The Government is keen to have a statutory inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying and discrimination in the Defence Forces up and running “as soon as possible”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar said the Tánaiste would be engaging with the Women of Honour group and other stakeholders before setting out a timeline for the inquiry.
Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil on Wednesday, the Taoiseach said a report on the Defence Forces was “shocking” in response to Labour leader Ivana Bacik.
Mr Varadkar said the Government was eager to have the statutory inquiry up and running before the Dáil’s summer recess but couldn’t make that commitment without first consulting with the Women of Honour and other groups.
[ The Irish Times view on the Women of Honour report: a crisis for the Defence Forces ]
A report by the Independent Review Group (IRG) published on Tuesday details extensive patterns of inappropriate and illegal behaviour within the military.
The IRG was established in 2021 after allegations from the Women of Honour group first came to light in an RTÉ documentary.
“Issues with bullying and harassment, some of a sexual nature in the Defence Forces has been reported on before, but never so starkly,” Mr Varadkar said.
“It’s clear that attempts made to change things and attempts have been made, have failed. Unlike many other issues that we’ve dealt with in this House, it’s not historic, it’s ongoing, and it appears to be wide scale.”
The Fine Gael leader said a number of recommendations had been made, which the Government had accepted, and that some could be done “very quickly” including amending legislation to provide a legislative basis to enable allegations of any type of sexual assault in the Defence Forces to be referred to An Garda Síochána rather than the internal military police.
“That is among things that I think everyone agrees on and we can do very quickly,” he said.
“The same thing would be a commissioning a non-Statutory inquiry into the process of medical boarding and a further study of deaths by suicide of all current and former members of Defence Forces over the past 20 years.
“It’s important that we do that. Previous studies have shown that the suicide rate was similar to those of the same age group, but we need to look at that again and we will.”
Mr Varadkar said the Defence Forces was in “critical need” of “fundamental and immediate cultural and behavioural change”.
He said he believed the vast majority of members of the Defence Forces had not engaged in “these awful practices” and there “should be no stain on their character or reputation”.
“The same applies to the tens of thousands of veterans and former servicemen and service people. Nonetheless, in this report, we read of bullying, discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, including sexual violence, and we read that victims when they saw help under the internal complaint system were left disappointed and often penalised and many good soldiers left as a result.”