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tell all Army whistleblower exposed sexual abuse in the Defence Forces 21 years before the ‘Me Too’

He recollects how Army top brass engaged in a campaign of character assassination against him in newspapers, and on radio and TV.


Tom Clonan served in the Irish army before he became a whistle blower

Tom Clonan served in the Irish army before he became a whistle blower

Misneach tonight features Tom Clonan

Misneach tonight features Tom Clonan


Tom Clonan served in the Irish army before he became a whistle blower

A FORMER Army Captain who exposed sexual abuse in the Defence Forces 21 years ago long before the ‘Me Too’ movement claims generals at the time of his revelations made his life a living hell and also tracked down some of the women who confessed to him.

And it was the Sunday World which first blew open Tom Clonan’s devastating report back in 2001, a full 20 years before the new radio RTÉ documentary ‘Women of honour’ by Katie Hannon has forced an enquiry by the Department of Defence.

Tom also reveals today that in the three weeks since the radio documentary was broadcast he has been contacted by dozens of women and several men currently serving in the defence forces who claim they’ve suffered sexual abuse.

Back in 2000, while completing a PhD as a serving member of the Defence Forces, Tom uncovered a culture of discrimination, harassment, bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault directed at female members of the Defence Forces.

From September 1998 to February 2000, Tom interviewed 60 female soldiers - 59 of the 60 females interviewed reported a catalogue of discrimination, harassment, bullying, sexual harassment and assault.

A further 12 of the 60 women interviewed said they had been sexually assaulted in the workplace, this ranged from touching, to attempted rape and rape. The reports of assault were made by privates, NCOs and officers.


Tom Clonan appears on tonight's edition of TG4's Misneach

Tom Clonan appears on tonight's edition of TG4's Misneach

Tom Clonan appears on tonight's edition of TG4's Misneach

He fronts a documentary tonight on TG4 about his thesis and the subsequent fallout and tells the Sunday World he wants senior staff prosecuted of not only sweeping the abuse under the carpet but trying to destroy him and some of the female soldiers who reported sex crimes.

Tom recalls that the Sunday World first broke the story in the Summer of 2001, when then freelance reporter and security expert Declan Power stumbled upon the thesis while investigating a rape at an FCA training camp.

He recollects how Army top brass engaged in a campaign of character assassination against him in newspapers, and on radio and TV.

The previous year he had presented the report to a meeting of the ‘General staff’, at which the top generals bar the Chief of Staff was present.

“They just went completely silent,” he recalls. “I was escorted to the door of the room and the words were used I was told that I was ‘full of s**t’ and I was told that the women are ‘full of s**t’ and ‘you know what the women are like’, ‘you are an academic now, you live in an ivory tower, you don’t know what you are talking about’. I was told to ‘f**k off’. These were the most senior people in the Irish defence forces 21 years ago."

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Tom took early retirement from the Army later that year and got a job as a lecturer in DIT.

“When the Army issued a statement saying I had falsified the work and concealed it etc. I was invited to a meeting in the Institute of Technology in which I was told ‘we hired you on the basis you have a PhD but when we turn on the radio or TV or open newspaper we see the general staff of the Defence Forces saying you made it all up’. Because I was on a year’s probation, I was told I would lose my job,” he explains.


Misneach tonight features Tom Clonan

Misneach tonight features Tom Clonan

Misneach tonight features Tom Clonan

“My former colleagues in HQ also began sending me threatening messages, including one that I had breached the official secrets act in compiling the research and a file would would be sent to the DPP and I would face criminal prosecution, conviction and imprisonment for doing that.

Tom’s mental health was made worse as during that period his mother died, he lost a sister to breast cancer, his baby girl passed away and his son was diagnosed with a neurological disease.

“The senior members of the Defence Forces went out to the library in DCU and looked at the demographic profile in the appendices in the research and using a process of elimination they identified some of the women and they went after them and paraded them and had them interviewed by the military police and threatened them with court martial,” discloses the former Army press officer.

“So, while those events were happening in my life my former colleagues in the defence forces, were engaging in this. I subsequently got support in Transparency Ireland, who told me what I was suffering from was ‘whistleblower reprisal’.

“When I was faced with losing my job I got legal advice and was told to bring forward all the documents, which showed the chief of staff knew about it, and look for an independent enquiry,” he adds. “In August 2001, the then Defence Minister Michael Smith agreed to set up a study review group to review my study and they reported in 2002 and fully vindicate my findings.

“Not only did they vindicate my findings with regard to sexual assault and rape of female soldiers, but also the targeting of young male soldiers in the same way, particularly in the overseas environments. It’s a serious problem in the defence forces.”

In 2005 Tom successfully settled a case against the Army for libel and defamation.

The ‘Women of Honour’ programme comes just weeks before his own TG4 documentary which will highlight how in 21 years since his report was first made hundreds of personnel have suffered unnecessary sexual abuse and bullying.

“The Army tried to completely destroy my reputation,” he confirms. “ I had done nothing wrong, just bring attention to the most serious wrongdoing anyone can do, which is to rape somebody, it was character assassination and reprisal.

“After that enquiry the Army were forced to implement new policies and structures which they did. Up until recently I would have thought that they had cleaned up their act and transformed themselves, but it turns out that while things have changed on paper the behaviour of people has not changed.”

Katie Hannon’s documentary featured retired female soldiers speaking about their abuse.

“It’s the first time in 25 years that female soldiers, survivors of abuse, have actually come out on the record and being identified and name themselves,” he stresses.

“When I heard those disclosure I was shocked, angry and saddened by it. I thought it was a game changer. Whatever about shutting me up, the military will never keep Irish women quiet, it’s a war they can’t win. It’s the beginning of the end for those people in the defence forces who behaved that way.

“In the past three weeks I’ve been contacted by dozens of young women and some men, many not born when I had left, and they are disclosing the same circumstance of what was said to me 21 years ago.

“To hear now 21 years later young people saying the same thing to me, lives destroyed, careers ruined, self-harm, suicide attempts, it makes me feel sick.

“If the Army had behaved themselves properly when the disclosures first emerged in my research, we would be a lot further along than we are now.

“If the military authorities had acted on the research that was there we doubt have this level of suffering and this level of human misery.”

Tom, who now lectures in Ethics in TUD, admits he would like senior staff members held accountable.

“The military authorities, the general staff, have very serious questions to answer as they have known about this for 21 years,” he stresses. “While things may have changed on paper, the behaviour and the toxic culture hasn’t moved on and we have these young people coming forward with disclosures of the most appalling experiences of bullying, harassment, sexual assault, rape, the full range. It’s completely unimaginable.

“These officers who did nothing back then should be prosecuted and the officers who participated in the reprisals against me, a lot of those officers have been promoted to very senior ranks in the Irish defence forces and they should have no place in the defence forces, especially now, when we have become aware this problem was never dealt with and was widespread.

“While the Minister of Defence Simon Coveney and the Secretary General for the Department of Defence have apologised, there has still been no apology from the Chief of Staff.

“There are people in the Army who have never been held to account for rape and who continue to be a danger to people in society and there are a large number of litigation from female and male members of the Defence Forces., who were subjected to sexual assaults, which have been settled with no disclosure agreement disclosures attached.”

He urged victims to contact Transparency Ireland, the Garda, or the new Defence Forces confidential helpline.

Misneach – Tom Clonan airs tonight at 9.30pm on TG4 and on the TG4 Player.

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