Written answers

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Defence Forces

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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130. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps he is taking to improve reporting mechanisms for Defence Forces personnel experiencing sexual abuse, harassment and bullying. [56513/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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All members of the Defence Forces, both male and female, have the right to be treated with respect, equality and dignity and to carry out their duties free from any form of harassment, sexual harassment or bullying. Where there are allegations of offences having been committed, investigations will be initiated by the appropriate authorities.

Arising from the 2002 publication of the External Advisory Committee on the Defence Forces and the three subsequent reports from the Independent Monitoring Group (IMG), a number of reforms were implemented in the intervening years for addressing allegations of inappropriate behaviour, including harassment, sexual harassment and bullying, which are contained in policy documents and in regulation.

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

Defence Force Regulation A7, additionally provides the regulatory framework for dealing with any allegations of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace for serving members, in both a formal and informal way through a trained Designated Contact Person (DCP) network.

Within this framework, Administrative Instruction A7, Chapter 1 sets out the Defence Forces policy and procedures regarding interpersonal relationships in the Defence Forces including bullying and harassment, in order to deter unacceptable behaviour and promote a service environment based on mutual respect, equality and professionalism.

Chapter 2 of Administrative Instruction A7 provides another formal mechanism for members, under Section 114 (1) and 114 (2) of the Defence Act, 1954, to seek redress of wrongs or to make a complaint. Complaints may be submitted orally or in writing to the complainants Commanding Officer, or in the case where they feel themselves wronged by their Commanding Officer, may complain to the Chief of Staff. Notifications are sent to my office and the office of Ombudsman for the Defence Forces formally when any Chapter 2 complaint is submitted and of its subsequent outcome.

Under this mechanism there exists further recourse for the complaint to be referred to the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces for review and recommendation if appropriate. As the Deputy will be aware, the Ombudsman is entirely independent in carrying out his functions in line with the provisions of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces Act, 2004, and his final report, which may include a recommendation on each complaint, is submitted to me for determination.

I am further advised that in the event that a complaint of a potentially criminal nature is reported, the standard procedure is that the matter is investigated immediately by the Military Police. Where allegations of criminal incidents among serving members are brought to the attention of the Military Police, they are traditionally passed to An Garda Síochána for their consideration and investigation, who have the lawful authority, skills and resources to investigate such matters.

As the Deputy will be aware, I met recently with participants from the Women of Honour Group and with a number of serving female members of the Defence Forces, where I had the opportunity to listen carefully to their experiences, in what were very informative meetings. In addition, participants from the Women of Honour Group have met with the Secretary General and senior officials from my Department.

While I have noted that there has been progress in recent years in terms of policies, systems and procedures, it is clear that the culture that is pervading, and the application of those policies, systems and procedures for dealing with bullying, harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault, have not, and are not serving, all Defence Forces personnel well.

On foot of those meetings, I have decided to proceed with the Independent Review, to examine the effectiveness of systems, policies and procedures to deal with workplace issues relating to bullying, discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the Defence Forces. The draft Terms for the Independent Review have been shared with a range of stakeholders including the Representative Associations, serving members and the Women of Honour Group. I look forward to receiving their observations which will inform the Terms of the Review which I intend to finalise within the coming weeks. I wish to underline also that this Review will be undertaken by external and entirely independent and unbiased experts in this field. In this regard, potential members are also under consideration.

Separately, I announced last month, 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, which has been in place since the announcement, is available to assist both serving and former members of the Defence Forces and will provide 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.

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.

In addition, 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.

As I have stated in the past however, those who may have suffered serious wrong or a criminal nature, whether recent or historic, are urged to report their concerns to An Garda Síochána who have lawful authority, skills and resources to investigate such matters.

Finally, I wish to reiterate my commitment and that of the Secretary General and Chief of Staff, to ensure that every member of the Defence Forces, male and female, can carry out their duties in a safe and respectful workplace based on dignity, equality and zero-tolerance for any kind of unacceptable behaviour.

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