Draft terms of reference produced for inquiry into Defence Forces abuse

Women of Honour group criticises terms as overly narrow and raises concerns about transparency

The Government has produced the draft terms of reference for the planned statutory inquiry into abuse and bullying in the Defence Forces.

The establishment of a statutory inquiry was one of the recommendations of the Independent Review Group (IRG) which published a report in March detailing widespread abuse, bullying and discrimination within the military.

The draft terms of reference outline a statutory-based inquiry which will have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence. However, it does not say if the process should take on a tribunal-like format which would be held in public.

On Tuesday, the draft terms of reference were shared with various groups who were invited to give their feedback.


One of these was the Women of Honour, a group of female Defence Forces veterans whose accusations of sexual abuse and bullying led to the IRG being established.

The group met Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin on Tuesday where they received the terms.

Diane Byrne, a former Army officer and a member of the Women of Honour group, told The Irish Times that members have serious concerns about the terms of reference.

She said they are based on the IRG recommendations were too narrow and that there is a “missing sense of accountability”.

The group is still examining the text of the terms of reference but at first glance it appears to focus on Defence Forces “policies and procedures” rather than individual wrongdoing, Ms Byrne said.

“You can comply with every policy and procedure and still destroy someone’s life.”

She said her group wants a public tribunal to ensure as much transparency as possible. Procedures could be put in place to protect the anonymity of victims, she added.

The former officer also raised concerns about the role of the Department of Defence in drafting the terms, saying it could led to a perception of the Department investigating itself.

“It will be a waste of time and money if people don’t believe it, Ms Byrne said.

Met groups

The Tánaiste said he met six groups on Tuesday including Women of Honour, and Women and Men of Honour.

He said draft terms of reference for the future inquiry were circulated to the groups to “take back and come back with suggestions”.

Mr Martin said: “We have had good meetings, relatively lengthy meetings with each group...

“There’ll be further engagement and further consultation before we firm up on an actual terms of reference.”

An Garda Síochána is also investigating allegations of abuse within the military in the wake of the IRG report.

Last month Garda Commissioner Drew Harris announced he has established a national unit to investigate allegations of sexual assault and rape by “predators” within the Defence Forces.

The Garda already had 26 “historical” complaints from Defence Forces members, a number it expects to rise further.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times