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Defence | Achieving gender balance in the Defence Forces

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence the degree to which gender balance is being achieved in the Defence Forces at all levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


The Government remains committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women throughout the Defence Forces and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities. It is also Government policy to increase female participation rates at all levels of the Defence Forces in order to increase capability and to better reflect the society from which the Defence Forces are drawn and serve.

As of 31 December 2022, the strength of the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) stood at 7,987 Whole Time Equivalent (WTE) personnel. Of this some 564 personnel or 7% were female, broken down as follows:

  • Army: 456 Female Personnel
  • Air Corps: 43 Female Personnel
  • Naval Service: 65 Female Personnel 

In the three general service recruitment campaigns conducted in 2022, approximately 11% of the Applicants were female while the figure for cadet Applicants was approximately 14%.

I have been advised that the Defence Forces have engaged a Marketing and Media partner to assist with recruitment advertising to ensure engagement with the recruitment demographic across social media and other media platforms.

A number of initiatives are already in place with a view to increasing the level of female participation.

For example:

  • Special consideration is paid to women as a target group for recruitment within the general recruitment framework, including a Female Recruitment Standing Committee reporting on initiatives for 2022, with dedicated female recruitment teams proposed. 
  • The Defence Forces actively engage with schools to conduct career talks and regularly attend events aimed at future career choices for schools. Each of these events is attended by both male and females serving members.
  • A Gender Equality and Diversity Officer has been in place for a number of years to promote gender equality policies and training within the Defence Forces. Gender Advisors are available to all Brigades and Services and trained Gender Focal Points are deployed with all overseas units and ships in order to promote a gender perspective in operations.
  • A Defence Forces Women’s Network was established with the aim of increasing the participation of female personnel at all levels of the organisation.

The High Level Action Plan agreed by Government on the Commission on the Defence Forces contains a range of recommendations designed to assist in increasing female participation in the Defence Forces. A number of these recommendations have been identified as early actions, including the appointment of a senior Gender Advisor at Colonel level, options for female participation at General Staff level, review of fitness standards, and the development of gender, diversity and unconscious bias training. These are important recommendations which will underpin the commitment to moving to a strong representation by women across the ranks.

A a key element of any successful organisation, of course,  is that its members can undertake their work in an environment underpinned by dignity, equality and respect.

From the extensive engagements with both serving and former members of the Defence Forces, it is all too clear that despite the reforms that have taken place over the past 20 years in the Defence Forces, the systems, policies and procedures for dealing with unacceptable behaviour have not, and are not serving all Defence Forces personnel well. 

The Judge-led Independent Review Group, established on 25 January 2022  has been examining those very  systems, policies and procedures for dealing with issues relating to bullying, discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the Defence Forces as well as the prevailing workplace culture.

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.

As I have already mentioned, the Independent Review Group are nearing the conclusion of the report and it’s expected to be submitted to me later this week.  I am eager to receive this Report and will consider it in full, in consultation with the Attorney General before bringing it to Government and its publication.




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