President Michael D Higgins has said he hopes a review of the Defence Forces will address all allegations of bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination, and not just those raised in the Women of Honour documentary broadcast on RTÉ.

President Higgins was speaking at the annual conference of PDFORRA in Killarney, Co Kerry.

He described degrading, discriminatory and sometimes violent treatment of members of the Defence Forces as shameful.

He said it besmirched not only the history of the Defence Forces, but the history of a nation that claims to be a democracy.

President Higgins said such actions become all the more heinous when rank is abused.

The President is Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces.

He was speaking at the annual dinner of PDFORRA, the Defence Forces' representative association for members of the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps.

President Higgins again commended the bravery of the women who told their stories in the Women of Honour documentary.

He expressed concern for their welfare and said the contents of the documentary shocked people across the country.

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He said horrific consequences can unfold when members of an organisation or society seem to assert that they are holders of superior rights or entitlement, such as those that would confer an impunity from the laws of the State.

"Strategies, and impunity or evasion, that allow any belittling and demeaning those who are of a different gender, religion or ethnic background than the prevailing majority have no place in any organisagtion in a democracy," President Higgins said.

"It is vitally important that our Defence Forces be inclusive places for men and women, work places which accord to each and every member the dignity and respect that defines a truly ethical workplace, and that enables them to have the confidence to know that their talents and contribution are recognised and that false barriers are not erected on the basis of any perceived differences," he said.

President Higgins also said it was a matter of the greatest concern to him that so many people were leaving the Defence Forces, citing better pay elsewhere as the primary reason for being unable to continue their careers in the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps.

He said the importance of the work done by the Defence Forces at home and abroad must be valued, recognised and supported.

PDFORRA has no confidence in grievance reporting system

President of PDFORRA Mark Keane has said the system for reporting grievances within the Defence Forces is broken, and former and present members have no confidence in it.

Mr Keane was responding to the allegations in the documentary, which he described as harrowing and most uncomfortable.

Mark Keane addressed delegates at the PDFORRA annual conference

"It is a matter of fact that nobody who has or is serving within the Defence Forces has any confidence in the reporting mechanisms available to them to address this behaviour," Mr Keane said, in his address to delegates at the PDFORRA annual conference in Killarney.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney and the Defence Forces' Chief of Staff, Lietenant General Sean Clancy were also present for the speech.

Directing his comments to Mr Coveney, Mr Keane said PDFORRA had asked the military and the Department of Defence to fix the "broken" system, but nothing had changed.

Earlier, Mr Coveney announced the appointment of a confidential contact person (CCP) to assist former and serving members of the Defence Forces who make allegations of bullying, harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

In his address, Mr Keane said: "Until there is a robust system operating in the Defence Forces to investigate and importantly sanction those involved, those remaining in service will not engage and we, as a representative body, will continue to advise them to go outside the organisation to get the help they need.

"There is no place in our Defence Forces for this type of treatment and we want it stopped.

Mr Keane also addressed falling numbers in the Defence Forces, describing as a shameful waste the inability of Navy ships to sail and Air Corps aircraft to fly because of personnel shortages.

"I have to be clear here: PDFORRA members are extremely dissatisfied and are voting with their feet, leaving in droves. These piecemeal efforts will not cut it anymore," he said.

General Secretary of PDFORRA Gerard Guinan said the allegations made in the Women of Honour documentary, "and attempts to brush them under the carpet", were disgraceful.

He called on all members of the association to co-operate with the review being established to examine the allegations.

He said such reviews had come and gone in the past without real change being achieved.

Earlier, Lieut. Gen. Clancy told the conference that there is no place for any type of abuse, or failure to act in the Army, the Naval Service or the Air Corps, and said he welcomed the appointment of a CCP for former and serving members of the Defence Forces, describing it as a first step.

He also said the Defence Forces will fully support, facilitate and cooperate with the independent review established to examine allegations in the documentary.

Women of honour welcome CCP appointment

The Women of Honour group also welcomed the appointment of a CCP.

However, in a statement the group said it was disappointed its members were not consulted in advance about the move, and that they only learned about it in a statement from Mr Coveney this morning.

The Department of Defence has reached an agreement with an organisation called Raiseaconcern, which will provide the CCP service.

The group said it is seeking further details on the appointment of the confidential contact person and will make its views known when the group has had an opportunity to consider all the information about it.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, member of the group and retired army captain Diane Byrne said they are hopeful the appointment will help to address the current concerns for the many former and serving members of the Defence Forces who have come forward with stories of bullying and harassment since the group first spoke out.

She said that while the group was not consulted about the appointment it "absolutely needs to be done" as an interim measure, ahead of wider reforms.

Ms Byrne said "it's a huge achievement after a long battle" in many cases.

"We have raised a lot of emotions and memories for people," she said. adding that the group wanted to ensure some measures were put in place for serving and past members of the Defence Forces to access.

She said that many of the issues it raised happened in the past, while others are still there.

Earlier, Mr Coveney said the appointment of the CCP would come ahead of the establishment of a panel to carry out an independent review into the concerns raised by the group.

Last week, Mr Coveney met five of the women who took part in the RTÉ documentary, and separately with 14 serving members of the Defence Forces.

Simon Coveney paid tribute to those who have come forward

Mr Coveney said this morning that the independent review will look at procedures in the Defence Forces to ensure "we can stamp out and introduce a zero tolerance approach towards bullying, harassment and sexual assault".

He said that he wants to ensure that the structures and procedures are put in place to allow people to come forward and report safely without being labelled "a troublemaker or a difficult person".

The minister paid tribute to those who have come forward and said they are "incredibly courageous and care about the future of the Defence Forces and we are responding to the issues they have raised".

He also said that the number of cases of serious sexual assault or harassment that have been made to An Garda Síochána by former or serving members of the Defence Forces is in single digits.

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

The CCP will be available to former and serving members of the Defence Forces to help them document their allegations and to provide guidance on processing those complaints and other follow-on options.

Raiseaconcern will also provide Minister Coveney with periodic, anonymised updates on the number and types of cases the confidential contact person is encountering.

Raiseaconcern was set up in 2013 and is based in Straffan, Co Kildare.

It describes itself as an organisation that is dedicated to advising on and operating whistleblowing schemes for employers.

It also conducts independent investigations of workplace wrongdoing and engages in dispute resolution.

Current or former members of the Defence Forces can contact Raiseaconcern via email at

In addition to the appointment of a confidential contact person, the Department of Defence has also engaged with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre to provide assistance to serving and former members of the Defence Forces who have suffered sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape in the workplace.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre operates the national 24-hour helpline, 1800-778888, for those who need support.

The centre can also be contacted on email at