89. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Defence if he plans to seek funding to resume the Asgard sail training programme;; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47093/21]
Vol. 1011 No. 7
89. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Defence if he plans to seek funding to resume the Asgard sail training programme;; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47093/21]
The Minister will be more than familiar with the former Asgard sail training programme. It gave incredible opportunities to young people to participate on the vessel formerly known as Asgard II. I would like to see it refloated, not the vessel but the programme. I understand proposals have been made to the Minister on youth education and opportunity. I would like to discuss those with him.
I thank the Deputy. I will happily meet him offline on this issue to give a fuller and more detailed briefing than I am able to give on the floor today, as things progress. As the he will be aware, the Asgard II sank in 2008 and the national sail training programme run by Coiste an Asgard was subsequently wound up.
I understand a number of organisations are involved in sail training in Ireland and the Department of Defence currently provides funding to one of these organisations, Sail Training Ireland. Sail Training Ireland is a charity founded by individuals previously involved with Coiste an Asgard.
A total of €85,000 in funding was provided in 2019, and €20,000 in 2020. It has received no money this year as it has not been possible to have a sail training programme. A performance delivery agreement stipulates that funding provided is to be used to provide a sail training experience for 50 trainees from disadvantaged backgrounds. I am advised that no sail training took place in 2020 or 2021 due to Covid-19 restrictions. A sum of €20,000 was provided in 2020 to help support administrative costs. It is anticipated that €85,000 will be provided in 2022, subject to the resumption of sail training.
Separately, in 2015, as part of the Fresh Start Agreement, the Government undertook to work with the Northern Ireland Executive to agree a funding plan for the Atlantic Youth Trust, AYT, project. A similar commitment was included in the 2016 programme for Government. The proposal was to build a new tall ship at an estimated cost of €15.5 million, with an ongoing funding requirement. Officials in my Department held meetings with the promoters and the Department for Communities in Belfast exploring the project. Progress was slow, in part due to political difficulties in the North. On 24 September 2021, a new pre-budget submission from AYT was received, which will be reviewed by officials.
In summary, the Government is engaged with two sail training organisations. We remain supportive of the principles of the sail training programme and would like to see this done, where possible, on an all-island basis involving participants, North and South. It needs to be robustly assessed with regard to full costs.
I thank the Minister. I would certainly like to meet with him. The national sail training programme was an important programme. It enabled skills building, team building, and the kinds of skills in boat building that we need as an island nation and not just sail training. The Asgard II was a regular visitor to Killala Bay, in particular to mark the French arrival in Killala in 1798. Even before I became a member of this House I regularly witnessed the benefits that it had for participants, and the Asgard has a long association with the State.
The Minister has a proposal in front of him, and I believe that everybody can agree on it in the context of a sail training, skills building and team building programme, and that it should be done on an all-island basis. Is it not appalling that the opportunities the programme can present are being delayed because of political intransigence or political disagreement? This is bigger than politics. This surely is a programme that can be provided even in the political difficulties we are experiencing, because of the bridges that it builds and the experiences that it gives to those participants. Those experiences should be shared without a problem around borders. I would certainly like to meet with the Minister. He has a particular interest in this and it is something that everybody should have an interest in.
If anybody doubts the benefits of sail training, there are some interesting programmes in different parts of the world. From what I have seen, the Spirit of New Zealand is probably the best of them. Some people have perceptions of privilege around sail training, but it is the opposite. I have met a number of people for whom their service on the Asgard II, for example, changed the direction of their lives. We can use sail training proactively in a useful and constructive way to build confidence, teamwork, and self-esteem among people who may not otherwise have an opportunity to benefit from the experience of being part of a crew on a sail training programme. I am committed to trying to deliver this but we need to robustly assess the cost-benefit analysis and so on, and we need to work with partners. We have partners that we can trust, both North and South, to do something valuable in this regard. I look forward in the months ahead, I hope, to updating the House on where the project lies.
I agree with the Minister that this is not about privilege; it is about opportunity. There is nothing privileged about being stuck on a sail training boat in the middle of the Atlantic during a storm. The programme offers opportunities and life experiences, including the experience of travel. We are looking at building an appropriate boat, which involves skilled people. We are constantly talking about the need for apprenticeship programmes. This is an opportunity that also could benefit the apprenticeship programme. I welcome the Minister's long-standing interest in it. Let us all agree to progress it on the basis of the opportunities it offers on an all-island basis.
