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Speech by Minister for Defence Mr. Willie O’Dea T.D. at the launch of two Reports regarding:
The issues affecting the recruitment and retention of women in the Defence Forces.
A review of the implementation of the White Paper on Defence 2000 – 2005.

Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin 5 April 2007

Secretary General, Deputy Chief of Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to welcome you all here today to the launch of two significant reports.

The first is the research report that I commissioned from TNS/MRBI into the issues affecting the recruitment and retention of women in the Defence Forces.

The second is the review of the implementation of the White Paper on Defence. This charts the progress to date in the modernisation of our Defence Forces since the White Paper was published in February 2000.

It is appropriate to present these two reports together, because it is the climate for change brought about by the White Paper process that has facilitated the initiatives required to modernise our Defence Forces. Our success in tackling these challenges will largely determine how successful we are in achieving our objective of increasing the number of women joining the Defence Forces.

The fact that there are many more applicants than places available each year shows that the Defence Forces continues to be an attractive career choice for our young people. Women, however, still make up only 5.2% of the total strength of our PDF. The strength of female personnel in the Permanent Defence Force has grown from 244 at the end of 1997 to 557 at the end of 2006.

As you know, I have been eager to increase the number of women applying to join the Defence Forces. Last September I reduced the minimum height requirement for entry into both the Permanent Defence Force and the Reserve Defence Force from 5’4” to 5’2”. This change applied to both males and females and had the effect of increasing the recruitment pool of women by a third, with 90% of women now meeting the height requirement.

My objective is to increase further the number of women applying to join the Defence Forces – in particular the Permanent Defence Force. Recent experience has shown us that an increase in the number of women applying to join the Defence Forces will lead to an equivalent increase in the number of women being taken on.

However, as I pointed out at the time, reducing the height requirement only addressed one aspect of the question. That is why I commissioned market research into the other factors influencing the recruitment and retention of women in the Defence Forces.

The report I am publishing today captures the views of a range of women including serving and former members of the Defence Forces and the general public. It also addresses those who influence young women in their choice of career, including parents and career guidance teachers.

The research incorporated both a qualitative and quantitative approach. The qualitative element involved a series of in-depth interviews with key groups, including:

women currently in the Defence Forces,
female ex-members of the Defence Forces,
school leavers and parents of school leavers,
career guidance teachers,
representatives of the National Women’s Council and the National Centre for Guidance in Education.

Two quantitative phases were undertaken. One involved a national survey of over 500 females aged over 15 - conducted via telephone, while the other was a survey of serving female PDF members by means of a self-completion questionnaire. I want to thank the members of the Defence Forces, the general public, teachers and professional bodies who contributed to the survey and TNS MRBI who completed the research and produced this report.

On balance, the results are positive. They reflect well on the human resource improvements that have accompanied the overall modernisation of the Defence Forces. I commissioned the report to ascertain female attitudes to military life, this specifically means identifying the obstacles and negatives to women pursuing a military career. As I had anticipated, the report confirms that some major challenges remain.

On the positive side: the report reveals that women serving in the Defence Forces have a positive attitude to their job and believe that they have a rewarding career in the Defence Forces.

75% of respondents working think that the Defence Forces is a good place to work.
73% reported that they enjoy their job
81% are happy with job security
72% are happy with pay and benefits
76 % are happy with the variety of work on offer.

On the other hand, the research presents challenges, in particular with regard to bullying and harassment and family friendly policies.

11% of the serving members, who responded, spontaneously mentioned sexism or harassment as an aspect of their PDF careers, which they disliked. One in four respondents (27%), when prompted, agreed that they had been bullied or harassed at work in the past year.

These findings are disappointing, but my purpose in commissioning this research was to quantify and identify obstacles to progress.

The research has done what I wanted it to do. It does not sugar coat the situation and parts of it make difficult reading. However, The only way we can address the situation fully and properly is by establishing the depth and extent of the problem. We have gone a considerable way to dealing with the problems facing both men and women, but there is still a road to travel. We all recognise that military life is robust, but bullying is not training for anything.

Bullying and harassment are not unique to the Defence Forces and are recognised as significant issues in the workplace generally. Recently, in its “Bullying in the Workplace” Report, the ESRI reported that almost 8% of all employees and over 11% of female employees reported having been bullied in the previous 6 months.

The Defence Forces and the Department have taken a wide variety of initiatives and have devoted extensive resources to this issue, since Dr Eileen Doyle and the External Advisory Committee presented their original report “The Challenge of a Workplace” in March 2002. This independent report addressed the entire range of interpersonal issues within the Defence Forces. Its contents and recommendations were accepted in full.

The ongoing implementation of the recommendations of the Doyle report has been one of the highest priorities for the Defence Forces and the Department. The military authorities are alert and vigilant to this issue. They are committed to addressing the matter through a range of measures including: educational modules on interpersonal relationships for all ranks, the designated contact person programmes, the new A7 regulation, a new HR Strategy, and new Equality and Equal Status Policies.

My commitment and that of the Chief of Staff, to addressing issues around interpersonal contact is well known. This research underlines the importance of this priority into the future.

Later this year a comprehensive and professional review of the progress made within the Defence Forces in the area of interpersonal relations will be undertaken and its report will be published. The Independent Monitoring Group recommended this review. It will ensure that we remain at the cutting edge in seeking to ensure that the Defence Forces offers a challenging but rewarding career for both men and women.

The findings on family friendly policies are unsurprising and reflect developments in society in general. For example, 65% of respondents serving in the Defence Forces agreed, when prompted, that raising a family is difficult, particularly where both partners are working.

Participation in overseas peace support missions is a core activity for the Defence Forces. All members of the Permanent Defence Forces are expected to serve overseas. While overseas service is one of the most important attractions of a career in the Defence Forces, it is also identified as a potential negative in the context of the family.

Likewise, time spent at sea by members of the Naval Service impacts on the family. This issue was identified last year and I have already taken steps to address it. However, it goes without saying that members of the naval service have to go to sea. At the same time both my Department and I are committed to ensuring that the Naval Service and the Defence Forces as a whole provide a challenging and rewarding career and a supportive working environment.

Service overseas and occasional unsocial hours are a core requirement of a career in the Defence Forces. The challenge is for the Defence Forces is three fold: to meet the roles set down by Government; to provide a challenging and rewarding career and to provide a supportive working environment.

Significant progress has been made in implementing family friendly policies in the Permanent Defence Forces in recent years. Term Time, Adoptive, Maternity, Paternity, Parental, Carers and Illness/Bereavement leave have all been provided. Respondents specifically mentioned term time as being of major benefit. This is an area that will continue to receive attention, as is the case in society in general.

The outcome of the survey of the public, parents and career guidance teachers was very informative. It revealed that we have a job to do in addressing misperceptions and perhaps a lack of appreciation of the opportunities that a career in the Defence Forces can offer. The report identified:

A general lack of appreciation in the general public of the wide range of career options available in the PDF. Doubts over career prospects and the transferability of skills to civilian employment were also highlighted.

A general lack of knowledge of the educational opportunities offered by the Defence Forces. Parents expressed the preference for a college or technical education for their children, seemingly unaware that such educational opportunities may be available in the Defence Forces.

Perceptions of poor pay and benefits. 52% of the general public cited poor pay as a disincentive to service in the Defence Forces, whereas over 75% of women serving are happy with pay and benefits.

As the report recommends, we have to educate not just the young people who are potential soldiers, but also the key influencers of those young people: their parents and teachers. Arising from the research, I am asking the Chief of Staff to take a number of actions:

To ensure the provision of DPM (Disruptive Pattern Material) a.k.a. Camouflage uniforms, suitable for use during maternity.

To review and update the recruiting strategy and campaigns to reflect the recommendations contained in the report.

To continue to provide recruiting teams, including females of all ranks, to Post-Primary Schools and Third Level Institutions but to look at targeting schools outside of military areas.

To actively promote a dual gender image through the media and to ensure that all future TV & radio adverts feature male and female voice-overs.

To increase the awareness of career guidance teachers of the attractions of a career in the Defence Forces for both sexes - especially teachers in those parts of the country not near a military barracks.

To increase the visits to military installations by way of regular open days in all barracks and, in conjunction with careers guidance teachers, to consider a role for transition year work experience in the military.

To examine the role of the Defence Forces website - – in promoting the value of a career in the Defence Forces for both sexes. It is probably time that the website itself was overhauled.

To consider other measures that could raise the awareness of parents and key influencers to the benefits of a career in the Defence Forces.

I am determined that we should build on the positive issues arising from the report while continuing to address the challenges identified. The Defence Forces offers an interesting and challenging career to women as well as to men. The Government is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women in the Defence Forces and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities.

Women are eligible, on the same basis as men, for participation in operational, training, ceremonial and garrison activities, for assignment to all military appointments and educational and training courses and for promotion. All female personnel undergo the same training and receive the same military education as their male counterparts. I would not support limiting certain roles to one gender as happens in other defence forces.

This weekend we will commemorate and remember those who went out in Easter 1916 in pursuits of their goals of independence and freedom. Many brave women played a key role in the Rising and the Irish people’s subsequent quest for national self-determination. We should recall that the advancement of women in our society was central to Irish republicanism and that a key social objective of the Rising was to put women centre-stage across Irish society.


I am also launching the review of the implementation of the White Paper on Defence today. Published in February 2000; it was the first ever White Paper on defence. It set out a number of targets for implementing change and reorganisation over a 10-year period. With three years to go it is timely that we review how well we have progressed with its implementation and see what remains to be done.

I am pleased to report that considerable progress has been made on the implementation of the White Paper. This has facilitated the major re-organisation and modernisation in the Defence Forces. Across all ranks our Defence Forces personnel have shown that they have the motivation and flexibility to take on significant change across all areas of activity.
The achievements to date provide strong evidence of the positive cross-organisational working of the civil and military elements of the Department. All of this has been facilitated through dialogue with the Representative Associations where appropriate, under the Partnership process.

Particularly noteworthy findings from the Review are the improvements in several key areas:
training and
Human Resources management.

The emphasis on the development of military capabilities and on improving interoperability has delivered results and continues to improve the Defence Forces contribution to peace and security at home and internationally. The ongoing reorganisation of the Reserve, which will continue into 2009 and the establishment of the Civil Defence Board on a statutory basis are also significant.

The world has not stood still since 2000. Indeed a number of significant developments in the national and international defence and security environments have occurred. The new defence organisation has proven sufficiently flexible to meet the challenges presented by these developments over this period. The structural, organisational and funding measures that underpinned the success of the White Paper to date remain critical and will continue to inform the process.

The 70:30 pay-to-equipment investment ratio has been a vital component in sustaining the progress made to date. The review also highlights several other areas in need of particular attention over the coming two to three years.

I want to progress the civilianisation of some military jobs in order to maximise the number of soldiers available for operational activities.

I also want to see further work carried out on the resolution of issues impacting on army structures and organisation.

I am confident that all of these matters can be brought to a conclusion within the period envisaged in the White Paper.

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