An independent report into allegations of sexual abuse and harassment in the Defence Forces is expected to mark a “watershed moment”, according to a group that brought forward allegations.
However, following a meeting with Tanaiste Micheál Martin on Monday, the Women of Honour group said they still did not know if it would recommend a full statutory inquiry, the only Government response it will accept.
“I think what we got from the meeting today was again that [Mr Martin] did reiterate that it will be a watershed moment,” said retired captain Yvonne O’Rourke outside Government buildings, shortly after the conclusion of the 45-minute talks. “That word itself is powerful so we are expecting history to be [made].”
The group was not given access to, nor information on, the report, which has looked into allegations of sexual abuse, harassment, discrimination and bullying. They were told its publication will be recommended for Tuesday after it goes to Cabinet.
In the build-up, its members labelled the meeting a “public relations stunt” which they had attended as a courtesy. Immediately afterwards, they appeared cautiously positive, despite not being given any guarantees their desired outcome would materialise.
Retired captain Diane Byrne, another of the four-strong contingent, said there appeared to be a “subtle shift” in approach from Government with Micheál Martin taking over as Minister for Defence from his predecessor Simon Coveney - but that trust had been broken would be difficult to regain.
“There needs to be sheer honesty and an open book approach to this but I definitely got the impression personally that [Mr Martin] gets that,” she said. “Time will tell.”
According to the group, the Tanaiste addressed cultural issues within the Defence Forces, connected to longstanding issues around retirement and recruitment.
“We emphasised that this is a top down culture that needs to change, this is not something that you can change from the bottom up,” Ms Byrne said.
The independent review process was commissioned in 2021 after the allegations emerged but the Women of Honour group has repeatedly insisted on a full statutory inquiry.
“There has to be accountability,” spokeswoman Karina Mulloy said.
In a statement in advance of Monday’s meeting, the group said its members remained considerably unconvinced by the process. It is understood the Tánaiste is to meet a number of stakeholders throughout the day.
“Bringing people to meetings, to be talked to, about a report that we are not able to read smacks of little more than a public relations stunt by the Government,” it said. “It is disappointing and continues the mishandling of the issue.”
The group did not agree with the review approach because, it argued, it lacks statutory powers to compel people and documents.
Ms Mulloy explained that stakeholder groups including Women of Honour should be allowed to read the document and its findings before it is made public.
“It is compounding the hurt to victims by continuing to afford them such little respect, in failing to even allow them to read the report,” the statement said.
Among its grievances are a perceived delay in process and the involvement of the Department of Defence, which its members see has having a conflict of interest.
“Fifteen months on from the establishment of the Independent Review Group, the pain of the WoH and many more is worse, not better, with that list growing with the delays.”
Meanwhile, Colonel Conor King, general secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, said his organisation welcomed the Tánaiste’s willingness to listen.
“We are hopeful that the recommendations from this report will herald a positive change for the Defence Forces, and address the shortcomings highlighted both by the Women of Honour and other contributors including our own association,” he said.
“These recommendations, like all others will only work if they are resourced with adequate funding and staff in collaboration with the representative associations.”