There are complexities to building a boat. There may be more value for money in purchasing a vessel that is kitted out and suitable for this purpose. We have encountered complexities in the past building vessels. We need to be cautious that if we are contributing taxpayers' money, it represents full value for money and we partner with organisations that can provide transparency and good output. I am confident that we can do all of that. I am also confident that we have strong support in Northern Ireland to be part of the project here. This was discussed, as a minor issue in the bigger scheme of things, in the context of the New Decade, New Approach agreement. This could be a positive North-South project. I believe it could be cost-effective in how it is run and we have willing partners with whom to work. I hope it is something we can progress in the months ahead.
90. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Defence the progress made by the Commission on the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46955/21]
106. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Defence when the Commission on the Defence Forces will report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47119/21]
I welcome that following the commitment made in the programme for Government, the Minister has established within a short timeframe the Commission on the Defence Forces. When does he expect the commission to report? Hopefully, he will be able to give us a commitment that the recommendations put forward in the commission's report will be implemented by Government within a set timeframe.
I propose to take questions Nos. 90 and 106 together.
The programme for Government committed to an independent commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the Defence Forces. This commission was subsequently established by the Government in December 2020, with a mandate to report within 12 months. The Government also approved the terms of reference, based on the programme for Government, and the membership of the commission. The commission’s overall approach will be guided and informed by the White Paper on Defence 2015 and the 2019 White Paper update.
The work of the commission will inform the future development of the Defence Forces and encompasses the following matters: the structure and size of the Defence Forces, including the consideration of appropriate capabilities, structures and staffing; leveraging the capabilities of the RDF in their supports to the Permanent Defence Force, and to make service in the RDF more attractive; governance and high level command and control structures in the Defence Forces; the evolution of remuneration systems and structures in the Defence Forces; and a strategic perspective on HR policies and associated strategies, recruitment, retention and career progression.
As part of a broad consultation process, the commission invited submissions from individuals and organisations on matters related to its terms of reference. The commission received more than 500 submissions, all of which have been published on their website, together with an initial report on the public consultation.
The commission has been established as an independent body and, while it is a matter entirely for the commission, I understand that the commission has met with a broad stakeholder group, including the Defence Forces representative associations, commissioned and enlisted members of the Defence Forces, senior officials and personnel from my Department and the Defence Forces, as well as other groups. Site visits to military locations by members of the commission have taken place at a number of barracks.
The chairman of the commission, Mr. Aidan O'Driscoll, also met with members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in April to discuss the ongoing work of the commission. The commission, in conjunction with the Institute of International and European Affairs hosted their second webinar, The Future of Defence: 2030 and Beyond, on Tuesday, 7 September 2021, which featured a range of international expert speakers.
The establishment of an independent commission on the future of the Defence Forces underpins the Government's commitment to ensuring that the Defence Forces are fit for purpose in meeting immediate requirements and in seeking to develop a longer term vision beyond 2030. The commission is to submit its report by the end of the year and it will be considered fully at that time by the Government.
I am glad the capacity of the RDF was included in the commission's remit because often over the years the very good work of that force has not been given the recognition that it should have. I raised this issue in the House on many occasions. During the previous Dáil, on many occasions in plenary session and at committees, we discussed the issues and the problems of retaining personnel in our Permanent Defence Force. I sincerely hope that pay and conditions will be adequately addressed along with retention policies.
Will the Minister indicate whether it is within the remit of the commission to examine the work of the Department of Defence vis-à-vis its relationship with the Defence Forces? I gather that at times this can be robust. Maybe it is a good thing that it is robust between the two of them, but I do not know whether that provides for the best working relationship.
I sincerely hope that if there are issues relating to the Department as it affects the workings of the Defence Forces on an ongoing basis, they would be considered in the context of the commission's work.
On the Deputy's last question, there is a governance and high-level command and control structure in the Defence Forces discussion within the remit. This involves, to a limited extent, the relationship of the Department of Defence. I am aware that the former Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of the Department had been working on an agreed approach towards that issue and have fed this into the commission's work, which I believe is understood by the chair of the commission. This work has been ongoing for quite a number of months.
In parallel, a review of the Department of Defence is taking place as part of a Civil Service review of Departments. It is appropriate that we are reviewing the functioning and running of the Department of Defence at the same time as an independent commission is looking at the future of the Defence Forces.
On the Reserve Defence Force, I am sure Members will be interested to know that we are progressing the defence legislation at the moment in the Seanad, which will remove the barrier to the RDF serving overseas. I hope that is a signal to the RDF that we very much value the work they do and that we want to expand their role rather than the opposite in the future.
