DIT's Army whistleblower, Tom Clonan speaks to Seraphine Habimana about the revelations, his army career and his journalistic path...

After his PhD, which was published in 2000 revealing the widespread bullying, sexual harassment and rape of female soldiers within Ireland's armed forces, Tom Clonan, a former army captain says the Army has improved since the publication of his research and has implemented many reforms.

“It is a most fruitful outcome.  I am happy that I did the right thing,” says Clonan as he smiles. “I am glad that the Army is a safer place to work for both men and women as a result of my research and my actions. I am proud myself.”

When Clonan turned 24, he chose to join the army in 1989 at a time when Ireland had a serious internal security problem with terrorist groups like the Provisional IRA and the INLA. Although, he has not liked the experience, Clonan reflects on why he joined the military.

“I wanted to follow a career in public service with the opportunity to bring peace to countries like Lebanon and Bosnia,” he recalls.

When he was 31, Clonan says he came back from overseas service with the military. “The next step was to pursue a PhD and like others PhD students I had the right to choose any topic and carry it out in an investigative way,” says Clonan, a security analyst journalist at the Irish Times. “Eventually, my doctoral thesis was investigated by an Independent Government Enquiry and Study Review Group which vindicated me and my findings and recommendations.”

“Among 60 women I interviewed, 59 women reported some formal of bullying and harassment, the women were angry at what happened to them and I wrote their stories.”

“I was very taken back after that as I was never bullied and therefore I presumed the phenomenon in my work place did not exist and it was only from the experience of women who told me their stories and me, I was a researcher above all. So, I do not see why I could not be the victim of what I have researched for four years.”

Clonan adds after the 'whistleblower' revelations, the reaction to his research from military authorities and Department of Defence was negative in the extreme. 

“As a whistleblower revealing unacceptable levels of sexual violence towards female soldiers, I was subjected to reprisals,” he says before adding he suffered a sustained campaign of character assassination and intimidation including physical assault from the military authorities. 

“I felt very fearful as a whistleblower. I almost lost my job, livelihood and reputation.  It was also very damaging professionally, personally and was very stressful and hurtful.  But, I decided to fight my corner and I took the Army and the Minister for Defence to court for defamation.” 

He settled his case in 2005 and received compensation.

Clonan however reveals he is still tortured. “I am still the victim of reprisal from the armed forces of Ireland.  This comes in many guises, explicit and covert.  I am constantly contacted by journalists and editors who have been briefed by military officers who tell them that I am untrustworthy or that I never served overseas for example which is ridiculous and quite sad really.”

He says why he decided to blow the whistle on sexual violence against women in the Army was that he felt it was the right thing to do. 

 “I swore an Oath of Alliegance to the Irish Constitution as an Army Officer.  I did not swear loyalty to a bunch of sexist bullies at the Defence Forces Headquarters.  And I have no regrets,” he says. “The sexist bullies who vilified me can wrestle with their own consciences and if indeed they have any insight into their behavior.”

He points out that although much has been improved after his report, there is still room for improvement. “There are still not enough women in the Irish Armed Forces.  Nor are there enough ethnic minorities represented within the Irish Armed Forces.  There is also still evidence of ongoing bullying within the forces,” he notes.

Journey to journalism career

 “Becoming a journalist was accidental. After the Twin Tower attacks in September 11 2001, I was called upon to give security analysis for newspapers, television and radio.  This was followed by the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  These events also prompted a demand for more security and defence analysis in the media. The progression from professional soldier to academic was a natural one in that regard,” he says.

“I happened to be the right guy in the right place at the right time so to speak.  But, I'm very grateful for this opportunity and feel my practice as a journalist helps inform my practice as a third level lecturer in Journalism and Political Communication and Public Affairs.”

Although he spent over 10 years in the army, he says he would not encourage his children to join the Armed Forces of Ireland. 

“The military is a death profession that often devalues young lives.  I hope my children serve society in other ways,” says Clonan, 49.

As an army officer, he says he has written two books about his overseas experience 'Blood Sweat and Tears' and 'Whistleblower, Soldier, Spy'.

 “I am hoping to continue to learn and progress until the day I die,” says Clonan.

Photo: Dit.ie