Ireland

Women of Honour: We did not see inquiry terms before approval by Cabinet

A tribunal is set to examine how the Defence Forces handled allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual assault.

Women of Honour members, left to right, former army captain Diane Byrne; retired captain Yvonne O’Rourke; and retired corporal Roslyn O’Callaghan
Women of Honour Women of Honour members, left to right, former army captain Diane Byrne; retired captain Yvonne O’Rourke; and retired corporal Roslyn O’Callaghan (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Women of Honour group said they were not given sight of the terms of reference for the forthcoming Defence Forces tribunal before it was approved by Cabinet.

The terms of reference for the tribunal of inquiry into the Defence Forces handling of bullying, harassment and sexual assault allegations were approved by Cabinet on Tuesday.

The tribunal of inquiry will examine the effectiveness of the complaints processes in the Defence Forces in respect of workplace incidents relating to discrimination, bullying, harassment, sexual assault and rape.

In a statement, the Women of Honour said they welcome the appointment of Justice Ann Power to chair the tribunal.

“(We) are now focusing on it being a full, comprehensive and transparent tribunal,” they said.

“We have not seen the terms of reference in advance of them going to Cabinet. In fact, we just received the terms of reference from a journalist.

“We have no doubt a tribunal is the mechanism we need for change. We are now going to have to take time to properly assess what these latest terms of reference contained and proceed accordingly.”

The inquiry is being established to investigate whether there have been serious systemic failures in the complaints processes in the Defence Forces concerning workplace issues, including sexual misconduct.

Micheal Martin said the Government will seek to get the tribunal under way as soon as possible
Tanaiste Micheal Martin comments Micheal Martin said the Government will seek to get the tribunal under way as soon as possible (Niall Carson/PA)

The inquiry comes following the report by the Independent Review Group (IRG) on dignity and equality issues in the Defence Forces.

The Women of Honour group previously criticised the terms of reference, saying it did not go far enough.

Speaking after today’s Cabinet meeting, the Tanaiste, Micheal Martin, said: “Government will now seek the approval of the Oireachtas to formally establish the tribunal, and get work underway as early as possible this year.

“I am particularly grateful to all those who have engaged in the process that led to the drafting of the terms of reference, and to the Attorney General and his staff.

“I also want to express my gratitude to Ms Justice Ann Power for agreeing to chair this very important tribunal. She brings a wealth of experience to the role.”

The tribunal will also have the power to investigate the response to complaints made regarding the use of hazardous chemicals within Air Corps’ headquarters at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

Separately, in a further implementation of the IRG’s recommendations, Mr Martin announced the appointment of Mr Kevin Duffy as the independent Chair of a new working group to develop a complaints process for civilian employees and civil servants who work with the Defence Forces.

The Tanaiste said: “The appointment of Kevin Duffy is another important step in implementing the recommendations of the Independent Review Group. I am very grateful to Kevin Duffy for agreeing to chair this working group.

“He brings a wealth of experience and expertise to this role which, I have no doubt, will prove invaluable to the group in its deliberations.”

The Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sean Clancy welcomed the publication.

He said: “Since being appointed Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, I have made it abundantly clear, there is no place for any form of abusive, inappropriate, or criminal behaviour in the Defence Forces.

“The Defence Forces is fully committed to co-operating with the tribunal in the course of their work and I fully expect that the inquiry will determine the extent of the issues brought to light in the IRG report.

“We are working to redesign our grievance procedures and HR policies, rolling out mandatory sexual ethics and respectful relationships workshops and holding people to account for misconduct and misbehaviour.

“Change is under way and updated policies and procedures will be underpinned by the principles of mutual respect, dignity and equality.”