I have one regret with regard to the composition of the membership of the commission. Before the commission was established, I argued in this House that it should include a person who had extensive experience in the Border region during that awful era when our Permanent Defence Force, gardaí and other emergency services had to deal with thugs, criminals, paramilitaries and murderers as they kept our State safe. A person with extensive experience as a senior officer in the Border region during that era should have been included in the commission. That valuable knowledge and experience of the Border would be particularly important.
I had the opportunity to visit some of the barracks and accommodation around the country. I recall a visit to the Curragh Camp some years ago. Some of the living accommodation for our young recruits was just awful and I know there is poor accommodation in some other barracks. I would like a commitment that accommodation will be modernised and brought up to proper standards. Today, most people who join the Army are thankfully coming from homes where there is good accommodation. Sadly, everybody is not but the vast majority of people live in good housing. When they enlist to serve our country, therefore, they should be living in modern, proper accommodation.
I again remind Members to please try to stick to the times. It is unfair on their colleagues.
We are investing in accommodation. In fact, we invested in accommodation in the Curragh Camp in recent years and I visited the upgraded accommodation in the past year or 18 months. We will continue to do that under the capital investment programme that is being rolled out.
I take the Deputy's point regarding the Border issues and ensuring there is knowledge of the challenges that come with the history of the Border in the context of the Defence Forces. We have a former Chief of Staff on the commission, and, of course, the chair of the commission was the Secretary General in the Department of Justice for a period when an awful lot of reform happened. There is, therefore, no shortage of experience on the commission, whether that is military, HR or broader management. It is large group of people - probably slightly larger than I would have liked - but we wanted to get all the skill sets on the commission. I am confident that they are more than qualified to make informed and ambitious recommendations, however.
91. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Defence if Dún Laoghaire will continue to be twinned with a Naval Service vessel in the event of the LÉ Eithne being permanently decommissioned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47144/21]
Before the summer recess, the Minister may recall that I raised the issue of Dún Laoghaire Harbour continuing to be twinned with a naval vessel should the LÉ Eithne be decommissioned. My colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, mentioned the independent Commission on the Defence Forces, which the Minister said was established in December 2020 and was due to report by the end of the year. Does that timeline still stand? What are the prospects of a vessel continuing to be twinned with Dún Laoghaire Harbour?
Never let it be said that the Deputy was not speaking for Dún Laoghaire. He requested in a previous parliamentary question that the replacement of the LÉ Eithne would be twinned with Dún Laoghaire. I reiterate that I cannot make a commitment on this matter now but will bear it in mind when those decisions are made.
The Deputy will be aware that official celebrations marking the Naval Service's 75th anniversary began in Dún Laoghaire Harbour, where the LÉ Samuel Beckett berthed overnight and departed the harbour heralded by a 21-gun salute. I was fortunate enough to be able to mark this important anniversary with the Naval Service in both Dublin and Cork earlier in September. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate and commend the Naval Service personnel for their dedication and excellence during the month on which the 75th anniversary falls.
I am satisfied that the Naval Service continues to maintain and further develop its strong connection with the harbour and the local community today and into the future. There is a long-standing and ongoing tradition of Naval Service ships using Dún Laoghaire pier and harbour, both for shelter and shore leave. The Naval Service will also make use of the harbour for training by the Naval Service Reserve. The flagship, LÉ Eithne, is twinned with Dún Laoghaire as a part of the Naval Service fleet adopted ports. The commissioning ceremony of LÉ James Joyce took place in Dún Laoghaire in 2015, and the freedom of entry to the county was bestowed on the Naval Service by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in 2017 in recognition of its work in the Mediterranean humanitarian crisis.
The connection between Dún Laoghaire Harbour and the Naval Service is an important and strong one that continues to be fostered on an ongoing basis. That will be factored into the considerations to which the Deputy referred.
I thank the Minister very much for those remarks, particularly about the connection between Dún Laoghaire Harbour and the Naval Service. That is a connection we want to maintain, as I am sure he can appreciate. I am also glad that he raised the 75th anniversary of our Naval Service. It is important to acknowledge the great work undertaken by our Naval Service and the wider Defence Forces.
The Minister mentioned Operation Pontus in the Mediterranean, for which the LÉ Eithne and the Naval Service were awarded freedom of entry to the county, and how the EU awarded our Defence Forces in 2015 for their work. It is important to recognise the thousands of lives our Naval Service and Defence Forces have saved, particularly in the Mediterranean. Can the Minister outline the current scope of operations being undertaken by our Defence Forces in that region at present?
