Women featured in RTÉ’s Women of Honour to meet Coveney

Retired army captain Deirdre Byrne says apology needed for what happened to women in Defence Forces

Members of the Army and Defence Forces march through O’Connell Street as part of the 1916 commemorations. Photograph: Alan Betson

Members of the Army and Defence Forces march through O’Connell Street as part of the 1916 commemorations. Photograph: Alan Betson


Retired army captain Deirdre Byrne has said there needs to be an apology for what happened to women in the defence forces ahead of her meeting with Minister for Defence Simon Coveney this afternoon.

The recent RTÉ documentary Women of Honour, detailed three decades of alleged sexual harassment, attempted sexual assault and bullying within the Defence Forces.

“It’s hugely important. We’ve all experienced various different things over the years and for that to be swept under the carpet in this day and age is absolutely outrageous – no change will come about if there isn’t an acknowledgment of what has happened and an apology is absolutely deserved,” she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Mr Coveney is to meet the women from the documentary and has announced a revisiting of the terms of an independent review into how such allegations are handled.

“But the most important thing for us is to get the acknowledgement and the apology and move forward. This is about making change for men and women now, for the people coming after us,” she said.

“I’m from a military family, and I want to be in a position where my son and my daughter can go into the defence forces and I can be proud and comfortable that they can do that.”

Ms Byrne, who was the first female engineer in the permanent defence forces said it had been very isolating over the years.

“To group together as a strong group of women standing and being able to finally voice, loudly, the issues that we feel need to be addressed is hugely empowering for us.”

There had been countless reports, reviews, issues raised and investigations over the years, she said. “This needs to be different, it needs to be an entirely external, independent review similar to the other militaries around the world. We are pushing hard to see can we finally get the change we fought for independently for so many years.”

A meeting last week with officials in the Department of Defence had been positive, she said.

“We were able to go into the details of our experiences and what we felt needed to happen at this point and we felt we were heard.

“Today we’re really keen to go in and listen to what the Minister’s proposals are. He knows the issues that have gone over the years. They’re not unknown and we’ve explained in detail and brought that information to light last week. For us, we’re just keen to hear what he suggests needs to happen, but we know it needs to be entirely different from anything that has happened previously.

Full review

She said there needed to be a full reveiw of the complaints process “because the culture is so damning, that if you do complain it can destroy your career .

“A key point for us was accountability going forward and our inclusion in the process to ensure that it’s fair and fit for purpose.”

Ms Byrne served 13 years before she says she was “forced out the door”. She would love to have remained in the defence forces.

“This is the one key thing that we would love people to understand – the defence forces is not a job, it is a vocation. You go in there, you don’t do it for the money, you do it for your country, because you’re proud to serve – we had to leave those roles, those jobs, the vocation that we absolutely loved because we had no choice, we had to leave.

“I would still be there today I have no doubt, following in my own father’s footsteps who did 31 years, so this is a vocation. We don’t go in lightly and we don’t leave lightly. We just had no choice.”

According to the Department of Defence, senior officials have met some of the people profiled in the RTÉ programme and encouraged them to bring their complaints to the gardaí.