Behaviour leading to suicides, physical assaults, sexual targeting of new members, beasting, mobbing, verbal abuse, intimidation, and humiliation.
These are just some of the bullying behaviours cited in the Independent Review Group’s (IRG) report on the Defence Forces.
Some 35% of those surveyed within the Defence Forces last year reported having experienced bullying. This is completely unsustainable and unacceptable.
I served as a member of the Reserve Defence Forces for 13 years and it was a hugely positive and formative part of my life. While I never experienced any issues around bullying or harassment personally, there was a culture that could, at times, feel like a boy’s club, so I can see how a toxic environment for women took root.
As a former member, it is deeply disappointing to see how badly women have been treated in our Defence Forces.
The IRG’s report on the Defence Forces has revealed extensive patterns of inappropriate and illegal behaviour, particularly regarding sexual misconduct and the mishandling of complaints.
The IRG has carried out its work in the most professional manner and has recommended a “statutory fact-finding process”. This is imperative, as we need to identify the systemic failures within the Defence Forces that led to these issues.
This report’s findings expose a culture of abuse and discrimination within the Defence Forces. In particular, women within the Defence Forces were treated horrifically, and this must be rectified.
The report cites some members of Defence Forces management crossing the line between appropriate and inappropriate exercise of their management. This is a clear abuse of power. The report also highlighted how some military officials have used cover-ups, falsification of evidence, intimidation, and delaying tactics to dissuade or suppress complaints.
It is important that we commend the IRG for its investigation. It has shone a light on the need for systemic change within the Defence Forces. The report has rightly called for the appointment of an external oversight body to increase transparency and accountability. I wholeheartedly agree with this call, as it’s the only way forward to drive the culture change that is needed.
The Government’s decision to set up a statutory inquiry into how complaints are handled is a positive step, but it must be accompanied by concrete measures to address the deep-rooted issues that the report has exposed.
There have been clear failures in how complaints of abuse are made, and a more transparent approach must be taken. This must include implementing strong sanctions for those who abuse their power, while also establishing an independent complaints system.
It is essential that the Defence Forces take swift action to eradicate the culture of abuse and discrimination within their ranks. This requires a concerted effort to promote dignity, equality, mutual respect, and a duty of care towards all serving members, regardless of gender or rank.
It is clear from the IRG report and from the brave work of Women of Honour that the Defence Forces was no place to be a woman. Women of Honour must be commended for their bravery in bringing this issue forward and starting this conversation.
The environment allowed to fester by the management of the Defence Forces was a hostile and intimidating place for women.
The State should offer a sincere apology for the mistreatment of those women and men, while offering support for those who have suffered due to the military’s misconduct and mishandling of complaints.
The findings of the Women of Honour report are a wake-up call for the Defence Forces, the Government, and society as a whole.
This is an opportunity to confront the damaging culture of abuse and discrimination within our military and commit to real and lasting change.
Only then can we ensure that the Defence Forces provide a safe, inclusive workplace where all members are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Senator Lisa Chambers is the Leader of the Seanad
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