We have Defence Forces officers in headquarters in respect of the ongoing EU-led operation in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, we do not have the capacity to send a ship abroad right now, either on a humanitarian mission for a sustained period or to be part of EU operations in the Mediterranean. That is because we have had recruitment and retention issues in the Naval Service, which Members will be aware of because I have talked on the record about it many times. We need to address those issues and we are setting about doing so.
As a result, however, we need to focus the assets and crews we have on those ships for fisheries protection and the other security work they do in Irish waters. In the not too distant future, however, I hope to be in a position to ensure that at all times, we have the option to be able to send a ship abroad on a humanitarian, peacekeeping or peace enforcement mission. The three arms of the Defence Forces, namely, the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Army, should all have opportunities overseas. That should be part of a career in the Defence Forces, should people choose it.
While we are on the subject of the Defence Forces, I thank the Minister for meeting with the Women of Honour group and those women who are currently serving in our Defence Forces, and for his actions and statements on behalf of the Government for instigating an independent investigation.
I pay tribute to those brave women who have stepped forward to speak out about their own experiences, and to the fantastic work done by Katie Hannon of RTÉ, and, indeed, Dr. Tom Clonan and others, in uncovering these types of issues. The Minister might inform the House when the investigation is due to begin.
The next question will deal with this issue in more detail. As I said earlier, however, we are taking this issue seriously. I want to acknowledge the courage of the women in the Women of Honour group, and the many women currently serving in the Defence Forces, who came forward and spoke with me in the way they did in the context of their experiences. I want to give reassurance to those women that, one, I believe them, and, two, we are going to act with them to ensure that we set up a comprehensive and independent review process that can report back to me, and, ultimately, to Government, on how we respond appropriately to ensure some of the experiences that have been highlighted to me are not experienced by people who join the Defence Forces in the future.
92. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Defence the status of the investigation as a result of a campaign (details supplied); if he is considering an inquiry to report back on the steps his Department has taken to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47127/21]
94. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for Defence the mechanism of expression of interest, interview, assessment and or evaluation by which the nominees to the inquiry to investigate the disturbing disclosures of sexual violence, sexual assault and rape in the Defence Forces will be appointed given his statement that arrangements for same are at an advanced stage. [46913/21]
95. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Defence the steps he is taking to improving reporting mechanisms for Defence Forces personal experiencing sexual abuse, harassment and bullying. [46659/21]
108. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Defence the status of the independent review into allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the Defence Forces; the person or body that will carry out the review; the terms of reference for the review; the timeline for the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47155/21]
112. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Defence if he will establish a full independent investigation to determine the extent of sexual abuse, harassment and assault in the Defence Forces. [46658/21]
130. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Defence if he will outline the changes that have been made to the process whereby discrimination allegations are reviewed by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47133/21]
131. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Defence the current status of his engagement with a group (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47150/21]
137. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Defence the steps taken to investigate recent allegations of sexual harassment in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47147/21]
142. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Defence the measures that are being taken to address claims of abuse within the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46098/21]
My question is to ask the Minister for Defence the status of the investigation into the claims made by the Women of Honour campaign, whether he is considering an enquiry to report back on the steps his Department has taken to date and whether he can give the date as to when it will commence.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 92, 94, 95, 108, 112, 130, 131, 137 and 142 together.
As the Deputy will be aware, a number of other Deputies have submitted questions on this important matter, to which I have responded. In that respect, the House will be aware of the actions being taken to establish an independent review, which will be undertaken by external, independent and unbiased experts. The review will examine the effectiveness of current policies and procedures dealing with workplace issues, such as dignity, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination.
I had the opportunity to meet with participants from the Women of Honour group and with a group of serving members of the Defence Forces on Tuesday of this week, where I listened carefully to their views. I have given my commitment that the serious issues they have raised will be comprehensively addressed. The terms of the review are being finalised and will be considered in light of the issues raised by the Women of Honour group and the group of serving female members at recent meetings. Further engagement with stakeholders, including the representative associations, will additionally inform the final terms of the review. We are also organising the structure that the Women of Honour will be comfortable with, I hope, in an ongoing engagement to make sure we are not missing anything for which they are asking, before we finalise the terms of the review.
Arising from the 2002 publication of the external advisory committee on the Defence Forces and the three subsequent reports from the independent monitoring group, a number of reforms were implemented in the intervening years for addressing allegations of inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment, harassment and bullying, which are contained in regulation and policy documents. While there has been progress in recent years, it is clear from the views expressed to me that the pervading culture and the application of the current policies, systems and procedures in place for dealing with bullying, harassment, discrimination and sexual harassment and assault have not served, and are not serving, all Defence Forces personnel well.
