A year ago, the Women of Honour highlighted a small sample of the horrors and injustices experienced by the men and women of the Defence Forces. Individually, we all had our own experiences and challenges to deal with. However, collectively we decided to stand together to empower ourselves in the face of bullies and we hoped to empower others to do the same.
This past year we have engaged with so many people and we have been met, for the most part, with empathy and support. We have taken great pains to detail our experiences over and over, in order to demonstrate the complexity of the issues ingrained within the Defence Forces. This was all in an effort to encourage those in positions of power and influence to act in the best interests of the men and women of our Defence Forces and their families. We implored them to do the right thing.
Some believe we were naive in our endeavours, but what choice did we have? Stand for change or not stand at all. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, our engagements resulted in the unwelcome half measure of the Independent Review Group (IRG). To our faces we were assured of a collaborative approach for developing and agreeing the process, the terms of reference (TOR) and the appointment of the panel. However, as if by magic and in complete disregard for us as victims, the process was decided, the TOR were produced, the panel appointed and the Women of Honour cast aside.
While this year has not achieved everything we hoped, it has resulted in a unified voice among many past members, current members, families, friends and supporters worldwide. We believe this voice will continue to grow louder
We have been invited to meet with the IRG. We have never refused outright and have given each invitation serious consideration. However, we have raised concerns and sought clarifications, none of which have been adequately addressed. In the most recent correspondence we received last month, it was confirmed our concerns continue to be ignored. There is a continued separation of “historical” and “current” issues into two distinct entities. They are inextricably linked in an archaic and insular institution. We have asked what that definition of “historical” is but have not received an answer. When does a soldier forced out of his/her livelihood become a “historical” problem – if they left three months ago/six months ago/a year ago or more? How is it that “historical” problems are unrelated to “current” issues in an unchanged institution?
In addition, the continued suggestion that the IRG can identify all problems and propose solutions knowing the limitations imposed upon them, is beyond insulting to those who have and continue to experience the realities of the Defence Forces system. The situation is of course compounded by the lack of transparency with which the IRG is operating. With the interim report of the group only being provided to the Minister for Defence and the less-than-transparent appointment of additional panel members, there is nothing to reassure anyone that this is anything more than an effort at damage limitation.
Despite our objections, we have supported others in their engagements with the IRG, largely because they have no other way to be heard. It is widely known that the vast majority that have met the IRG have looked for an appropriate statutory process. Time will tell if any of us are truly being heard. All the while, Defence Forces members continue to suffer, continue to leave and continue to have no faith in the system within which they have to operate.
Finally, we want to appeal again to the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence – avoid quick fixes, work with victims, learn from them and rebuild trust to build the Defence Forces that we all deserve
The absence of logic is what mystifies us most. For the betterment of the Defence Forces and by extension the country, a thorough investigation with identification of all issues and contributory factors and a comprehensive understanding of the organisation’s failures is required before an effective overhaul, reflective of modern society, can be undertaken. Instead the age-old game-playing approach is being used – attempt to fix the problems internally within the same organisation that caused them, dismiss those who speak out rather than working with them and put the responsibility for the failures on those at the bottom.
While this year has not achieved everything we hoped, it has resulted in a unified voice among many past members, current members, families, friends and supporters worldwide. We believe this voice will continue to grow louder as more and more speak out against bullying and repression. We, the Women of Honour, along with all of those who have come forward, are not going away.
We are asking the Taoiseach to accept, with immediate effect, that the IRG is not fit for purpose. We are asking him to remove responsibility from the Minister for Defence to ensure true independence. We are asking him for equitable engagement across stakeholders. We are asking him to follow through on his previous commitment that should the IRG not be adequate, we would move to a statutory process. Finally, we want to appeal again to the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence – avoid quick fixes, work with victims, learn from them and rebuild trust to build the Defence Forces that we all deserve.
Diane Byrne is a retired captain in the Defence Forces and was a co-founder of the Women of Honour