Women of Honour report: Defence Forces ‘barely tolerates women’ at best and ‘abuses women in ranks’ at worst

Report authors told by sources of verbal, physical, sexual abuse as statutory review recommended

A judge-led review following the Women of Honour report has recommended a “statutory fact-finding process” to investigate whether there were “systemic failures” within the Defence Forces.

The report by the Independent Review Group (IRG), established in 2021 to investigate matters first raised by a group of female veterans, makes for stark and difficult reading and details extensive patterns of inappropriate and illegal behaviour within the military.

The group’s first recommendation is for a “statutory fact-finding process” to “identify systemic failures, if any, in the complaints system, to ensure accountability and transparency. ”

The group said it believed the statutory process should investigate whether “there have been serious failures in the complaints system in the Defence Forces” on a number of issues including around sexual misbehaviour.


It also wants the statutory review to investigate whether there has been a “misuse of disciplinary process, access to promotion or to courses, as a form of retaliation or to deter complaints.”

The inquiry should also investigate “whether there have been issues raised in the investigation of complaints concerning health and safety issues in the Air Corps in relation to the maintenance and use of hazardous chemicals and the investigation of air accidents”.

The report has also called for the appointment on a non-statutory basis of an external expert or group which would report to the Minister for Defence on the process of medical boarding and the process of downgrading members on foot of injury or illness in service.

This expert group or person would conduct a study of deaths by suicide of current and former members of the Defence Forces.

The report found that a “consistent and embedded theme is that some members of the Defence Forces management abuse their positions of power and command in their treatment of subordinates”.

“Some members of the Defence Forces management cross the line between appropriate and inappropriate exercise of military authority.”

“Crossing the line takes another form when those in command and authority preside over processes that delay, dissuade or suppress issues or complaints about wrongdoing. Examples of reported behaviours intended to delay, dissuade or suppress complaints include cover-ups, falsification of evidence, intimidation of complainants and witnesses, ostracisation of complainants and witnesses; use of delaying tactics; acting unfairly; not allowing due process and exercising, facilitating or encouraging unjust retribution.”

“Another aspect of the control of reporting complaints is the “counterclaim” where the complainant is threatened with being charged with fabricated charges in an attempt to persuade them to drop the charges.”

The judge-led review recommends introducing measures to address the abuse of power such as strong sanctions, an independent complaints system and a review of training methods.

The report also said that “different sources available” to the group “conclude that, at best, the Defence Forces barely tolerates women, and, at its worst, verbally, physically, sexually and psychologically abuses women in its ranks.”

Speaking after Cabinet, Tánaiste Micheál Martin confirmed that the Government will move to set up a statutory inquiry into how complaints are handled.

He said the report makes clear the culture within the Defence Forces is “simply and entirely unacceptable.”

“The experience of many women in particular within the Defence Forces has been appalling.”

Mr Martin said the report was sometimes harrowing.

Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lieut Gen Seán Clancy, described the findings of the report as “stark” and showed “we need to change”.

“There is no place for any form of abuse, or failure to act on any form of inappropriate behaviour in the Defence Forces,” he said. “It is contrary to our ethos and values and will not be tolerated. We are working tirelessly to ensure the Defence Forces is a workplace, where the pervading culture is underpinned by the principles of dignity, equality, mutual respect and duty of care.

“My first priority is the safety and wellbeing of our serving members and we are fully committed to achieving the necessary cultural change in our organisation. I am confident and determined that we can deliver the transformation required to build a better Defence Forces for the future. We must and we will change”.

* If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Rape Crisis Helpline (1800-778888) or the Samaritans (116123 or jo@samaritans.org)

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times