The independent review, which had been under consideration for several months, is timely and necessary and needs to be undertaken without delay. It is also my intention to bring the final report from this review to Government. I know, from my discussions with these women, that they are seeking change to ensure the Defence Forces of the future is a place where inappropriate behaviour is not tolerated and where all individuals, both men and women, can reach their full potential in safety and in a positive environment. I can also confirm I am looking to establish interim solutions to support Defence Forces members, past or present, affected by these issues. Options are under consideration. Deputy Gannon and others have raised a number of suggestions in that space, which we will take on board.
I assure the Deputies that the Chief of Staff, Secretary General and I, are absolutely committed to providing a safe place of work for all employees in the defence organisation, both male and female. All individuals have a right to be treated with respect, equality and dignity in the workplace and to carry out their duties free from any form of bullying, gender discrimination, or harassment, to reach their full potential.
I ask that no assumptions be made by this House, Members or the Minister about earlier statements that this involves a minority of members of the Defence Forces. I ask that all be withheld until after the inquiry. It is dismissive, unhelpful and disrespectful to the women who have come forward. The Minister has met with the five former Defence Force members and 14 current members. Those involved in the Women of Honour campaign felt the meeting was beneficial and positive. I ask that this engagement be committed to and it should be ongoing. What will be done about those who are currently involved in the Defence Forces?
I have listened to the Minister's responses this morning and I am glad he has done a complete U-turn on the inquiry to be set up to investigate these allegations made by the Women of Honour. All of us were shocked and sickened that women of different ages had to go on public radio and bear their souls and private lives to bring about real change. When I heard a young member of the Defence Forces saying she was pinned against the counter and sexually assaulted, and all she could say to a senior officer was "Yes, Sir", it absolutely sickened me and I felt such rage and anger on her behalf. That is why I put down the detailed question to the Minister regarding the procedures and processes he will use to appoint people to this inquiry to make sure it is independent.
I welcome the inquiry and the U-turn. I pay tribute to the women and to the journalist who made the documentary. It was courageous. I listened on my way back from holidays. Three of us were in a car and we did not open our mouths as we listened to it. The terms of reference are important as well as the time within which the review will be completed, the women being central to the terms of reference, a date for its completion and publication, and a review of all the reports that have been done, with a view to publicising them. This goes back more than three decades. What happened, internally, regarding Dr. Tom Clonan's research on sexual and physical abuse? What records do the Defence Forces keep on the reporting of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment and assault? How many non-disclosure agreements have there been? Can the Minister check that and come back to us? How many cases have been brought to his attention?
Members of the Defence Forces, like everybody else, are entitled to a presumption of innocence. Clearly, a dark cloud hangs over the organisation, but that should not extend to individual members nor should there be a presumption about them. It is regrettable that anybody would suggest otherwise. With regard to the jurisdictional issue, the Defence Forces claimed at the Workplace Relations Commission that the commission did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. Will that practice continue? It is important there is confidence in the ombudsman's procedure, as it is there is confidence in the Garda ombudsman, even though there does not seem to be such in this House, among senior people, up to the Taoiseach. If people to do not get what they believe to be justice through the ombudsman, they need to be able to continue to the WRC and not have its jurisdiction questioned.
I express my solidarity with the Women of Honour. Their bravery has forced this review. Action should have been taken long before now. Sexual abuse in the Defence Forces was highlighted by Dr. Tom Clonan more than 20 years ago. He has since said:
These problems I demonstrated were systemic. In 21 years, I have never been approached by anybody from the Department of Defence.
Deputy Coveney was Minister for Defence between 2014 and 2016 when this systemic abuse was far from being a secret. No real action was taken then. I welcome the fact that action is being taken now, on foot of these women speaking out so bravely. This must be a thorough review and strong action must be taken on foot of it.
I can assure Deputies that appropriate action will be taken on the on the foot of recommendations from a review that needs to be independent and comprehensive. I am committed to making sure that happens. I am committed to ensuring the women who have been brave enough to come forward are part of the process of setting up that review mechanism to make sure everybody has full confidence in it. That is what we are trying to do.
Dr. Tom Clonan made a valuable contribution more than 20 years ago in his doctoral thesis. After that contribution there were, as I outlined earlier, quite a number of structural, systems and procedural changes occurred. There were three different independent monitoring groups. Dr. Eileen Doyle headed up that process, did a number of reports and made a series of recommendations. I was at the publication of some of those reports and recommendations when I was previously Minister for Defence. There was certainly an understanding that processes and procedures were being put in place-----
The Minister’s time is up.
