Speech by the Minister for Defence, Mr. Michael Smith, T.D.,
at the launch of the Report of the External Advisory Committee
on the nature and extent of any harassment, bullying, discrimination
and sexual harassment in the Defence Forces.
Chief of Staff, Secretary General at the Department of Defence, ladies and gentlemen.
I commissioned this important study last September following suggestions that there was a bullying and harassment problem in the Defence Forces. I asked Dr. Eileen Doyle who chaired the Government's Task Force on the Prevention of Workplace Bullying to chair the Group. I was delighted that she was able to take on this onerous task and I congratulate her for the comprehensive and excellent report that she has produced. I would also like to thank Mr. Liam Kelly, Comdt. Maureen McEnery, Ms. Marie Rock, Major General Jim Sreenan and Dr. Mark Morgan for their unstinting hard work in bringing this report to a successful conclusion. Finally I would like to thank all the members of the Defence Forces and the staff associations for their co-operation with the study.
The approach adopted by the authors of the report has been robust in terms of the survey methodology employed and impartial in terms of the analysis of the results. We can have every confidence that the nature and extent of the problem has been captured fully in the report. Their work will stand as an example to other organisations as to how to proceed. No other organisation in Ireland has faced the issues surrounding harassment, bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace in such an organised manner.
There has been a series of Defence reviews in recent years and each has served as a platform for a major positive change in the Defence Forces. However, it may be that today's publication of the report into harassment, bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment will be the most welcome and positive development from the point of view of the ordinary soldier, sailor, airman and airwoman.
For many years, there was a reluctance to face a variety of difficult issues in the Defence Forces. However, the speed and openness with which this problem is being faced suggests that attitudes are changing. There was a time when problems were ignored, or worse, concealed and allowed to fester. It takes a lot of moral courage for the leadership of an organisation to respond to a suggestion that there are serious problems by opening up to a searching outside scrutiny.
There is nothing new about the problems which have been unearthed. And there is nothing unique about them. Everywhere people work together, there is the potential for misconduct and the abuse of authority. However, given the unique nature of military organisations, there is a particular need for diligence to ensure that this authority is balanced by a culture of respect for the individual.
The level of response received by the Advisory Committee suggests that there is widespread support for the study at all levels throughout the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service. The hundreds of personnel who took the time to answer questionnaires or otherwise make contact with the researchers demonstrated a sincere commitment to making the Defence Forces a better place in which to serve.
The military environment is tough and challenging. Soldiers on active service must be ready to respond quickly and professionally to potentially life threatening situations both to themselves and their colleagues, particularly on overseas duties. Because of this, military training and discipline will often impose a harsh burden on participating personnel. This fact cannot be over-emphasised. However, there is absolutely nothing in military life which requires that any individual be singled out, victimised or subjected to abuse or bullying. On the contrary, the team spirit which is essential to the maintenance of a military organisation will be undermined by such practices.
Nobody should try and minimise the issues that we face. However, in honestly facing up to the challenge, we must be heartened by the fact that the great majority of respondents reported that they have a positive view of the work they do and the colleagues they work with in the Defence Forces.
For this reason, I am not disheartened by the findings which have been unearthed by this major study. The first time that you face up to any serious problem, the effort required to give effect to solutions can seem very daunting. However, over the past five years, I have seen the energy and enthusiasm with which military personnel have tackled many other aspects of the change agenda. This commitment will be used in addressing this problem. I have every confidence that many issues surrounding bullying, harassment and discrimination can and will be tackled in a serious way.
Up to now, the major focus of the modernisation agenda has been on reorganisation, rebuilding and re-equipping. Major programmes of reform are being successfully implemented throughout the length and breadth of the Defence Forces. However, the next phase of modernisation is likely to raise a very different range of challenges. In the years ahead, the focus of the drive for reform will shift away from the area of material resources - which will continue to build on the results achieved to date - and towards the area of human resources where the Defence Forces themselves will have to internalise a whole new culture and set of values.
As I said at the outset, I am accepting the report in full and its recommendations. We must now proceed to the next step, the implementation of its findings. I am today establishing the Monitoring Group recommended in the report and I am pleased to announce that Dr. Eileen Doyle has agreed to act as chairperson. An Implementation Group will be established by the Chief of Staff. An Equality Group will be established, chaired by a member of the Labour Court. A Consultative Group will also be put in place. I hope to have the active participation of the associations representing military personnel on several of these Groups. In addition, a confidential helpline will be available to members of the Defence Forces from tomorrow morning.
As I have already said this report presents a challenge to the Defence Forces and nobody should underestimate it. To seek to dodge or minimise the very serious issues which have been raised in the report would be an act of betrayal of military personnel. This challenge will require a process of change which reaches the very heart of the organisational culture of the Defence Forces. If we are to be serious about creating the kind of organisation we need, then the implementation plan will have to reach every aspect of human resource management including systems of recruitment, induction, training and promotion.
The Chief of Staff is adamant that bullying and harassment have no place in the modern Defence Forces. The success to date of military management in introducing change gives me every confidence that the Defence Forces, in partnership with the staff associations, will be successful in meeting the challenges in this report.