today” in the Defence Forces, adding “this isn’t simply a historic problem, it is also a current problem and we’re going to fix it”.

A recent RTÉ documentary, Women of Honour, uncovered the allegations, which are said to have taken place over three decades.

Retired Army captain Diane Byrne said it was “a positive meeting” and that the Minister apologised and acknowledged “what’s happened and is still happening”.

Mr Coveney said he would also make another apology and will pick “the appropriate time and place to do that”.

“I think the priority now for the women I met today is that we work together to put structures in place that are truly independent of the Defence Forces and Department of Defence, ” he said.

“There are credible, experienced people who can look in a fundamental way at practices and procedures and culture in the Irish Defence Forces to make sure that it is a safe and welcoming environment for everybody who wants to commit a career to the Irish Defence Forces, which is a fantastic career opportunity for people but there are issues that need to be addressed head on and believe me they will be.”

Mr Coveney also said the Defence Forces needs to be a place where everybody, “regardless of their background, their gender or their beliefs, can develop a career in safety and in a positive environment in the absence of bullying or harassment or intimidation”.

Retired captain Yvonne Murphy said the women were glad their voices had been heard and thanked the nation “for standing behind us”.

“We came to the meeting just expecting to talk to the Minister, for him to hear our voice and we’re so grateful he absolutely heard our voice today,” she said.

“He has told us that our voices have given other women and men a voice to speak out and we’re just so grateful that this has been accomplished.”

Karina Molloy, a member of the Defence Forces, said the culture in the forces can “absolutely change” and that there must be accountability.

“That can change through education and it can change through the Minister changing the system of demanding accountability,” she said.

“From now on there must be accountability from the Chief of Staff down. The new Chief of Staff has to take this task on and become accountable to enforce these changes through education.”