Government plans to overhaul Defence Forces complaints process

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says Government accepts all 13 recommendations arising from landmark report into issues in the Defence Forces

The Government will move to overhaul the process of making a complaint about unacceptable behaviour within the Defence Forces, following a major report published this week.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government would accept all 13 recommendations of the Independent Review Group (IRG) which called for immediate reform to the process of making a complaint of unacceptable behaviour. The report said that serving members of the Defence Forces should be offered access to an independent, external complaints service. This would be delivered by a professional service provider, for as long as it takes to put a new “trusted internal system” in place.

The IRG report made a series of damning findings about how complaints are handled within the Defence Forces. It found there is an “urgent requirement to reform the existing mechanisms for making a complaint of unacceptable behaviour, and the most critical need at present is to restore faith and trust in the complaints process itself”.

“Given the serious nature of the complaints we have heard and the fact that these behaviours persist to the present day, the IRG... believes that this would be best achieved in the immediate term by referring the investigation of all complaints of unacceptable behaviour to an external, independent and suitably qualified organisation for a period of time – specifically, until such time as the internal system has been changed and has earned the trust of the members of the Defence Forces.”


As part of the recommendations now being considered by Government, all complaints would be sent to an external HR professional or service instead of a commander.

If there is to be a review of the complaint, a different external HR professional or service could be used. The report also called on Minister for Defence Micheál Martin to immediately issue a direction “to provide that Defence Forces members with complaints pending be entitled to pause their complaint” until the new procedures are in place.

The IRG report warned of the consequences of not implementing such change.

“Change is required to rebuild what is clearly broken in existing systems. The recommendations in this report are radical and, if implemented, will be far-reaching. A failure to implement the recommendations will mean a further regression and the Defence Forces’ position could deteriorate beyond repair.”

Mr Varadkar said on Wednesday there were a number of recommendations in the report, 13 in total, and “we have accepted them all”.

“It is clear that attempts made to change things – and attempts have been made – have failed. Unlike many other issues we have dealt with in this house, this is not historic. It is ongoing and appears to be wide scale,” he said.

The IRG report said there was a “perception among members that officers protect officers and that there can be no independent investigation of complaints, and the participants perceive a total lack of protection of their confidentiality”.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times