Tuesday 21 May 2019

Defence Forces declare war on bullies

Fergus Black

Review board to be set up as research finds sexual harassment in the military is rampant

TOP brass in the Defence Forces are to set up a special board to review how allegations of bullying and harassment are dealt with, it was revealed yesterday.

The move follows new research which claims that sexual harassment and bullying are rampant in the 10,733-strong armed forces 451 of whose members (4.2pc) are female.

A study review board chaired by one of the most senior serving female officers will be set up in the next two weeks to look at existing procedures dealing with interpersonal relationships within the Defence Forces.

Meanwhile, it is understood that the Director of Public Prosecutions is examining at least one case of alleged rape in the Defence Forces.

The incident is alleged to have happened in Dublin earlier this year, according to an RTE report.

PDFORRA, the organisation representing rank and file members in all three armed services, said while it was aware of bullying and sexual harassment within the armed services, personnel felt intimidated about making complaints for fear of damaging their careers.

Only an external ombudsman's office, free of the military chain of command, would encourage people to come forward, said PDFORRA's general secretary John Lucey.

Publication of a new report on alleged bullying and harassment within the Defence Forces sparked a flurry of meetings involving top brass yesterday, including Chief of Staff Lt Gen Colm Mangan, social services representatives and legal officers.

The research by former army captain Tom Clonan, contained in a doctoral thesis, found that 59 out of the 60 women interviewed claimed they had suffered bullying or harassment. Of those, 12 claimed to have been sexually assaulted.

The Defence Forces moved swiftly to discount any suggestions that it had rejected Dr Clonan's findings. A spokesman said it had yet to see a copy of the research, and could not possibly reject something it had not yet studied. Dr Clonan was being invited to discuss his findings with the chief of staff. The spokesman said a study review board to be chaired by a female officer with the rank of commandant would be set up within the next two weeks to examine Dr Clonan's report, and look at existing procedures dealing with interpersonal relationships in areas such as bullying and sexual harassment.

The board would be asked to come up with recommendations on how the system of dealing with women in the Defence Forces can be improved.

A number of women's information days have been planned, offering personnel the opportunity to discuss issues affecting women in the Defence Forces.

Asked why such a board had not been set up in the past, the Defence Forces spokesman said the type of grievances highlighted in Dr Clonan's thesis had not previously come to their attention.

There were various channels through which complaints of bullying or harassment could be made through a unit commander or alternatively through one of the representative bodies, personnel support sections or the chaplaincies. The spokesman said the Defence Forces abhorred the type of behaviour highlighted in the thesis, and if it proved to be correct they would take steps to educate male personnel.

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