Simon Coveney pledges to urgently address abuse allegations raised by Women of Honour 

Simon Coveney pledges to urgently address abuse allegations raised by Women of Honour 

Diane Byrne, Karina Molloy and Yvonne O Rourke at The Department of Foreign Affairs for a meeting with Defence Minister Simon Coveney. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Defence Minister Simon Coveney has pledged to the Women of Honour that issues they raised about systemic discrimination and sexual abuse in the Defence Forces will be "urgently" addressed through an independent review.

Distressing allegations of rape, sexual assault, bullying and discrimination in the Defence Forces were made by numerous women in the RTÉ radio documentary, Women of Honour.

"I would like to say sorry to anyone who has suffered during their time in the Defence Forces and assure them the State will now urgently carry out an independent review," Mr Coveney said.

Five of the retired Army, Navy and Air Corps personnel who took part in that documentary met Simon Coveney yesterday about changes necessary to make the Defence Forces safer for everyone. He also met a group of serving female members.

He promised the independent review would be undertaken "by external and entirely independent and unbiased experts" and he intends to then bring the final report to Government. 

The terms of the review are being reviewed following the two meetings yesterday, he said. Other stakeholder meetings, including with the representative associations will also inform the terms. 

Mr Coveney also confirmed he would immediately look to establish interim solutions for supports for members past or present, who are affected by these issues.

He said there were "very strong views" expressed at both meetings that the current culture and application of policies, systems and procedures for dealing with bullying, harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault have not and are not serving all Defence Forces personnel well. 

I wish to commend the women for their service and commitment to the Defence Forces as an organisation. I know from my discussions today that you are seeking change to ensure that the Defence Forces of the future is a place where inappropriate behaviour is not tolerated and where all individuals, both female and male, can reach their full potential. 

"I am fully committed, together with the secretary general of my department, and the chief of staff designate, to ensuring that each and every single member of the Defence Forces has the right to be treated with respect, equality and dignity and to carry out their duties in a safe workplace, underpinned by a culture of zero-tolerance for any kind of bullying, discrimination, or harassment."

Retired army captain Deirdre Byrne said an apology and acknowledgement of the abuse they suffered was "hugely important." 

"No change will come about if there isn’t an acknowledgement of what has happened and an apology is absolutely deserved,” she told RTÉ. “This is about making change for men and women now, for the people coming after us.

“To group together as a strong group of women standing and being able to finally voice, loudly, the issues that we feel need to be addressed is hugely empowering for us.” 

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