Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has said he will set up an independent external review into concerns raised by the Women of Honour group.

The group of retired members of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps met the minister to discuss a review into their stories of abuse which featured in a recent RTÉ Radio 1 documentary.

The Women of Honour documentary uncovered allegations of sexism, bullying, sexual assault and rape in the Defence Forces.

The minister met with five of the women today for around two hours. Separately, he met with 14 serving members of the Defence Forces.

Speaking afterwards, one member of the Women of Honour group, retired Army Captain Diane Byrne, said the minister apologised to them.

Mr Coveney said he would also make another apology at the appropriate time and place.

Earlier, Ms Byrne said that they were seeking acknowledgement for the abuse they suffered and feel that an apology is "absolutely deserved".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms Byrne said: "We've all experienced various different things over the years and for that to be swept under the carpet in this day and age is absolutely outrageous.

"No change will come about if there isn't an acknowledgement of what has happened and an apology would be absolutely deserved."

She said that there needs to be a wholly independent review of the complaints process within the Defence Forces.

Former Army officer, Dr Tom Clonan, whose research first exposed discrimination and sexual abuse in the Defence Forces 21 years ago, has welcomed the outcome of today's meeting between the Defence Miniser and members of the Women of Honour group.

On RTÉ's Six One News, he said the the women felt that they had been listened to and had received an apology from the minister which was very meaningful, given the trauma they had experienced.

Dr Clonan said the women had also spoken very positively about the Secretary General at the Department of Defence, and had been very impressed by her commitment to ending sexual violence and harassment in the Defence Forces once and for all.

Last night, another woman who served in the Defence Forces provided details of a sexual assault she suffered while a Junior Commissioned Officer.

On Claire Byrne Live, 'Anna' told Katie Hannon that she was raped by a fellow officer who came into her room and into her bed while she was asleep.

She said it happened after she went to bed after attending a social function at a barracks.

She said she managed to push the man off her and to make him get dressed and leave her room.

She reported what happened to her Commanding Officer but the investigation which followed further traumatised her and she had to live in the same barracks as the officer who raped her.

She was also put through a cross examination by the man who assaulted her during which he asked her how many drinks she had consumed and why her door was not locked.

She said she was ostracised by some of her male colleagues and all of her female colleagues.

One woman told her to drop the complaint but she persisted.

She said after months of pressure she consented to lesser charges and her rapist was found guilty of being drunk, unlawfully entering a female's quarters and unlawfully getting undressed.

'Anna' decided that she would never recover unless she left the Defence Forces.


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Diane Byrne said: "For us we're just keen to see what he [Simon Coveney] suggests needs to happen, but we know it needs to be entirely different from anything that has happened previously. It needs to be a full review of the complaints process end to end."

Some men also suffered, she said.

"That is the commonality with all of the women and the issues and it's not just women. It is men and women who have suffered and when you get into the complaints process, if you are able to get into the complaints process, because the culture is so damming that if you do complain it can destroy your career, so you know you're in big trouble if you do go down that road."

Ms Byrne was the first female engineer in the permanent Defence Forces. She left the army after 13 years.

She said that "it's been very isolating over the years and to group together as a strong group of women standing and being able to voice loudly the issues, we feel need to be addressed is hugely empowering".

Ms Byrne and another member of the Women of Honour group Karina Molloy attended a meeting last week with officials from the Department for Defence.

"It was a long meeting. It was a positive meeting. We were able to go into the detail of our experiences and what we felt needed to help at this point. We felt that we were heard."

Ms Byrne added: "Over the years there has been countless reports. There's been reviews. There's been issues raised and investigations. It needs to be different.

"It needs to be entirely external independent review similarly to the other militaries around the world, so we are pushing hard to see can we finally get the change we fought for independently for years."