The Defence Minister has pledged to deliver a “zero-tolerance approach” to bullying, harassment and sexual abuse in the Defence Forces.
Simon Coveney has confirmed the appointment of a new confidential contact person (CCP) that will allow members to report abuse anonymously.
On Newstalk Breakfast Minister Simon Coveney said the CCP would be completely independent of both the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence.
Confidential contact person
The post has been created as an interim measure while a “very comprehensive and completely independent review” of the practices and procedures within the Defence Forces is carried out.
“This is not just about procedural and structural change it is also about cultural change and by the way, Ireland is not the only country that has had to deal with this issue,” he said. “Many other countries have as well.
“That doesn’t excuse it, but this process needs to deliver over time a zero-tolerance approach towards bullying harassment and sexual abuse in our Defence Forces and we need to change a culture to make sure people feel comfortable coming forward and making complaints and really that is what this process is about.”
Minister Coveney noted that “one of the real challenges” facing the Defence Forces is that official data is not reflecting the scale of the problem.
“If you look at the official numbers, this is an issue that has been reducing significantly over the last ten to 20 years but actually, if you listen to people’s stories, that doesn’t tally,” he said.
“In other words, there doesn’t seem to be an appropriate avenue to actually speak out, to express concern and to get help – and we are going to fix that.”
He said crimes like sexual abuse or rape in the Defence Forces should be reported to the Gardaí.
“The problem is that many women in particular - it is not only women, it is also some men - clearly don’t feel that they can come forward and report without effectively having a label on their back or being accused of being a trouble maker or whatever,” he said.
“That is a culture we are trying to stamp out. We have not done that successfully, but this review mechanism needs to ensure that happens.”
He said he is determined to work with former and current members to deliver a Defence Forces that protects people and “welcomes diversity as opposed to responding negatively to it.”
“That is the future of the Defence Forces that it is my job to deliver and I am going to work with serving personnel and former personnel to make sure we get this review right.”
The CCP will be provided by the Raiseaconcern service – a group Minister Coveney said has “a lot of credibility in this space in terms of listening to people confidentially.”