Defence Forces sex assault allegations to be sent to gardaí rather than military police

Government to move quickly to implement changes on foot of ‘shocking’ report into issues within the Defence Forces

Members of the Defence Forces who make allegations of sexual assault will have their complaint referred to gardaí rather than the internal military police as part of a shake-up following the publication of a damning report.

The Coalition will shortly move to amend the Defence Act 1954 to provide a legislative basis for the changes, so that allegations of any type of sexual assault in the Defence Forces will be dealt with by gardaí.

While talks are due to take place between the Government, the Women of Honour group and other representative bodies, it now looks likely that a new statutory inquiry will be led by a judge or former judge, and will potentially be public. A motion to establish the inquiry could be brought before the Dáil before the summer recess.

The Government committed to setting up a statutory inquiry on foot of a report by an independent review group, set up to examine issues within the Defence Forces. The report, which was published on Tuesday, found that senior officers in the Defence Forces failed to bring about change across the military and presided over a toxic culture in which women were “barely tolerated”, sexual and physical abuse were common and bullying formed part of the training process.


The report says sexual attacks – including rape – were detailed by many of the serving and former female personnel it interviewed; 88 per cent of female respondents said they had experienced one or more forms of sexual harassment.

Speaking on Wednesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government would accept all of the recommendations contained in the report and would implement certain other measures “very quickly”. This includes the commissioning of a non-statutory inquiry into the process of medical boarding and a further study of deaths by suicide among current and former members of the Defence Forces over the past 20 years.

Mr Varadkar said that while the Government would like to see the statutory inquiry ready by the summer recess, the matter was still being explored. He said Tánaiste Micheál Martin would engage with representative bodies as he draws up the terms of reference for the inquiry, and these would need to be approved by the Dáil.

“We need to act with speed but also with sensitivity. The Tánaiste and the Government are keen to have it up and running before the summer recess but I do not want to make that commitment today only to find out that it is more complicated than we thought,” he said.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar described the report as “shocking”. He also said that unlike many other issues dealt with in the Oireachtas, the issue was “not historic”. “It is ongoing and appears to be wide scale.”

The independent review group found that the Defence Forces “is unable or unwilling to make the changes that are needed to provide a safe working environment that affords dignity and respect to members”.

In one section, the report said the Defence Forces “barely tolerates women and, at its worst, verbally, physically, sexually and psychologically abuses women in its ranks”. Furthermore, “gender schema are designed to restrict, reject and punish them for being women”.

Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Lieut Gen Seán Clancy, said he never witnessed any of the issues detailed in the report during his 40-year career. He said he only heard about the problems for the first time after he took over his role just over 18 months ago.

However, though he had been “very fortunate” in never encountering any of the issues highlighted, he was “ashamed” of the report’s findings.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times