Dáil Éireann - Volume 414 - 04 December, 1991

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Defence Forces Agreements.

3. Mr. McCartan asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been [77] drawn to comments made in the newsletter of PDFORRA (details supplied) which suggest that those who run and administer the Defence Forces show a lack of willingness to comply not so much with the letter of agreements reached, but the spirit in which they were reached; if he intends to take any steps to address this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. V. Brady: The establishment of representative associations is one of the most significant and far-reaching developments to have taken place in the Permanent Defence Force in recent times.

The Defence Force Regulations which provide for the representative arrangements were signed by my predecessor last May. In a minute accompanying the regulations he reiterated the commitment of the Government to the new arrangements and emphasised that the active co-operation of all concerned would be required to put the new institutional arrangements in place, and to do so without interfering with the essential ethos of the Defence Forces and the traditional values enshrined in that ethos.

In the short time since the making of the regulations on 16 May 1991, very substantial progress in the implementation of the representative structures has been achieved. At national level, very considerable rapport has been built up between representatives of my Department, including representatives of the military authorities and the two associations — PDFORRA and RACO. Meetings are taking place at that level on a regular basis in a business-like and cordial way. The arrangements for the holding of meetings between the appropriate military authorities and the local representatives at barracks and command levels have also been put in place and it is anticipated that, with the development of representation at these levels, some of the issues which hitherto have been processed at national level will be discussed and disposed of at the other levels.

Since assuming office, I have met with members of the national executive of [78] each of the two associations — PDFORRA and RACO — and they have advised me of the progress made in the implementation of the representative structures. I have also met representatives of the associations at barracks level during visits to barracks.

I can assure the Deputy that the development of the representative structures, which are provided for in the regulations drawn up in agreement with the representatives of members of the Permanent Defence Force, is proceeding satisfactorily. I have every confidence that all who participate in them will do so in a positive spirit and that in time representation will prove to be a very beneficial development for the Defence Forces.

Mr. McCartan: I congratulate the new Minister and wish him well in his portfolio. I appreciate that the new Minister for Defence has taken the opportunity to fully endorse the establishment of the representative associations as outlined in the legislation, but he has not said if he is aware of the comments in the PDFORRA newsletter of November where a substantial complaint was made that there is no co-operation not only within the Defence Forces but within the Department towards meeting the associations and negotiating with them. Can the Minister confirm whether, as yet, the General Command staff of the Defence Forces have met with the national elected officers of PDFORRA to discuss issues of common interest? This meeting has been sought for some time but has not been granted to PDFORRA because the Defence Forces staff insist that the representatives present themselves in uniform despite the regulations——

An Ceann Comhairle: The questioning is over long, Deputy.

Mr. McCartan: Is the Minister aware of that and is he taking steps to impress on the General Staff members that they must have regard not only to the letter but to the spirit of the legislation?

[79] Mr. V. Brady: Because the representative structure is completely new at this level, it is to be expected that some difficulties may arise. Indeed, some minor difficulties have arisen.

Mr. McCartan: It is not a minor matter.

Mr. V. Brady: With regard to meeting with the National Command of General Staff, the Assistant Chief of Staff attends meetings at national level on a regular basis and he acts as liaison between the national forum and the General Staff, briefing them on relevant issues. While there have been meetings at HQ level with representatives of the General Staff there has not been a meeting between members of the General Staff and the national executive of the association. This was one of the points I discussed with the executive of PDFORRA at my meeting last week. I am aware of the difficulty there and it is my intention to pursue the difficulty and have the matter resolved at an early stage.

Mr. McCartan: I thank the Minister for his interest in the matter which is not minor. Will the Minister take an opportunity to actively promote his support for the representative process? Will he consider engaging in a small scheme of promotion with regard to educating all the soldiers as to the importance and usefulness of this procedure? Will he give a lead with regard to the importance of this structure?

Mr. V. Brady: There is very strong evidence of willing co-operation of the military authorities with representative associations. This structure is new to the members of PDFORRA and to the General Staff. Obviously there are teething problems. However, we should not overlook the fact that tremendous progress has been made in a short time. Confirmation of that progress was given to me by the national executives of the two associations. There are still some outstanding matters of which I am aware, and it is my intention to endeavour to [80] have the difficulties resolved as quickly as possible because it is very important that co-operation should continue in the interests of the Defence Forces and their members.