The Irish Times view on the Women of Honour report: a crisis for the Defence Forces

Lasting damage has been done to the standing of the Defence Forces - very serious reform is needed

The Defence Forces “at best, barely tolerates women,” a range of sources told the Independent Review into complaints of abuse. At worst, it says, women are verbally, physically, sexually and psychologically abused. The shocking details in the report fully validate the campaign by the Women of Honour group of former Defence Force members for a statutory inquiry into the matter.

While the Independent Review Group recommends a statutory “fact-finding” mission, the Government has indicated it will meet demands from the Women of Honour for a full inquiry, though the scope of this has still to be outlined. Tánaiste Micheál Martin is correct to consult with the group to get this right.

This now needs to progress as quickly as possible, given the length of time that has passed since the complaints first arose. The Independent Review Group, whose report was published yesterday, gives direction on the areas needing investigation, including the complaints system in the Defence Forces, a misuse of disciplinary process, allegations of inappropriate behaviour, some of it sexual, bullying and in some cases assault.

Underlying this is a report that starkly outlines the way the Defence Forces have operated, based in part on a survey of its members. It finds a “consistent and embedded” theme of some members of management in the Defence Forces abusing their positions of power in their treatment of subordinates. There is extensive evidence of inappropriate and in some cases illegal behaviour. Some 88 per cent of female members said they had been subject to sexual harassment.


When complaints emerge, the report finds, there is evidence of attempts to delay or suppress them or dissuade people from pursuing them, stretching to intimidation of complainants and witnesses, or in some cases making spurious counter-complaints. The review found that Defence Forces members believe pursuing such a complaint could be regarded as “career-ending”. As could becoming pregnant, it states.

The Government has committed to a series of acts, including the inquiry, the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism, legislative reform to allow allegations of sexual assault to be forwarded to An Garda Síochána and a programme of reform to be overseen by the Tánaiste. A new independent oversight body is also to be established. The Defence Forces leadership has said that any type of abuse or inappropriate behaviour is contrary to its ethos and will not be tolerated. It has failed to ensure this to date. The culture of the Defence Forces is deeply flawed. This is a crisis which, unless addressed, will make it impossible to attract new recruits. Already, it has done lasting damage to the standing of the Defence Forces. Repairing that damage will require very serious change.