Republic of Ireland news

Defence Forces inquiry to begin as soon as possible, vows Varadkar

A statutory inquiry has been ordered into allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying and discrimination in the Defence Forces (PA)
Cillian Sherlock, PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the Government wants a statutory inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying and discrimination in the Defence Forces to begin “as soon as possible”.

It follows the publication of an independent review group’s (IRG) report which found a “discernible pattern of rape and sexual assault” in its analysis of participants’ contributions.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the report details a “toxic culture” within the Defence Forces.

Reading extracts from the report into the Dail Record, Ms Bacik said: “The types of bullying described ranged from ‘behaviour leading to suicides, often characterised as accidental deaths’, to serious physical assaults, very serious sexual assaults, including rape, and the sexual targeting of new entrants.”

Ms Bacik called for “speedy and timely” work on the recommendations of the report.

Mr Varadkar said he thinks the report would “shock anybody who reads it”.

He added: “It’s clear that attempts made to change things – and attempts have been made – have failed.

“And unlike many other issues that we’ve dealt with in this house, it’s not historic, it’s ongoing, and it appears to be widescale.

“The Defence Forces are entrusted with the defence of our State since its foundation. The Irish women and men of the Defence Forces are loyal to the flag and loyal to the uniform and are willing to defend the State and bring peace to remote corners of the world.

“They deserve our support and respect. They have our support and respect.

“But they also need to respect each other, particularly women, particularly young people, and particularly those in a lower rank to them.

“I believe the vast majority of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and women have not engaged in these awful practices, and there should be no stain on their character or reputation.

“Nonetheless, in this report we read of bullying, discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, including sexual violence, and we read that victims, when they sought help under the internal complaint system, were left disappointed and often penalised and many good soldiers left as a result.”

He said the organisation is in critical need of “fundamental and immediate cultural and behavioural change”, and the Government is prioritising the inquiry.

“The Government will bring about the change necessary to ensure that the dignity and integrity of women and men and our Defence Forces is safeguarded at all times,” he said.

Asked by Ms Bacik about timeframes for reforms, Mr Varadkar said the Government has accepted all the recommendations in the report and some measures could be implemented “very quickly”.

He said the Government will quickly amend the Defence Act of 1954 to provide a legislative basis to enable allegations of any type of sexual assault in the Defence Forces to be referred to An Garda Siochana rather than the internal military police.

He said it could also quickly commission a non-statutory inquiry into the process of “medical boarding”, and a further study of deaths by suicide of both current and former members of Defence Forces over the past 20 years.

In the following session on policy and legislation, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the establishment of a statutory inquiry.

She sought a guarantee that the inquiry will be survivor-led.

“It will absolutely be centred on survivors and will be survivor-led,” Mr Varadkar said.

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns described the report as a “shocking catalogue of misogyny” and asked when the statutory inquiry will be in place.

Mr Varadkar said it is the Government’s intention that, following the appointment of a judge to lead the inquiry, it will be “up and running” before the summer recess.