Perpetrators of sexual assault in the Defence Forces progressed through the ranks “safe in the knowledge that many have gone before, many will follow”, it has been claimed.
Commandant Des Connolly told officers yesterday about the most extreme cases that emerged “as the organisational will to really tackle the problem is not there”.
He said senior officers were involved in “explaining away” sexual assaults, according to personal narratives.
A reluctance to do the morally and legally correct thing in the face of allegations and a lack of active measures to deal with the problem at the lowest level were also evident, he added.
He said seeking justice for the victim “played second fiddle” to the impact on an individual or officer’s career.
During briefings with members, he said it was clear the officer corps is central to cultural change.
“We are the ones responsible for creating a safe and secure environment here at home in our workplace for all our colleagues,” Comdt Connolly said.
“But we need reassurance and evidence that, in the face of a difficult decision, we will be supported in doing the right thing despite implications to the chain of command or the organisation.”
Comdt Connolly was speaking on a motion backing a policy of zero tolerance to all forms of violence at work at the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers’ (RACO) biennial conference. The motion passed unanimously.
The move follows allegations in the RTÉ documentary Women of Honour.
Delegate Ross Barrett said he is married to an army officer and has female colleagues, and there is no denying this behaviour exists in the organisation.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Simon Coveney accepted the Defence Forces are more than “1,000 people short”.
He said he soon expected an independent commission to produce “arguably the most important document in the defence space” in his lifetime.
RACO general secretary Comdt Conor King, pointing to the staffing crisis, said that between 2016 and 2020 the organisation recruited 3,116 personnel but lost 3,679.
“This rate of churn has also led to a crippling recruitment effort, delivered by our members, but no amount of water has been able to fill the leaky bucket that the organisation has become,” he said.
He said the Defence Forces are “over-committed” overseas and pension entitlements have been insufficient for recruits since 2013.
RACO president Luke Foley forecast a “generation resignation”. He said members are leaving for jobs in the civil service and individuals are put in management roles with barely a year’s service.
“On the current course I had a student look for a day off to complete his medical to apply for the gardaí,” he said.
“A significant number of our members are exploring the option of leaving early. I strongly believe that if we do not address these issues now, we will see a large number of our middle management leave the organisation in the coming years.”