Politics

Women of Honour say they are ‘deeply disillusioned’ with Minister for Defence

The Women of Honour, a group of former Defence Forces members who detailed allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination in the military, have said they are “deeply disillusioned” with the Minister for Defence.

Minister Simon Coveney on Tuesday announced that an independent review would immediately be established to examine issues relating to sexual misconduct, bullying, harassment and discrimination in the Defence Forces.

The group met with Minister Coveney in advance of the announcement amid concerns from the women that a planned review of the issue would be limited in its powers. In particular, it would lack the power to compel witnesses to testify.

However, the group said the meeting was a “waste of time” and they “walked out after an hour as the Minister said he was not prepared to change his position”.

“The Minister still refuses to commit to a statutory inquiry, instead he is insisting on proposing a weak administrative review,” the group said in a statement.

“As a group, we will not participate in the Minister’s review as it is pointless and shameful. In effect, he is proposing a review that would see his own department review itself, progressing in a manner that would heavily bias any process before it even begins.”

The group said it has been “very clear” in expressing dissatisfaction to what is proposed by the minister in this regard.

Meaningful change

“Our position remains that no meaningful change for current or future generations can be achieved without a full understanding of the failings that led us here and these failings can only be identified by a thorough investigation,” they said.

“There will be no ability to investigate or compel witnesses who may not wish to participate. This will make it nothing more than a box-ticking exercise for the sole purpose of fulfilling the public relations requirements of being seen to make some efforts toward acknowledging and reacting to the failings within the Defence Forces and wider systems whilst never actually uncovering the truth.”

They added: “Such a process would be grossly unfair and far too reflective of past failures.”

The Women of Honour group said it now intends to “take the matter up” with the Taoiseach.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Minister Coveney announced that he had secured Government agreement to immediately establish a judge-lead independent review .

Mr Coveney said the review will be undertaken by external and unbiased experts in the field, the membership of which will be “totally independent in undertaking its function”.

Retired judge Bronagh O’Hanlon has been appointed chair of the group, while Ms Jane Williams, SIA Partners and Mr Mark Connaughton SC were also appointed.

An interim report will be submitted to the Minister within six months with a final report expected within nine months.

Speaking following the announcement, Mr Coveney said he and his officials have engagedwith a number of stakeholders on the issue in recent months.

“These engagements have brought serious issues to my attention and I have considered very carefully the respective views,” he said.

“It is absolutely critical that I proceed with this review to ensure that the workplace is safe for all serving members. In this endeavour, I believe I have the wholehearted support of serving personnel.”

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