-----to try to deal effectively with bullying and harassment in the Defence Forces. Clearly, that has not resulted-----
Thank you, Minister.
-----in the kind of change that is needed. That is why this fundamental review is now needed to make sure we get it right this time.
The Minister will have another minute at the end to reply.
I commend the women who have come forward on their bravery. As a former member of the Defence Forces, I must say the "Women of Honour" documentary was hard listening but I was not at all shocked. I know of incidents that occurred during my short three years of service. I know first-hand these issues were not responded to and were merely brushed under the carpet. We need to send a strong message to the women of Ireland and to all women who may feel inspired or called to serve in the Defence Forces that they can do so and will be fully respected and protected.
Will the Minister commit to ensuring all who want to come forward can by removing the necessity for non-disclosures? Will the Minister also ensure the process is open to all sectors of the Defence Forces, including the Reserve Defence Force?
We have heard some ugly truths about how some people in positions of power continue, not to behave but to operate, because that is what it is: operating within a certain culture. Is it a minority or a majority? We do not know. I agree with my colleague that we should await outcomes and results.
Why have the reviews, structures and systems that have been put in place already not worked? I have no doubt there were some well-meaning people who tried hard. That is an important point, not just for the Defence Forces but for society at large.
We mentioned Dr. Tom Clonan. I wrote to the Minister, which I had never done before, to ask him, when appointing people to the inquiry, not that he appoint Dr. Tom Clonan but that he consider him with all qualified others, because of his extensive background and expertise.
Clearly, we are in this position because the processes and procedures on the ground have utterly failed. Indeed, in certain situations, they have added to the distress, the bullying and harassment. The process itself has become an abuse. That is why we are here today. I asked specific questions about the publication of the report. Will it be published? Will a time limit be set? I have asked about non-disclosure agreements. How many have there been? Have they been brought to the attention of the Minister? What is his opinion on that?
On the letter that has gone out from the new Chief of Staff, imagine now, in September 2021, he is writing to all the members to say harassment and bullying will not be tolerated. Does that not tell you there is something seriously wrong with the processes and procedures up to now?
What has been brought to the attention of the Minister or the attention of previous Ministers for Defence? I specifically asked that. Have cases been brought to the attention of the Minister or that of previous Ministers for Defence? Will the Minister clarify that?
Retired company quartermaster sergeant Karina Molloy says "it is absolutely systemic". It is not a case of a few bad apples, but systemic. Of course, misogyny is part of the DNA of armies and police forces in all capitalist societies. While that is not to say all members of those forces are sexist, it is to say that sexism is part of the culture. Wayne Couzens, the killer of Sarah Everard, was said to have indecently exposed himself on more than one occasion and was nicknamed "the rapist" by colleagues. His brand of toxic masculinity was not a deal breaker for his career until he did what he did last March.
A Government in which the Minister served explicitly excluded the Defence Forces from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. It did not allow members of the Defence Forces to unionise or to strike. None of the above are magic bullets, but had these rights have been in place, they might have acted as some deterrent to abusers in powerful positions. These are not a few bad apples. We do not need a tweak here and there to fix things. We need systemic change to address systemic rot.
For the record, I am not making any assumptions in my statements today. If people took that from what I said earlier, I say that I am not prejudging any outcomes from an independent review. That will be a matter for a robust and independent process that involves skilled and experienced people. They will make their judgments and they will make their recommendations. We will deal with the truth of that. I just want to say that.
On Deputy Connolly's questions, we have not yet agreed a timeline. We have not even finalised the terms of the review. We are going through a process with other stakeholders, including the women of honour and including a group of women in the Defence Forces. We will also meet the representative bodies before we finalise all of that. Therefore, I cannot give Deputy the answer to those questions, but I hope she understands we need to go through a process. Rather than trying to give quick answers, we want to make sure we do this properly, give it enough time, and make sure the right people are involved in that review.
On individual cases, I have seen some protected disclosures that have come to me. I cannot speak about those publicly. I am not allowed to legally. Of course, we have a process within the Department of Defence to deal appropriately with protected disclosures when they come.
93. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence the number of protected disclosures relating to the Defence Forces that have been made to the office of the Minister for Defence in the past ten years; the subject matter concerned; and the action that was taken on foot of the information supplied to him or his predecessors by serving or former members of the Defence Forces or by members of the public or departmental officials. [47070/21]
103. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to any members of the Defence Forces who has made protected disclosures to him or his Department and who has been victimised as a consequence; and the action that has been taken to ensure whistleblowers have full protections. [47071/21]
My question is how many protected disclosures relating to the Defence Forces have been made to the Minister or previous Ministers for Defence in the past ten years, and the subject matter concerning those protected disclosures. I understand the Minister cannot go beyond that, but I will follow up with a further question.
