Women of Honour: Nothing less than statutory inquiry into Defence Forces abuse was ever appropriate

Women of Honour: Nothing less than statutory inquiry into Defence Forces abuse was ever appropriate

Women of Honour member Diane Byrne, a former Irish Defence Forces officer, at Government Buildings on Tuesday. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Victims of sexual and physical abuse in the Defence Forces have welcomed a decision to hold a statutory inquiry into the “appalling” abuse they suffered.

A review into allegations of brutal and “sadistic” abuse, including the rape of both male and female soldiers, recommended a “statutory fact-finding process”.

Tánaiste and Defence Minister Micheál Martin has confirmed there will now be a full State inquiry.

He said he is disturbed by the contents of the report, which concluded that “at best, the Defence Forces barely tolerates women and at its worst, verbally, physically, sexually and psychologically abuses women in its ranks”.

The panel also encountered notions about gender among officers “from the last century, or even the one before that”, its report said.

The report also found that while abuse was mainly carried out by male officers and that 88% of female soldiers polled reported they had suffered abuse, some of it had also been carried out by female officers.

Those abused include the Women of Honour, a group of serving and former serving members whose allegations featured in an RTÉ documentary in 2021.

The Women of Honour said in a statement: “In the light of the findings made by the Independent Review Group, nothing less than a full Statutory Inquiry was ever appropriate.

“Also, inevitably, the military hierarchy, the Department of Defence itself and the military system in its entirety will now be subject to that investigation in a manner that has been required for some considerable time.

“It is hoped this commitment by the Government to the establishment of a full Statutory Inquiry will start the process of healing for those persons who have suffered within the Defence Force system the appalling litany of abuse that is part of the Findings of Fact of the IRG Report.

“We await the necessary discussions to start the process of agreeing Terms of Reference for an all-encompassing full Statutory Public Inquiry where that process should start within days rather than weeks.

“Justice delayed is Justice denied.”

Mr Martin has said he will consult with various groups, including the Women of Honour, before bringing the terms of reference of the inquiry to the Government.

It is hoped this inquiry will be established before the end of the year.

Mr Martin warned that he does not want the investigation to go on for "years" as has been the case with other State inquiries.

'Watershed moment'

“This report is a watershed moment," he said.

“It signals the critical need for fundamental and immediate cultural change which goes to the very heart of issues relating to dignity, mutual respect, and duty of care.

“Bullying, misogynistic behaviour, and any form of sexual misconduct is simply unacceptable, and has no place in a 21st-century workplace.

“I will be progressing a comprehensive programme of immediate actions to address the extremely serious shortcomings identified in this report."

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