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Abuse allegations split opinions in Defence Forces

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Some senior Defence Force officers had believed up to recently that the issue of sexual harassment had been dealt with, that it was a problem they could see in the rear-view mirror, not up ahead.

Now, however, allegations of widespread sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination detailed in RTÉ’s Women of Honour radio documentary have left the military reeling, and split opinion among the rank and file.

The damning accusations shocked military personnel of all ranks but it was the higher-ups, who had wrongly assumed it had been dealt with, who were most taken aback.

“There’s nearly a feeling of unfairness among them, that the military has already had its #MeToo moment long before everyone else,” according to one source familiar with the thinking of the senior leadership.

They were referring to the work of former Army captain Tom Clonan, who wrote a PhD, published in 2000, showing widespread harassment, bullying and sexual abuse of female soldiers. Initially, the Defence Forces attempted to discredit Clonan and his report. It then changed course and implemented an array of oversight and reporting mechanisms in an effort to clamp down on future abuse. It was not enough.

Senior officers are now aware that the fallout from Clonan’s report may be dwarfed by the Women of Honour scandal, especially since more women have come forward with allegations. Most worryingly, some of this latest wave of allegations of harassment, sexual abuse, or bullying came after the changes that were finally brought in to the organisation after Clonan’s report.

But the General Staff – the leadership team in the Defence Forces – and its civilian equivalents in the Department of Defence are still unsure of the way forward, according to sources.

“I don’t think they’re on top of this at all,” said one senior officer.

“Between this and Jadotville, they’re punch drunk,” said the senior officer, referring to the fallout from a decision not to award medals to the men who fought in the famous battle in the Congo in 1961.

“The timing couldn’t be worse. The Commission [on the Defence Forces] is in the process of examining issues like resourcing. Now the Government can say, ‘Sure, why would we give them anything. They’re only a shower of Neanderthals’.”

He went on: “But sure the timing is never good for these types of things. Better to have it out in the open.”

The officer’s mixed feelings echo sentiments expressed across the ranks in reaction to the allegations reveal in the documentary, which ranged from women being improperly denied leave or promotion, up to accusations of sexual assault and rape.

As well as coming as a shock to some, the charges have also sharply divided opinion within the military, according to interviews with nearly a dozen serving and recently retired members.

Some have welcomed the airing of these issues, describing it as long overdue.

“I am so, so happy this is coming out now. I’ve seen the types of things described in the radio programme and I’ve experienced it to a lesser extent,” said a serving female soldier.

Others acknowledged there is a problem with the culture of the Defence Forces but resent what they see as a portrayal of all male personnel, in the words of one soldier, as “knuckle-dragging rapists”.

“There’s a real, pervasive sense of shame in the organisation. And a lot of people aren’t sure why they are ashamed. because a lot of people haven’t seen or condoned these things.”

And a minority of personnel questioned some of the women’s stories, arguing their allegations have already been investigated internally and found to be without foundation. Another male NCO (noncommissioned officer) commented: “I promise you this is not the Army I know. You can’t cough in the direction of someone without a complaint being made. But you can’t be seen to come out and say that or you’re just seen as defending rapists.”

An officer agreed: “It’s frustrating. There’s a million regulations and checks there to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen. That’s not being acknowledged.”

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney appeared to disagree, saying last week: “this isn’t simply a historic problem … it is also a current problem”.

So does Department of Defence secretary general Jacqui McCrum. When one of the women featured in the documentary, Karina Molloy, met her recently McCrum talked about “systemic” and “harrowing” abuse, and said one the latest reports of sexual harassment dates to just a few weeks ago, Molloy told this newspaper.

“The [Defence Forces] has all the policies and protocols but like most militaries, the culture may not support people reporting, speaking out or holding perpetrators accountable,” said retired captain Deirdre Carberry, who acts as a military gender adviser.

Among those serving personnel who spoke to The Irish Times, there was almost universal condemnation of the “go along to get along” brand of officer or NCO. “I curse the weak people who have had complaints brought to them who have either buried them, or done nothing with them or have been afraid to do anything about them for fear of ruining their career or their buddy’s career,” said an officer.

Some of the personnel, particularly officers, were critical of Clonan’s scathing remarks on the military in an Irish Times opinion piece which followed the airing of the documentary last month.

“Two years ago, after Tom made up with the Chief of Staff, the Defence Forces were ‘exemplars’ of accountability. Now we’re bastards again. Like, which is it Tom?” one asked.

“I was saying they were exemplars of best practice because that’s what I was given to understand,” says Clonan, who now teaches at the Technological University Dublin School of Media.

“I feel I was lied to, that I was deceived. I’ve been on the record for several years saying they had reformed and I felt sick when those women contacted me. I have found it difficult to sleep. As you and I are speaking, there are women there who are going through hell. It makes the Defence Forces unfit for purpose.”

The documentary, made by RTÉ’s Katie Hannon, has also split opinion among female members, retired and serving. While many have expressed strong support for the women who have come forward, others, particularly at the more senior ranks, have been privately dismissive of some of the allegations.

