Defence Forces chief of staff to apologise to Women of Honour group

Lieut Gen Clancy ‘shocked’ and ‘moved’ by women who spoke out in RTÉ documentary

The documentary, entitled Women of Honour, detailed incidents of rape and sexual assault, as well as discrimination and harassment, of female soldiers, sailors and air personnel. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

The documentary, entitled Women of Honour, detailed incidents of rape and sexual assault, as well as discrimination and harassment, of female soldiers, sailors and air personnel. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

 

The new chief of staff of the Defence Forces has said he will apologise in person to the Women of Honour, the group of women who allege bullying, sexual abuse and harassment ocurred during their time in the Defence Forces, when he meets them in the near future.

Lieut Gen Sean Clancy told RTÉ radio’s News at One that he was already on the record in expressing his deep concern and sorrow at what had happened, but would issue the apology in person. He had been shocked and “hugely moved” by the women who spoke out in a recent RTÉ documentary.

The documentary, entitled Women of Honour, detailed incidents of rape and sexual assault, as well as discrimination and harassment, of female soldiers, sailors and air personnel.

In recent weeks Minister for Defence Simon Coveney announced the appointment of a confidential contact person to receive allegations raised by former and serving military personnel.

The issues of abuse and harassment in the Defence Forces were not just a historic problem, they were a current problem, Lieut Gen Clancy said. On taking up his position as chief of staff he had written “to every single woman and man in the Defence Forces” to outline his view that such behaviours would not be tolerated.

Abhorrent

Lieut Gen Clancy said he believed that the majority in the Defence Forces would find such behaviour abhorrent.

“These are lived experiences, there is no reason to doubt them.”

However, he pointed out that “clearly” the data on the number of such incidents could not be relied on, given the reluctance of many to make a report in fear of reprisal. “There was an erosion of trust in compliance and in our procedures.”

In order to deal with a problem, there had to be an awareness of the problem and without a record of complaint, action could not be taken, he said.

If standards were “walked past” then that was “sub optimal” he said.

A line in the sand was now being drawn and the introduction of the confidential complaint process would provide data to judge the extent of the problem.

The recruitment of women was always a challenge, he acknowledged, and was even more so now. The women Women of Honour group loved the Defence Forces and they wanted changes to allow more women to enter the service, he said.