I thank the Deputy for the questions, which are linked to Deputy Connolly’s question, and this gives me a bit of time to answer it.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 103 together.
In accordance with the terms of section 22 of the Protected Disclosure Act 2014, an annual report on the total number of protected disclosures made in the preceding year is prepared and published on the Department's website. This report is required to be prepared and published not later than 30 June in each year in relation to the immediate preceding year in a form which does not enable the identification of the persons involved. The report contains the number of protected disclosures made to the public body; the action, if necessary, taken in response to those protected disclosures; such other information relating to those protected disclosures; and the action taken as may be requested by the Minister from time to time.
The following are the numbers of protected disclosures received in the years 2014, to date. In 2014 it was two; in 2015 it was three; in 2016 it was two; in 2017 it was 11; in 2018 it was four; in 2019 it was four; in 2020 it was 12; and 2021 it was ten. These numbers relate to the total number of disclosures made to the defence organisation. They are not broken down further into the allocation of the disclosure, which is in keeping with the confidentiality requirements specified in the 2014 Act. The making of a disclosure by a member of a formation does not necessarily mean the disclosure relates to that formation. No civil servant in the Department of Defence has made a protected disclosure. Section 16 of the Act provides that, subject to exemptions, "A person to whom a protected disclosure is made, and any person to whom a protected disclosure is referred in the performance of that person’s duties, shall not disclose to another person any information that might identify the person by whom the protected disclosure was made."
On this basis, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the specific detail that may identify a discloser. Information disclosed to me relates to a broad range of issues, including administrative, financial, regulatory, and health and safety issues. This latter category includes bullying and harassment.
Each disclosure is assessed by officials in a joint civil-military protected disclosures office. Based on their initial assessment, courses of action are recommended to me. These can include the use of internal procedures where information relates to personal employment matters, the appointment of an external reviewer or the transfer of information to appropriate statutory authorities that have powers of investigation, that is to say, An Garda Síochána or others.
The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 provides for independent mechanisms whereby claims of penalisation for making a disclosure can be adjudicated. In the case of members of the Defence Forces, the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces is empowered to deal with claims of penalisation. Based on the above, I am satisfied there are sufficient safeguards and processes in place to provide protection to disclosers.
The linked question, No. 103, asked if the Minister's attention has been drawn to any members of the Defence Forces who have made protected disclosures to him or his Department and who have been victimised as a consequence, and the action taken to give those whistleblowers full protection. I know of one whistleblower who was discharged on Monday. The reason for his discharge was he was regarded as a maligner and an idler. I will not disclose his name because I have not spoken to him directly to allow this. He is no longer a member of the Defence Forces. He was discharged as a result of an illness he got while in the Defence Forces. He was marginalised and regarded as a person who was of no benefit to the Defence Forces.
There are quite a number of such individuals. Another former Defence Forces member has sent emails to me, which I know the Minister has received as well, and he has reminded him 70 times of a litany of sexual abuse of male members of the Defence Forces. The discloser has written to a number of people about this. The allegations made are serious in the extreme, and some of them could stand up in court. I understand the Minister's hands are tied. However, there are whistleblowers, three of whom have been discharged from the Air Corps in the past three years. That suggests there is something odd going on.
I am somewhat limited in what I say, because if I comment on the content of any protected disclosure I have received, I am at risk of identifying somebody or of breaking the law, and I obviously do not want to do that. All I can say is we have a system in the Department to deal with protected disclosures. Our Secretary General takes that very seriously. We act on protected disclosures as we deem necessary and appropriate in a way that is consistent with our legal obligations. There is an absolute obligation on us to protect those making a protected disclosure regardless of the issues they raise and to keep the details of their protected disclosure confidential in the appropriate way, and we will continue to do so. Sometimes it results in the setting up of an investigation. Sometimes we refer a file to An Garda Síochána. Sometimes we ask a senior counsel to make recommendations in advising us how to proceed. There are different ways of responding to a protected disclosure but we need to protect the individuals involved.
I understand that, and that is why I was trying to be careful in my own comments that I was not identifying, but I know of some of these protected disclosures and what is contained in them because they have made them to me or to other Members of this House. Some of these disclosures relate to the Air Corps and some to the Army. Some of them have been found to be correct in the information they presented to Ministers, yet no action seems to have been taken.
