Defence Forces reform: Military police will continue to deal with sex assault allegations overseas

Tánaiste says cases in the State will be referred to Garda under amended legislation, but Garda will not have jurisdiction in overseas deployments

There are situations in overseas deployments where military police will continue to deal with allegations of sexual assault in the Defence Forces as An Garda Síochána does not have the jurisdiction to do so, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin, who is also the Minister for Defence, said legislation will be amended to provide a legislative basis to enable any type of allegations of sexual assault in the Defence Forces in the State to be referred to An Garda Síochána.

“While the relevant amendments to the legislation are prepared to give legal effect to this, there are situations that pertain in terms of overseas deployments, because gardaí don’t have jurisdiction, military police will continue to operate in that context,” he said.

The Tánaiste was speaking as statements were being heard in the Dáil on Thursday on a report into the Defence Forces. Some members of the Women of Honour group were present in the visitors’ gallery.


A report by the Independent Review Group (IRG) – Defence Forces published on Tuesday detailed 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.

The report concluded that “at best, the Defence Forces barely tolerates women and, at its worst, verbally, physically, sexually and psychologically abuses women in its ranks”.

Mr Martin said he will be bringing forward terms of reference for a statutory inquiry “as soon as possible” and would be engaging with stakeholders.

He said the Department of Defence “must and will be” included in the terms of reference for the inquiry.

The Fianna Fáil leader said perpetrators of any form of “unacceptable, misogynistic or bullying behaviour” have “no place and no future” in the Defence Forces. He said it was “the end” of such behaviour and that “it simply has to stop”.

Mr Martin said the details in the report about the type of attacks perpetrated on both men and women were “nothing short of disgusting”.

He said the report had to be “a watershed moment” and would be “the catalyst” for the transformation of Ireland’s Defence Forces.

Mr Martin said an external independent complaints process for members of the Defence Forces would be established and legislation amended to provide the “legislative basis to enable allegations of sexual assault in the Defence Forces in the State to be referred to An Garda Síochána”.

Independent TD Cathal Berry, a former member of the Defence Forces, said he welcomed the publication of the report and its recommendations, including a statutory inquiry.

Mr Berry said over the last 48 hours he had heard from people disturbed and upset and that they “don’t recognise the organisation that has been described, that it certainly wasn’t their experience and they’re devastated as a result of what has happened”.

The Kildare South TD said the armed forces were “hypersensitive to criticism” and that “dissent is almost regarded as being unpatriotic or, worse, that it’s a manifestation of indiscipline”.

Mr Berry said the “hypersensitivity to criticism” in the Defence Forces had to be removed, adding that the Army was “obsessed with image” and that “everything has to be perfect”.

“Because of this obsession with image, they take complaints very, very poorly,” he said. “Complaints are something that should be embraced, not something that should be resisted.”

Sinn Féin TD Sorca Clarke said “every cog” in the mechanism of the Defence Forces needed to change while “only full acceptance of that need will result in the change that’s necessary”.

The Longford-Westmeath TD said the contents of the report had been “known but have been ignored for decades”.

Labour TD Brendan Howlin said “as always with institutional failure” the greatest change would have to be “cultural change”.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times