The General Secretary of PDFORRA has said an independent external review of allegations of harassment, sexual assault and rape in the Defence Forces must establish the facts of what happened.

Speaking on the first day of the PDFORRA annual conference in Co Kerry, Ger Guinan said he absolutely believed the women who made the allegations.

Ger Guinan said members were shocked to hear allegations of sexual assault, harassment and rape

PDFORRA represents around 8,500 men and women in the Army, Navy and Air Corps.

One-hundred-and-twenty of them are attending as delegates at the association's annual conference in Killarney – the first full, in-person gathering in two years due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Mr Guinan said members of the association were shocked to hear allegations of sexual assault, harassment and rape made by female Defence Forces members in the Women of Honour documentary, broadcast last month on RTÉ.

He said the external independent review into the allegations has to work.

"If we are to retain women in the Defence Forces, these incidents have to be addressed," Mr Guinan told RTÉ News.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Mr Guinan called on his members to give "100% support" to the review.

"There can be no hiding ground for this kind of behaviour."

He said PDFORRA had supported members taking complaints of harassment and bullying, although he acknowledged that sometimes the outcomes were "poor".

He said other complaints were dealt with through litigation, with support from the association's solicitor.

Mr Guinan said if there were complaints from other members, they would be supported too.

PDFORRA President Mark Keane said they have raised the issue of falling numbers

The allegations come at a time of falling numbers within the Defence Forces, now more than 1,000 short of the target strength of 9,500.

"We have raised this. We have been pro-active. We have been reasonable," PDFORRA President Mark Keane said.

"Unfortunately, it seems to be falling on deaf ears."

The conference continues tomorrow, when it will be addressed by Defence Minister Simon Coveney and by the Defence Forces' Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Sean Clancy.

President Michael D Higgins will address the conference dinner tomorrow night.