Alcohol could be banned entirely from all army barracks as part of the response to a damning report into the culture of the Defence Forces, the Sunday Independent has learned.
he Government is putting pressure on senior military figures to extend the ban on alcohol consumption during deployments to Lebanon to all barracks in the State as the Defence Forces finalises its own internal review.
“No one is talking about the role of alcohol in all of this,” said a government source this weekend. “It was rightly banned in Lebanon and may well be banned in barracks as well.”
The report of an Independent Review Group (IRG) published last week has rocked the Defence Forces. It found the military is not “a safe working environment” and at best “barely tolerates” female members, who have been subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
Among the IRG’s findings were interviewees reporting predatory behaviour targeting females in situations where alcohol is present and regular incidents of drinks being spiked.
In response to the findings, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has committed to overhauling and modernising laws governing the Defence Forces, as well as setting up a judge-led statutory inquiry.
The Defence Forces is currently completing a review of its alcohol policy, and any decision will rest with Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Seán Clancy. However, the view of the Government, which sets regulations, is likely to play a key role in the final decision.
Mr Martin is understood to be specifically considering issuing an alcohol ban, with one government source expressing the view it should be banned entirely in barracks.
In December 2021, the small bar on the military base in south Lebanon was closed, and army personnel were banned from drinking alcohol while deployed to the country. It followed an alleged assault at the base of the peacekeeping mission.
The Defence Forces review of alcohol policy has been undertaken in the wake of the report by barrister Hugh Mohan into an illegal drinking party that took place at McKee Barracks in Dublin in June 2020 when Covid-19 restrictions were in place.
After the event, a female soldier was sexually assaulted and another was physically assaulted. There has been a conviction for a number of offences, including sexual assault, in the military court martial system.
The Mohan Report recommended the Defence Forces should have a policy that details the circumstances when, how and by whom alcohol can be consumed, but did not call for an outright ban.
Members of the Women of Honour group said successive defence ministers were furnished with protected disclosures outlining alleged sexual attacks, but failed to act.
It is “imperative” that these current and former politicians — including two-time defence minister Simon Coveney — be compelled to give evidence at the inquiry, the group said.
“The department knew a lot about what was going on. They had several protected disclosures outlining criminality, but they did not intervene,” according to Honor Murphy, a former naval officer in Cork who retired from the Defence Forces in 2021 after being passed over for promotion on the basis of her gender.
“Some ministers, including Simon Coveney, should be called before the inquiry to answer questions.”
Former Air Corps captain Yvonne O’Rourke, who suffered an alleged serious sexual attack that impacted her mental health, agreed the department and some ministers had questions to answer.
“If you say you were sexually abused, surely there should be a procedure within the protected disclosures system that you are at least spoken to,” she said.
“If anyone met with me, I could have told them the truth, but we were just met with silence by the department.”
It is understood that any former or serving members of the Defence Forces who are now coming forward to gardaí over alleged sexual assaults in the military are having their cases handled by specialist gardaí.
But gardaí have no jurisdiction to investigate any alleged crimes that happened on overseas missions.
A Department of Defence spokesperson insisted it adequately dealt with all protected disclosures made to it detailing sexual abuse.
“From our records, we can identify that since 2014, four protected disclosures allege sexual harassment or sexual assault,” they said.
“These are matters of a criminal nature and individuals would have been advised that to bring these matters to a conclusion, these issues would have to be referred to An Garda Síochána.”