“There’s nearly a kind of a resentment in some quarters from women who feel they got where they are by just dealing with misogyny and putting the head down without making a stir,” said a female officer. “But that’s not universal by any means.”

Molloy, who was the first woman to reach the rank of senior NCO, said the response from serving women has been “excellent”, since she spoke about her abuse in the documentary. She told The Irish Times she is still in contact with members of her original platoon which comprised the first 40 women to join the Defence Forces back in 1981.

“Out of the 36 who are still alive, 10 have reached out to me to say ‘well done and hope you’re okay’.”

One of the central themes of the documentary is that reports of discrimination or abuse are often minimised or ignored. Abusers receive derisory punishments or no punishment at all, while their victims are denied opportunities for progression and feel they have no future in the organisation.

There is a broad acknowledgment, even by those critical of the documentary, that the system for making complaints is not up to scratch.

“First of all the MPs [Military Police] are not equipped to deal with these things. They just don’t have the expertise for anything above discipline matters or a punch-up. Anything at all of a sexual nature needs to go straight to the guards,” said one.

A recently retired officer made the point that Military Police officers are a part of their local chain of command rather than a standalone branch. That means a MP could be investigating a suspect who might later being sitting on their promotions board.

“If you probe too far things could, in theory, be made very nasty for you. It doesn’t inspire confidence.”

Most allegations of sexual assault within the military are now immediately referred to the Garda. This was the case when allegations surfaced recently of a female soldier being raped in a mandatory hotel quarantine facility.

However, the Military Police, and the Military Courts, still deal with some sexual matters. Only two weeks ago, a soldier appeared at a Court Martial accused of cupping a female recruit’s breast while teaching first aid techniques.

Some officers also complained of what they see as “mixed messages” about how they should handle lower-level harassment or bullying complaints. One pointed to the Defence Act of 1954 which implies that complaints should be dealt with at the lowest level possible. And some, particularly senior officers, bemoaned the cessation of the Independent Monitoring Group (IMG) in 2014, which was set up in response to Clonan’s research. The group was made up of a deputy chief of staff, a senior department official, an independent monitor and officials from the enlisted and officer representative groups. “It was very effective. There was nowhere to hide if there was an issue,” said one officer.

Two years ago, Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, who officially retired as chief of staff two weeks ago, wrote to then minister for defence Paul Kehoe asking him to re-establish the IMG, saying that the Defence Forces was missing “a key part of our structure” in its absence.

Military and civilian leadership are perhaps right to be worried about the fallout from the latest allegations. In private, the Commission on the Defence Forces, which was established last year in response to a range of issues within the military, has been paying particular attention to issues of discrimination, bullying and negative workplace environments.

Commission members have toured every base and installation in the country. They have received few complaints of sexual assault or harassment but a large number of complaints, from women and men, relating to discrimination and bullying.

Its report, which is due to go to Government in December, is expected to focus in particular on workplace discrimination towards parents and carers, such as those detailed by former Air Corps Captain Yvonne O’Rourke who took part in the documentary. Earlier this year, the Workplace Relations Commission awarded O’Rourke the highest possible compensation after it found her employer had given her a poor performance rating because she had taken maternity leave.

Other issues expected to be addressed by the commission include the impact of overseas duty on family life, and uniforms and body armour which are not designed for women’s bodies.

Mellett’s replacement as Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Seán Clancy attempted to get off on the right foot by sending a strongly-worded letter to all personnel saying that abuse or harassment will not be tolerated. He also promised to co-operate with the independent review established by Coveney into how such complaints are handled. His points were reiterated in a Defence Forces statement to The Irish Times.

Coveney has announced that he will appoint a confidential contact person to engage with former and serving members who make allegations of bullying, discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment.

The Women of Honour group says it was “pleased” by many of the Minister’s comments and welcomed the proposed review, which will include international expertise. “For it to finally be widely accepted that there were and still are such devastating systematic problems and [a] toxic culture within the Defence Forces is a very positive move in the right direction,” the group said in a statement.

Whatever happens next, the scandal is not going away. Clonan says since the RTÉ programme aired on September 11th, he has been contacted by dozens of military women, and some men, alleging abuse. He declined to state the exact number, citing fears this may identify the complainants given the small number of women in the Defence Forces (just 7 per cent of the membership).

The allegations are “almost a photocopy of what I wrote about 20 years ago,” he said.

Clonan references his 17-year-old daughter when describing his feelings listening to the latest allegations of abuse. Would he be happy if she wants to follow his footsteps into the Army?

“To try be positive about it, I would say what [Coveney] has done in meeting these women is unprecedented.

“And Jacqui McCrum is someone with the capacity to deal with this. And to be fair, the representative organisations, Raco and PDForra, have been very good.

“But despite those things, no I wouldn’t consider the Defence Forces a safe place for my daughter. I would do everything in my power to prevent her joining. And that’s a shameful thing to say.”

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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