The Women of Honour group has said it is “not happy” with the Government’s draft terms of reference for an independent review into allegations of bullying, sexual abuse and harassment in the defence forces.
Retired company quartermaster Sgt Karina Molloy told RTÉ radio that a full commission of inquiry was needed and that the group “can’t be part of such a flawed and unfit-for-purpose process because we have a responsibility of all the victims that are banking on us to make a huge impression”.
“We have a responsibility to once and for all bring about radical change and to root out the systemic toxic culture in the defence forces. This system won’t do it, this review won’t do it,” Ms Molloy told Katie Hannon, the broadcaster behind RTÉ’s Women of Honour documentary which aired earlier this year.
“We’re saying why don’t you skip the independent review, and go straight to the commission of inquiry with full statutory investigation powers,” said Ms Molloy. “That’s what we wanted. Why waste tax payers money on a review.”
Ms Molloy said the group had expected to see an “independent facilitator” brought in to oversee the terms of reference of the inquiry and that all stakeholders, including Women of Honour, would be brought in to “workshop” these terms of reference.
However, the terms presented by the department of defence had not been reviewed independently, she said. Under the current terms, witnesses will not be “compelled” to give evidence, added Ms Molloy. “The problem is we want them to delve into what happens after the victims put in their complaint… once again they are protecting themselves as a department and they’re also protecting the perpetrator.
“We’re being allowed to tell our stories but they’re not investigating as to what went wrong with the investigation and how to rectify it, how to stem out the toxic culture.”
Questions must be asked as to “how did the victim get re-victimised”, she added.
Ms Molloy acknowledged that the Minister for Defence Simon Coveney had contacted the group on Friday, stating that the women could now bring legal advisors to meetings on the review process.
“That had been a sticking point because he said that this is not a legal process, that we are not changing any legislation here,” said Ms Molloy. “We are thankful that he has changed his position in allowing us to bring in our legal advisor and we welcome the chance of going into the room again to bring things forward.”
Ms Molloy said the group would continue to engage with the department on the inquiry because it wanted to ensure “radical change” happens. “We’ve made it clear to the minister and the secretary general with correspondence over the past four weeks that we weren’t happy with their proposed terms of reference and we felt we were getting nowhere, we were being railroaded into an express train that we didn’t want to get on.”
Asked to comment on the group’s concerns, a spokeswoman for the department of defence said it had shared draft terms of reference on October 21st with “the relevant stakeholders for an independent review into the matters brought to light by the Women of Honour Group”.
“At this stage in the process the Department has received feedback from all stakeholders other than this Women of Honour Group,” the spokeswoman said. “We are keen to progress the review without delay and would welcome the continued engagement and to meet the Women of Honour group.”
“Further meetings, including facilitated meetings, have been offered by the department. These offers were put forward again last week and yesterday. The Group are welcome to bring whom they wish to the meeting.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on defence, Sorca Clarke, said it was “clearly inadequate for an internal review to be held, with no power to compel witnesses or apportion blame”.
“The survivors are clear that a mere review does not go far enough,” said Ms Clarke. “If these serious allegations are to be addressed and learned from, they want to see a robust, independent investigation which can identify the issues and put in place mechanisms to ensure no other women are treated in the same way again.
“They have been clear in setting out how there must be a complaints system outside of the Defence Forces structure, to ensure it is independent and impartial. This is vital to ensure survivors can have confidence in the handling of any future complaints.”