I presume the Minister accepts it is a big step for somebody in one of the military establishments to go against the chain of command, to go outside the circle, and that means he or she does not have faith. Does the Minister accept there are quite a number of members of the Defence Forces who do not have faith in the internal mechanisms to address problems within the Defence Forces, problems as serious as racism, sexual abuse and bullying, as we have seen from earlier questions?
From my experience, when people join the Defence Forces, they are loyal to the Defence Forces and to the country. That is why they serve their country. Part of their training is to reinforce that loyalty to the system they are part of, which involves a command structure that is very different from any other form of employment. For someone to go against that means he or she is effectively going against the grain. This week I met serving members of the Defence Forces as well as the women of honour, and it takes a lot of courage to speak out in the way they are doing so very directly to me. In many ways, they are committed and loyal to the Defence Forces and its future. Speaking out or issuing a protected disclosure against an organisation you are committing a career to is something that needs to be taken very seriously, and it is
96. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Defence the status of the implementation of the recommendations of the report by the independent review group on Jadotville; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47153/21]
I realise we are running out of time so I will be brief. My question is on the independent review on Jadotville. We were to discuss it in the Dáil. I believe the Minister was open to discussing it in the Dáil. It contains 19 recommendations. My question is about their implementation. I know the Minister spoke about it in the Seanad, but the report was only published on that day.
I am happy to come back in when we have more time. This is a report I am sure the Deputy read over the summer because she has spoken about it on more than one occasion. The battle of Jadotville occurred 60 years ago this month. This significant event in military history occurred during the Irish peacekeeping mission in the Congo. The issue of awarding military medals to personnel who served at Jadotville has been considered on a number of occasions and, most recently, an independent review group, IRG, was established to examine the issue of awarding military medals to personnel who served at Jadotville. The IRG’s report was published in full on 15 July 2021.
I publicly welcomed the report on its publication last July. The report provides a comprehensive, multidimensional and contextualised account of the battle of Jadotville and its aftermath. The conclusions and recommendations are based on a rigorous and objective examination of all material and evidence available. The deeply unsettling aftermath of Jadotville is acknowledged in the report. Last July when I addressed the Seanad, I apologised to the men of A Company 35th Infantry Battalion who were not provided with the necessary supports or the deserved recognition of their service and valiant actions on their return from Jadotville.
The report of the independent review group is substantial and makes a number of recommendations in respect of the issue of the awarding of medals, recognition of the role of families, and the support they provided to veterans in respect of veterans' affairs. While some of the recommendations and, indeed, some of the commentary in the report fell well outside the group's terms of reference - it is important to say that - all recommendations have been considered at a high level. While some of these can be actioned in the shorter term, other recommendations relate to longer term matters. Recommendations that can be actioned in the short term include honouring the role of families and acknowledging the support they provided to veterans, and planning for a commemorative event to mark the 60th anniversary of Jadotville.
It is my intention to release a detailed statement on progress made on the IRG recommendations in the coming weeks.
I asked the Minster about the implementation of the recommendations. He might come back to me on that. I am glad he said that some of the comments in the report were outside the terms of reference. Perhaps he was only referring to the recommendations. When I read it, much of the language jarred with me. There is a review of the film on Jadotville, which is not very flattering, but that is okay. However, they used that review to fit into their commentary. It reminds me of a certain other report that was published recently. I will leave it at that because the time is up. I ask the Minister for a debate in the Dáil on this comprehensive report of more than 500 pages.
We have no time for an answer. Is the Minister taking Leaders' Questions?
I am not.
In that case, the Minister can respond to Deputy Connolly while we wait for the Tánaiste to arrive, if he wishes to do so.
I will be brief. There is much interest in this issue. A judicial review is also under way in respect of challenging the report, and it is difficult for me to comment in too much detail until that judicial review has been settled and we get a clear outcome. We are, however, committed to implementing the recommendations in the report.
To be honest, some elements in the report take away from it. I refer to commentary concerning public representatives and what they have said and done on campaigns etc. It was unhelpful that the report focused on that aspect of the debate on Jadotville.
What is in the report, though, regarding an historical account of what happened, is valuable and accurate. Much work went into that element and it should guide us in future. That is where we are, but I will be happy to have a more substantial debate on this issue when we have an opportunity to do so.
It would be helpful if the judicial review was concluded, because that would allow us to have that debate without having to be concerned about whether our comments might influence the outcome of that legal process. That is just a suggestion, but I will be happy to hold a debate whenever the Members would like to have it.