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27 Jun 2022

'Women of Honour': Longford senator stresses need for 'zero-tolerance approach to all forms of workplace harassment'

'Women of Honour': Longford senator stresses need for 'zero-tolerance approach to all forms of workplace harassment'

Senator Micheál Carrigy

Longford-based Fine Gael Senator Micheál Carrigy has said that the recent 'Women of Honour' documentary painted the Defence Forces in a very poor light.

Speaking in the Seanad on the second stage of Defence (Amendment) Bill 2020; Senator Carrigy stressed, "There must be a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of harassment, bullying or violence in the workplace, whether in the Defence Forces or any other workplace."

He welcomed the fact that Defence Minister Simon Coveney met a number of the women featured in the documentary and the commitment he gave that this will not be tolerated and will be dealt with strongly. 

Minister Coveney remarked, "I had the privilege of meeting the group that is now referred to as the 'Women of Honour'and also a group of serving women of various ranks from the Army, the Air Corps and the Naval Service. The accounts of the experiences they have had in the Defence Forces are totally unacceptable in the context of the kind of Defence Forces we should have whereby everybody, regardless of their gender or background, should be able to develop careers in a positive, protective and safe environment. That has not been the experience for far too many people.

"I want to say that I believe the women and am determined to ensure that the culture which allowed women to be bullied, sexually harassed and treated unfairly needs to change, and will change. We will introduce a comprehensive review mechanism, which will be independent of the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence, in order to ensure that we do an extremely in-depth piece of work here."

On the Bill, Senator Carrigy stated, "I welcome the Bill and the changes that are set out including amending the Defence Act 1954 to remove references to the enlistment of minors; providing a legislative basis to allow members of the Reserve Defence Force serve in support of the permanent forces at home and abroad; and amending the Act to underpin practice in relation to the day-to-day operations and control of the Permanent Defence Force engaged in international operations.

"It is right and proper that Members of the House recognise the great work done and sacrifices made by our full-time and reserve personnel. In particular, we are grateful for the excellent reputation our Defence Forces have gained abroad on peacekeeping missions. Earlier this year, Brigadier General Maureen O'Brien was appointed to the United Nations as deputy military adviser in the office of military affairs at the department of peacekeeping operations, which is a significant role. My cousin, Captain Marie Carrigy, read the Proclamation in front of the GPO only last Easter.

"We currently have 561 brave women and men of the Defence Forces serving overseas in peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world. Irish troops were first deployed on UN missions in 1958. Since then, not a single day has passed without Irish participation in UN peace support operations. This is a unique record and one of which we can be proud. This commitment to international peacekeeping is a practical expression of the values we hold dear as a nation and our commitment to the UN and multilateralism. Since Ireland's first deployment, 87 members of the Defence Forces and a member of An Garda Síochána have lost their lives in the service of peace overseas. We remember them today.

"There are a number of issues in the Defence Forces. One is pay and remuneration for personnel. We need to make the forces more attractive so that young people making a decision on a future career will have a long-term career available to them. That issue needs to be looked at."

Senator Carrigy added, "As the Minister will be aware, I come from Ballinalee, which is the home of General Seán MacEoin. In 1922, General MacEoin took command of Custume Barracks in Athlone from the British and later went on to serve as Chief of Staff before entering political life and serving as Minister for Defence in the 1950s. It is important that this link is maintained and strengthened.

"Columb Barracks in Mullingar and Seán Connolly Barracks in Longford have closed in recent years. I ask that the Department examine strengthening the role of Custume Barracks in Athlone and maintaining that strong link that goes back to the foundation stone of our State, be it in re-establishing the barracks as the third brigade in Athlone, relocating the brigade commander, perhaps from Cathal Brugha Barracks, or re-establishing non-commissioned officer training at the barracks. I ask the Minister to take back to the Department the message that the barracks be strengthened. There is a fear in this regard and I ask that the matter be looked at."

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