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Defence | Gender equality and diversity within the Defence Forces

To ask the Minister for Defence the extent to which gender respect and the elimination of any attempts at abuse sexual or otherwise has been completely ruled out in the Defence Forces; if action has been taken to ensure compliance; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


I am fully committed to ensuring that every member of the Defence Forces has the right to undertake their duties in a safe environment underpinned by dignity and equality and by a culture of zero-tolerance for any kind of bullying, discrimination, harassment or sexual abuse.

Over the last twenty years since the 2002 publication of the External Advisory Group on the Defence Forces and the three subsequent reports from the Independent Monitoring Group (IMG), a number of reforms have been implemented for addressing allegations of inappropriate behaviour, including harassment, sexual harassment and bullying, which are contained in policy documents and in Defence Force Regulation.

The Defence Forces Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Statement and Action Plan additionally aims to ensure that a transparent culture exists, that encourages personnel to report inappropriate behaviour, discrimination, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.

Despite the reforms that have taken place in recent years however, it is clear from the experiences shared by both current and former members of the Defence Forces that the culture that is pervading, and the application of those policies, systems and procedures for dealing with unacceptable behaviour have not, and are not, serving all Defence Forces personnel well.  

The work of the Judge-led Independent Review Group (IRG), established by me on 25 January last, following Government approval, is examining issues relating to bullying, harassment, discrimination and sexual misconduct, as well as workplace culture, in the Defence Forces.

In accordance with the Terms of Reference the Group will:

  • Advise me on whether the current legislative frameworks, policies, procedures and practices for addressing incidents of unacceptable behaviour in the workplace are effective;  
  • Independently assess whether the pervading culture in the workplace is fully aligned with the principles of dignity, equality, mutual respect, and duty of care for every member of the Defence Forces and thirdly;
  • Will provide recommendations and guidance on measures and strategies required to underpin a workplace based on dignity, equality, mutual respect, and duty of care for every member of the Defence Forces.  

This Independent Review is a necessary and critical step to fulfill my duty of care obligation to the men and women of the Defence Forces, to provide a safe work environment. The serving members of the Defence Forces, expect nothing less.

I wish to emphasise, that the work of the Independent Review Group is entirely independent in keeping with the Terms of Reference and I must allow the Group full independence and autonomy to undertake its body of work, under its Chair, Ms Justice Bronagh O’Hanlon.
Separately, I am aware that the Military Authorities have undertaken a number of initiatives. In November 2021, the Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy convened the Organisational Culture Standing Committee (OCSC) to drive and coordinate the process of cultural change within the Defence Forces. The OCSC will provide appropriate military support to the Independent Review and establish a cultural change programme, framed around the Chief of Staff’s Planning Guidance, and coordinate its implementation.  The programme includes but is not limited to:

  • Measures of Performance (MOPs) and Measures of Effectiveness (MOEs).
  • The requirement for Cultural Audits.
  • Appropriate reporting, measurement and oversight mechanisms.

The OCSC is engaging with leaders at all levels across the Defence Forces, and has the authority to engage with any Defence Forces member it deems appropriate throughout the consultation process.

The committee will engage with any relevant stakeholders and agencies as necessary, including, but not limited to,  my officials in the Department of Defence, the Representative Associations, and relevant external organisations.

The Deputy will also be aware that I announced last year, interim support measures for members of the Defence Forces impacted by unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.

The appointment of a Confidential Contact Person (CCP) within Raisecaconcern, is available to assist both serving and former members of the Defence Forces and provides a safe place to support the reporting of alleged wrongdoing in the workplace.

The Confidential Contact Person is independent and outside of the chain of command and their role is listen to the caller, assist them in documenting their allegations, and provide guidance on follow-on options.

In addition, the INSPIRE confidential helpline, which is available on a 24/7 basis for all serving members of the Defence Forces, has also been made available to anyone who has contacted the Confidential Contact Person.

The Personnel Support Service (PSS) in the Defence Forces assists members and their immediate family with the provision of information and advice on areas including stress management, counselling and referral options.  
Finally, I wish to add also that the Terms of Reference for the Independent Review are wide-ranging and provide that Government may consider further work on receipt of the Group’s findings. I am eager for this work to be concluded. The final report which is to be presented to me at the end of the year, will be brought to Government, before being published.

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