Defence Forces rocked by allegations of sexual assault

Coveney to make ‘full statement’ following RTÉ’s Women of Honour radio documentary

Irish Defence Force members training at Glen of Imaal (Camp Coolmoney) before departing for UN duty in Syria. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Irish Defence Force members training at Glen of Imaal (Camp Coolmoney) before departing for UN duty in Syria. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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The Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, will “make a full statement” this week on alleged intimidation, harassment, discrimination, sexual assault and attempted rape of women in the Defence Forces over three decades.

The allegations, made in the RTÉ radio documentary Women of Honour, broadcast over the weekend, caused “huge distress” in the military and the department, a senior source told The Irish Times. While the department had been aware of most of the allegations in the report, including through protected disclosures, not all were known.

An offer to meet the women who contributed to the programme – some of whom served for decades – will be made by Mr Coveney, while their call for an apology and acknowledgement are “noted”. As some of the women are involved in litigation concerning their experiences, these requests would have to be “handled carefully”.

Karina Molloy (59), who was the first woman to reach senior non-commissioned officer rank as company quartermaster sergeant and is now retired, told The Irish Times the kinds of incidents detailed in the documentary “are still going on” in Óglaigh na hÉireann.

Independent inquiry

She and others in the group Women of Honour are calling for an independent inquiry and for Mr Coveney to “acknowledge and apologise” for “what happened and is continuing to happen” .

“The whole aim of the Women of Honour is to set up an external commission to investigate and to revise the system of reporting sexual abuse and harassment in the Defence Forces,” said Ms Molloy.

She told how, on her first overseas mission, she was summoned to the officers’ mess for her 24th birthday by a senior officer who said he had a present for her. He gave it to her in front of her male colleagues.

“I opened it and it was a pair of rather sexy knickers, but to my horror I read written in the crotch of the knickers, ‘I wish I was here’.”

She experienced sustained sexual harassment by a senior officer but her complaint would not be taken as this was “breaking the chain of command”, she said. The officer attempted to rape her, she says, when he arrived at her room after midnight, “very drunk”, but she was able to push him off and ran out of the room.

Co-operate

The women’s call for an external investigation is supported by the Department of Defence, which has said it will co-operate with any such inquiry.

The Defence Forces said it treats “ all incidents of sexual harassment, harassment and assault with the utmost seriousness”. A Defence Forces spokeswoman urged any victim of alleged criminality to contact the military police or the Garda, and it would “co-operate with any subsequent investigation once initiated”.

Sinn Féin spokeswoman on defence Sorca Clarke said she was “deeply, deeply concerned for the welfare of women now and in the past in our Defence Forces” and said “decisive action” was needed from Mr Coveney and the department.

Though women have been recruited into Óglaigh na hÉireann since 1981, they still account for just seven per cent of members.