Micheál Martin expresses confidence in army leadership despite toxic culture of abuse, bullying, harassment, sexual assault and rape

During Leader’s questions 30 March 2023, the leader of the Social Democrats, Holly Cairns asked the Tanaiste, Micheál Martin who has ministerial responsibility for the Defence Forces to respond to the report of the independent review group into the Defence Forces which “is damning and deeply disturbing.”

Deputy Cairns said the report “details a toxic culture that has become embedded in the Defence Forces, in which abuse, bullying, harassment, sexual assault and rape occur with regularity and impunity.

The Defence Forces, we are told, “barely tolerates women and, at its worst, verbally, physically, sexually and psychologically abuses women in its ranks.”

Almost nine out of ten women who responded to the review group experienced sexual harassment while nearly 50% reported sexual assaults.

There was a “discernible pattern of rape and sexual assault” in barracks, swimming areas, naval boats, showers and abroad on foreign deployments.

Making a complaint about abuse and mistreatment was said to be “career-ending” and would result in intimidation and retaliation.

The main perpetrators of the abuse were male officers and there is evidence of serial perpetrators whose behaviour was not only never addressed, but, in fact, rewarded.”

She asked the Tanaiste if he had confidence in the current leadership given the Chief of Staff, Seán Clancy, said the previous day he had been completely unaware of the endemic abuse in the Defence Forces for most of his 40-year career.

In response, Micheál Martin said: “I have confidence in the Chief of Staff’s commitment to change and reform…I am mindful of the report’s conclusions about the resistance. The Chief of Staff has committed to change and reform. We will quickly develop legislation to appoint an independent external complaints process…. That body will be completely external to the Defence Forces and will oversee the reform and culture change required.”