Allegations of misogyny and sexual abuse in the Defence Forces

Repeated warnings over decades were ignored

Sir, – In light of the report from the Independent Review Group (IRG), with troubling accounts of improper treatment of members of the Defence Forces, it might be helpful to review the work done to protect and preserve standards of best practice, in support of a nurturing and safe work environment for the members of our Defence Forces.

The initial Independent Monitoring Group (IMG), chaired by the late Dr Eileen Doyle, was established in May 2002 by the then minister for defence to oversee the implementation of recommendations arising from her preliminary findings (in 2001) on the extent of harassment, bullying, discrimination, and sexual harassment within the Defence Forces.

Having produced reports since 2001, which had recommended continuous external review, the IMG published its first review report, Response to the Challenge of a Workplace, in September 2004, and its second report in December 2008.

The second report recommended that a further review of progress should take place before the end of 2013 in order not only to report on progress, since the publication of the second report of the IMG in 2008, but to take account of any relevant developments within the Defence Forces and, most significantly, developments in employment law and practice and make recommendations as appropriate.


This review’s terms of reference covered, among other things, the extent to which the recommendations of the IMG in 2008 had been implemented; examining all relevant reports, documents, and instructions within the Defence Forces since 2008; identifying evidence of best practice by exploring the management of policies, procedures, programmes, levels of action and evaluation; consulting key personnel with specific roles; where appropriate, establishing new working groups to examine specific issues and/or consulting with individuals or existing working groups; and deciding on necessary research to inform any recommendations that might be advisable.

The composition of this IMG aimed to secure a comprehensive corporate memory and knowledge, along with experience from continual interaction with the Defence Forces.

To avoid losing any of the momentum and progress achieved, and with an eye to continuity, the IMG recommended strategic succession planning in relation to key posts in the human resources branch, training and education branch, and the personnel support service on the basis of a minimum of three years in the post.

To this end, the 2014 IMG recommended the establishment of an implementation group comprising personnel from the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces to develop and manage an implementation plan for the recommendations made in the report.

The IMG recommended that to ensure continued effectiveness, the implementation group should have prepared a full implementation plan within three months of the publication of the 2014 report. The implementation group should formally report to the strategic management committee (SMC) every six months.

The IMG also recommended the establishment of an oversight group comprising senior personnel from the Defence Forces, the Department of Defence, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers and the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association to monitor progress in the area of dignity at work. The implementation group’s six-monthly reports should be presented to the oversight group before these are submitted to the SMC.

In its wisdom, the 2014 IMG also recommended that a further independently chaired review of progress in the context of workplace dignity, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination in the Defence Forces be conducted within a period of 60 months from the publication of the IMG report.

This was an intelligent, progressive approach designed to copper-fasten the advances made; curtail risks by vigilant monitoring; keep the internal Defence Forces regulations and administrative instructions updated, relevant, and synchronised; and avoid deviation from the objectives of the dignity in the workplace charter.

This was so valuable: what happened to the corporate memory since 2014? – Yours, etc,


(Founding Ombudsman

for the Defence Forces, 2005-2012),


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, regarding allegations of bullying and sexual assault in the Defence Forces and who was “aware” of said allegations, are indeed interesting (“Defence Forces abuses ‘well documented over 20 years’, says Leo Varadkar”, News, March 30th).

The Taoiseach and his party have held the defence portfolio for over the past decade. He himself has been minister for defence during that time. If he was aware of said allegations and complaints, why did it take so long for his Government to act?

Given the serious nature of the allegations, surely it warranted an immediate response from Government, and not one that took years to establish.

Unfortunately, when it comes to defence, political oversight and competence appear to be lacking. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

A chara, – I salute Yvonne O’Rourke’s courage, and that of the other Women of Honour, and I welcome her powerful and inspirational article calling for a statutory inquiry (“Women of Honour: We need a statutory inquiry like no other”, Opinion & Analysis, March 30th). – Is mise,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – While the recent damning report on the activities of some members of the Defence Forces was bad enough, the statement by the chief of staff that he had never come across any of the issues raised in his 40-year military career is even more worrying (“Chief of staff’s remarks after Defence Forces revelations ‘not credible’, say Senators”, News, March 30th).



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The first honour code set out for Irish soldiers was Fionn MacCumhail’s four geasa at least 1,800 years ago. One relates directly to the abuses identified by the Women of Honour and current review. It stipulates that soldiers must swear to treat women with respect which is, I believe, one of the earliest acknowledgements of the potential sexual and other brutalities that serving in an army can unleash.

This geasa is not like the courtly code of King Arthur’s knights nor a patronising way of denigrating women’s strength and status. It means that soldiers indulging in rape and sexual assault have broken their solemn vow and are not fit to be Fianna. Mythology perhaps? Yet Fionn is one of the central heroes who has inspired generations of Irish soldiers.

By contrast, Cúchulainn’s brutality knew no limits. When he was in warp spasm, neither woman nor man was safe. He was otherwise a highly skilled and disciplined combatant. His teacher? The woman warrior Scáthach.

If some Irish soldiers treat their female colleagues so disgracefully, we might wonder how they would treat vulnerable human beings in a real-time theatre of war. And if Irish political and military leaders continue to tolerate the abuses identified, we must ask why. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 4.