23 May 2022

'Kicking the can down the road of pointlessness' - Women of Honour slams Forces review

'Kicking the can down the road of pointlessness' - Women of Honour slams Forces review

'Kicking the can down the road of pointlessness' - Women of Honour slams Forces review

The Women of Honour (WoH) group has slammed Simon Coveney's approach to investigating allegations of sexual assault, sexism and bullying in the Defence Forces.

The serious allegations were unveiled in an RTÉ documentary last year, with the Minister for Defence on Tuesday January 25 confirming a judge-led independent review will be established. 

However, WoH is adamant a legal process is needed rather than a review, and walked out of yesterday's meeting with Minister Coveney. 

In a statement on Wednesday January 26, a WoH spokesperson said, "A one-year-long administrative review does not have the statutory protections required for such sensitive investigations to be effective and is just kicking the can down the road of pointlessness. 

"The group appointed do not have the tools to compel attendance by witnesses or documents. Disgracefully, Minister Coveney arrived to the meeting yesterday with terms of reference that had the words final stamped all over them. He then tried to stamp all over us." 

The group has welcomed the decision of Taoiseach Micheál Martin to meet with them about the issue following what they've called Minister Coveney's "mishandling" of the situation. 

The spokesperson continued: "The circumstances of Women of Honour and countless other serving and former members of the Defence Forces involve issues surrounding dignity in the workplace, bullying, harassment, discrimination, assault, sexual harassment and sexual assault. These issues remain in the Defence Forces and are still unfortunately real and live. That is why we are so devastated by Minister’s Coveney’s attempt at white-washing." 

The minister met with the group in September 2021, where he pledged to address the issues raised. 

At the time, he stated, "I would like to say sorry to anyone who has suffered during their time in the Defence Forces and assure them The State will now urgently carry out an Independent Review." 

Yesterday, he released a statement calling the review "absolutely critical" to ensure the workplace is safe for serving members. 

He stated, "In this endeavour, I believe I have the wholehearted support of serving personnel." 

The interim report is expected to be submitted within six months, with a final report available within nine months. 

In the statement, Minister Coveney did not rule out a future "further body of work" to examine historical allegations brought forward by Women of Honour and other stakeholders. 

He said, "I am very grateful for the courage Women of Honour, other Groups and serving personnel have shown in sharing their experiences. These historical cases are complex, particularly in relation to cases of alleged sexual misconduct. I have additionally liaised with the Attorney General and taken advice from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre on these matters.

"I wish to state categorically that these cases are not being ignored but careful consideration on how best to address these allegations is required. The Terms of Reference of this Review provide that both former and serving members may share their experiences with the Independent Review Group who may then determine if a further body of work is required in relation to specific allegations." 

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