The planned statutory inquiry into abuse and bullying in the armed forces will examine incidents dating back four decades and lasting up to three years.
According to the draft terms of reference distributed to victims’ groups, the judge-led inquiry will be responsible for examining allegations of abuse and alleged incidents in Ireland, as well as incidents abroad and on naval vessels.
The investigation will examine the effectiveness of the complaints process related to “discrimination, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct,” Defense Minister Micheál Martin said in a letter to the Women of Honor group, which has reports of widespread mistreatment in the military was the trigger for the investigation.
There will be a separate inquiry into concerns about the apparent high suicide rate among Defense Force personnel, he said. This is done by the National Suicide Research Foundation.
There will be a further non-statutory inquiry into the process of dismissing Defense Forces personnel on medical grounds. Earlier this year, the Defense Forces Independent Review Group (IRG) raised concerns from some members that medical boards were being used within the organization as a form of discipline.
As part of the main investigation, incidents from 1983 will be examined. The draft mandate states that the company “will endeavor to complete its work no later than three years after its incorporation.”
It will examine complaints from Defense Forces and Ministry of Defense personnel. The chairperson will seek assurances from the minister and chief of staff that no personnel will be penalized for lodging a complaint, it said.
Mr Martin has rejected several proposed changes from the Women of Honor group, which has been highly critical of the IRG process and the proposed tribunal.
The group had tried to include complaints relating to data protection and health and safety laws in the terms of reference. Mr Martin said data protection was already covered by the Data Protection Commission.
The inclusion of health and safety issues “would be very comprehensive and could potentially include ‘trips, slips and falls’ that occurred in the workplace,” he said.
He also rejected proposals to expand the definitions of abuse and abuse complaints. The terms of reference must be clearly defined to ensure that the tribunal completes its task in a reasonable timeframe, Mr Martin wrote last week.
The question of whether witnesses are provided legal representation is a matter for the chairman of the tribunal, he said. The mandate is due to be presented to the cabinet in the coming weeks.
The Tánaiste’s letter and draft mandate were published on Monday by the Honorable Women, who said they were “outraged” by some of the wording used by Mr Martin.
He equated “slips, trips and falls” with “rape, sexual assault and other crimes,” they claimed.
“The Tánaiste must withdraw its trivialization of our claims,” the group said.
The Women of Honor accused Mr. Martin of suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome at the hands of the Department of Defense/Defense Forces, where toxic cultures still prevail and all whistleblowers are viewed as traitors and punished accordingly.”
It said the matter should be handled by the Taoiseach’s Department and not the Ministry of Defense “which does not have clean hands in this matter”.
Furthermore, the draft’s provisions are too narrow and the exclusion of health and safety complaints is “unimaginable”, the group said. It said it was seeking further meetings with the Taoiseach, Defense Secretary and Attorney-General on the issue.
Establishing a statutory inquiry was one of the recommendations of the IRG, which released a report in March detailing widespread abuse, bullying and discrimination within the military.
An Garda Síochána is also investigating allegations of abuse within the military as part of the IRG report.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has set up a national unit to investigate allegations of sexual assault and rape by “predators” within the Defense Forces.