Coveney calls for fundamental change in Defence Forces culture

Women of Honour says draft terms of reference for planned statutory inquiry into allegations of bullying, sexual abuse and physical abuse in the forces are too narrow

There needs to be a fundamental change in the culture of the Defence Forces for the future, Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney, a former minister for defence, said there had been many efforts to change the culture in the military for the better, but they “have not worked in the way that they should have”.

Referring to the inquiry that will occur into allegations of bullying, sexual abuse and physical abuse, he said: “I think, this time, we need to have a very fundamental change.” He said there was now a process where the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, Micheál Martin, had asked for opinions ahead of drawing up terms of reference for an inquiry.

“I expect that all stakeholders and all interested parties will be listened to, in that context. We want to get this right as a Government,” he said, adding that the inquiry that would emerge would play a big part in it.


The Government published the draft terms of reference for the planned statutory inquiry on Tuesday.

The establishment of a statutory inquiry was one of the recommendations of the independent review group (IRG) which published a report in March detailing widespread abuse, bullying and discrimination within the military.

The draft terms of reference outline a statutory-based inquiry which will have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence. However, it did not say if the process should take on a tribunal-like format which would be held in public.

Women of Honour, the group representing women who were assaulted or experienced bullying or abuse in the Defence Forces, has called for public hearings, preferably a tribunal of inquiry.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday, Diane Byrne, a spokeswoman for the group, said the draft terms of the inquiry were presented following no engagement and were “far too narrow”.

“We believe it needs to be a full public tribunal. I know there are concerns there around anonymity, but that can be accommodated, but this is as much about trust and truth as anything.”

However, Mr Coveney said the Women of Honour were “a very important part of the process under way right now”.

“They have been very courageous in the way they have spoken publicly about the behaviour and culture in the Defence Forces. It needs to change,” he said.

Mr Coveney was speaking in Arbour Hill where the annual State ceremony was held paying tribute to those who died for Irish freedom. The event was attended by President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Tánaiste, senior members of the judiciary, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, the party’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill, the Lord Mayor of Dublin Caroline Conroy, religious leaders, and most members of the Cabinet. Also in attendance were relatives of the leaders and relatives of others who fought in 1916.

The ceremony was hosted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, Micheál Martin and consisted of a Requiem Mass and a ceremony at the grave for the 1916 leaders.

Speaking after the event, Mr Martin said: “Today, we remember those who died for Ireland in 1916 and, in particular, those 14 executed leaders of 1916 who are buried here at Arbour Hill.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times