President Higgins condemns ‘unacceptable and criminal’ behaviour in Defence Forces

Independent Review Group report highlights ‘need for a restructuring of the relationship between officer and enlisted ranks’

The independent review into abuse within the Defence Forces published this week highlights “the need for a restructuring of the relationship between officer and enlisted ranks,” President Michael D Higgins has said.

In a strongly worded statement on the report of the Independent Review Group (IRG), Mr Higgins said: “What has been revealed in this report, a report made possible by the coming forward of some of the bravest of the brave to have served our country, was not a simple set of random occurrences.

“It is explicitly stated in the report that there is a continuing systemic problem of incidents of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and sexual harassment within the Defence Forces.”

The president - who serves as supreme commander of the Defence Forces - said the report showed dignity and respect were not emphasised as primary and driving values of the organisation.


“That must change. I welcome the Government’s speedy and full acceptance of the recommendations of the review. The public will now expect that these recommendations be implemented in full and without delay,” he said.

“There can be no continuation of any of this deeply unacceptable, indeed criminal, behaviour. I wish all those who will undertake this vital task the stamina, the energy, the sense of urgency and the integrity that is needed for one of the most important tasks of transformation in our State.”

The IRG was set up by the Government in 2021 on foot of allegations from the Women of Honour group. Its report, published on Tuesday, detailed extensive patterns of inappropriate and illegal behaviour within the military.

The President said he was hurt and ashamed reading the report, calling the Defence Forces a “deeply hierarchical organisation”.

“What is not as explicitly stated in the report, but which is clearly demonstrated by its findings, is the need for a restructuring of the relationship between officer and enlisted ranks.”

Alluding to the “class system” in the Defence Forces that had been identified in the report, Mr Higgins quoted the IRG when it said: “The class hierarchy was characterised as ‘the elite and the rest’ and ‘master and servant’, with all the snobbery, condescension and denigrating attitudes and behaviour that go with that.”

Mr Higgins said: “These structural issues that exist are ones within which those holding rank will have experienced both prospects and experience of promotion, consideration and exclusion. Such structural issues can be neither ignored nor action delayed on their reform or replacement.

“The report is at its strongest in describing the price paid for a version of ‘exaggerated masculinity’, of a preference for a hard regime over what is called ‘soft relationships’.

“In such a vision of what the ideal member of the Defence Forces should be, capacity for or experience of human relations are accorded a minor compensatory role. This is not human relations in any meaningful sense.”

He added he was left with “the greatest anxiety” that the institutional failure described in the report was “far from confined to the Defence Forces” and that in many cases, there were urgent lessons to be drawn and transformations to be made across society and in many institutions.

The President described the pride Irish people felt in the over 60 years of UN peacekeeping by members of the Defence Forces as a precious resource, and as something that should be a central emphasis in all recruitment activities, “as well as to the retention and morale of those who serve.

“I am concerned that sadly this has not always been what has been emphasised on occasions I have witnessed,” he said.

“I hope the many young people currently considering a career in the Defence Forces will join an organisation that they can feel confident is going to be reformed.”

Ellen O'Donoghue

Ellen O'Donoghue

Ellen O'Donoghue is an Irish Times journalist.