Simon Coveney to meet women at centre of Defence Forces sex abuse claims

Simon Coveney To Meet Women At Centre Of Defence Forces Sex Abuse Claims Simon Coveney To Meet Women At Centre Of Defence Forces Sex Abuse Claims
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney will meet the group today. Photo: PA
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Vivienne Clarke

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney will meet a group of women on Tuesday who have alleged they were sexually assaulted and discriminated against while serving in the Defence Forces.

The women gave accounts of alleged sexual abuse, discrimination and harassment by other members of the Defence Forces.

The abuse is said to have taken place across three decades.

The women have called for an independent inquiry into the allegations.

Retired army captain Deirdre Byrne, one of the Women of Honour who will meet with Mr Coveney, said there needs to be an acknowledgement and an apology about what happened to women who left the forces.

“It's hugely important. We've all experienced various different things over the years and for that to be swept under the carpet in this day and age is absolutely outrageous – no change will come about if there isn't an acknowledgment of what has happened and an apology is absolutely deserved,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.


“But the most important thing for us is to get the acknowledgement and the apology and move forward. This is about making change for men and women now, for the people coming after us. I want to be in a position, I'm from a military family, and I want to be in a position where my son and my daughter can go into the defence forces and I can be proud and comfortable that they can do that.”

Ms Byrne, who was the first female engineer in the permanent defence forces, said it had been very isolating over the years. “To group together as a strong group of women standing and being able to finally voice, loudly, the issues that we feel need to be addressed is hugely empowering for us.”

There had been countless reports, reviews, issues raised and investigations over the years, she said. “This needs to be different, it needs to be an entirely external, independent review similar to the other militaries around the world. We are pushing hard to see can we finally get the change we fought for independently for so many years.”

Meeting with officials

A meeting last week with officials in the Department of Defence had been positive, she said.


“We were able to go into the details of our experiences and what we felt needed to happen at this point and we felt we were heard.

“Today we're really keen to go in and listen to what the Minister's proposals are. He knows the issues that have gone over the years. They're not unknown and we've explained in detail and brought that information to light last week. For us, we're just keen to hear what he suggests needs to happen, but we know it needs to be entirely different from anything that has happened previously.

“It needs to be a full review of the entire complaints process – that is the commonality with all of the women and the issues and it's not just women, it is men and women who have suffered and when you get into the complaints process, if you are able to get into the complaints process because the culture is so damning, that if you do complain it can destroy your career so you know you're in big trouble if you go down that road any way, but then when you do get into that, if you feel you have to, it's another end to your career at that point, so it needs to be a complete review of that entire system with a radical overhaul going down the line.

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“A key point for us was accountability going forward and our inclusion in the process to ensure that it's fair and fit for purpose.”

Ms Byrne served 13 years before being “forced out the door”. She would love to have remained in the defence forces.

“This is the one key thing that we would love people to understand – the defence forces is not a job, it is a vocation. You go in there, you don’t do it for the money, you do it for your country, because you’re proud to serve – we had to leave those roles, those jobs, the vocation that we absolutely loved because we had no choice, we had to leave.

“I would still be there today I have no doubt, following in my own father's footsteps who did 31 years, so this is a vocation. We don’t go in lightly and we don’t leave lightly. We just had no choice.”

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