Women of Honour member expresses concern that tribunal ‘comes across as a paper exercise’

Inquiry is to examine Defence Forces’ handling of bullying, harassment and sexual assault allegations

A member of the Women of Honour group has welcomed details of a tribunal of inquiry into abuse in the Defence Forces, but has expressed concern that it “comes across as a paper exercise”.

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved the terms of reference for a tribunal into the Defence Forces’ handling of bullying, harassment and sexual assault allegations.

The tribunal, to be chaired by Ms Justice Ann Power, will examine the effectiveness of the complaints processes in respect of workplace incidents.

Retired army captain Diane Byrne, spokeswoman for the Women of Honour support group, which raised allegations of sexual attacks and other abuses in the military, told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the complaints process was part of a bigger problem within the Defence Forces.


She said the tribunal would need to give a voice to those who had been afraid to speak out previously because of the impact a complaint could have on their careers.

We’ve always felt that a full public tribunal was the only mechanism that was going to exposé any of the truth here. And we welcome Ms Justice Power and a full, comprehensive, transparent tribunal going forward. But we still have a way to go,” Ms Byrne said.

She said the group still has concerns about the inquiry’s terms of reference.

“There are a couple of their concessions, but we still have a lot of concerns in relation to the fact that it still kind of comes across as a paper exercise. It’s heavily concentrated on the complaints process, and that has always been a concern of ours,” Ms Byrne said.

“There’s been countless reviews into the complaints process that is in existence. We know it doesn’t work, but more than that, the complaints process is a part of a much bigger problem.

“This is about people. It’s about abuse of power. And it’s about the people who’ve been shut down in that. So we’re hoping that this tribunal will give them a voice, a chance to be heard and get a sense of accountability out of this. So this is very much the starting point.”

Ms Byrne said there were “substantial numbers of people” who had suffered abuse but had not engaged with the complaints process “because they didn’t have faith in it or they felt their career would be destroyed at a minimum if they did use it.”

She said she hoped the tribunal would provide an “avenue” for people to engage with the process even if they had not filed an official complaint.

“That’s a key focus,” Ms Byrne said. “This needs to be an inclusive process to make sure it’s effective, or it’s only going to look at a very, very small part of a problem.”

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Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter