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Speech By Mr Willie O’Dea T.D., Minister for Defence
Government Buildings
2 July 2006

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I have invited you all here this morning to talk to you about the army height requirement.

As you will be aware I have, since my appointment as Minister, been committed to increasing the number of women applying to serve in the Defence Forces. Female strength levels in the Permanent Defence Force have increased from 4.4% of overall strength in 2001 to 5% of overall strength in 2005. While this represents an improvement there is a lot more to be done. This 5% figure contrasts with the 25% figure for the Reserve Defence Force.

Currently, the percentage of women joining the Defence Forces is directly proportionate to the numbers applying - approximately 10%. I believe that by increasing the number of applicants we can justifiably expect a corresponding increase in the number of females entering the Defence Forces. The key challenge therefore is to increase the number of applicants above the current 10% level.

The issue for discussion today is the minimum height requirement for entry to the Defence Forces, which is seen by some as an inhibitor to women’s participation in the Defence Forces. Given my determination to remove any such inhibitors I decided to review the minimum height requirement. To assist me in this I asked for a report on the issue from the military authorities. I am pleased to say that I have recently received the military report, which covers a range of the complex issues that the issue of participation of women raises. (Copies are available and will be on the website)

Drawing on the recommendations in the report I have decided to reduce the minimum height requirement from the current 162.56cm (5’4”) to 157.48cm (5’2”). This new minimum height requirement will come into effect on 1 September 2006 and will apply to both males and females.

According to the report, 90% of the female population of 18 years of age in Ireland is 157.48cm or taller. Therefore, this decision will increase the annual potential female recruitment pool to 90% and the male recruitment pool to 98% (up from 97%). The current minimum height requirement of 5’4” can only be met by 60% of 18 year olds in Ireland today.

This Government is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women throughout the Defence Forces, in the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service and including the Reserve Defence Force, and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities

There are no restrictions or barriers to females serving in any appointment or in any rank. Selection and promotion is based solely on merit. This differentiates us from many other defence forces that have a slightly higher percentage of females serving in their ranks but close some operational roles to women.

In our Defence Forces women are eligible to, and indeed are expected to participate on the same basis as men in all operational, overseas and ceremonial activities. The same applies to assignment to all military appointments and educational and training courses and for promotion. Male and female personnel undergo the same training and receive the same military education.

This of course presents challenges and risks and we must remain vigilant in order to protect our personnel. A career in the Defence forces is very rewarding but we have to bear in mind that it is also physically demanding. Defence Forces personnel must keep themselves in good physical condition to meet operational demands including overseas service. In training and more importantly on duty, soldiers must be able to carry heavy loads.

Available research points out that the ability of an individual to perform physical labour such as load carrying, is determined by a range of factors and not only by height. Although there have been advances in the ergonomics of load carrying equipment we will have to ensure that we do not expose our personnel to unnecessary risk. The report recommends the ongoing study on load carrying and the injuries sustained in training by personnel in order to assess the risk and provide for necessary remedial action. I agree with this approach.

While I am on the subject of equality I should mention the Defence Forces Equality Policy which was produced and formalised in 2005 and underpins equality legislation. It is now being further updated in line with recent developments in Defence Forces regulations and equality legislation. It states that within the Defence Forces, both men and women have ‘equality of opportunity’ for employment and career advancement on the basis of merit and personal liability. The Defence Forces is increasingly reflecting the changes in Irish society. The increasing diversity of its members is being actively managed. New policies, regulations or instructions have been reviewed and are being developed.

Discrimination is prohibited. It is Defence Forces policy that all members have a right to be treated with respect and dignity and to carry out their duties free from any form of sexual harassment, harassment or bullying. This commitment requires all Defence Forces personnel to treat colleagues with respect and ensure that their own actions and behaviour do not cause offence.

I have consistently said that height is not the only issue in relation to the recruitment of women and the report touches on some of these. To this end I have also initiated wider research into the recruitment and retention of women in the Defence Forces. Tenders have been received from companies willing to undertake research in this area. The research will test women’s attitudes to military life and careers in the Defence Forces. It will include interviews with serving female members of both the Permanent Defence Force and the Reserve Defence Force, and also with members of the general public and special interest groups. The contract for the research will be awarded early next week. I expect the research to take three to four months to complete. The outcome of this research, together with input from the Chief of Staff and my Department will enable me to make further improvements considered necessary.

I congratulate the Defence Forces on the advances they have made in ensuring a positive and supportive working environment. I will officiate at a commissioning ceremony tomorrow in the Curragh and am very pleased to note that over 20% of these cadets are women. I remain determined that positive message about careers in the Defence Forces is received by young women.

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Defence (Amendment) Bill 2006. Second Stage Speech by Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O’Dea T.D. Dail Eireann
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Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea T.D. speech on army height requirement.
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Defence (Amendment) Bill 2006. Second Stage Speech by Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O’Dea T.D. Seanad Eireann
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