I take this opportunity to welcome the Bill. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you are much aware that some five years go I initiated the discussion in this Chamber on the matter before us today. At that time, I was told in very positive terms by the then Minister and by a number of Ministers, that the Defence Forces did not want a representative body. Indeed, that is on the record of the House and that was the position of all spokesmen and of successive Ministers. They said the Army did not want a representative body, but having spent 29 years plus in the Defence Forces — I am definitely the longest serving member of the Defence Forces in the Oireachtas — I knew they would demand and get a representative body. It is a proud day for me to welcome this Bill. If the former Ministers, and in particular the previous Minister, had listened to the advice that was given by people like me, this mess that has emerged in the Defence Forces would not have arisen and there would not be this stiff opposition to some aspects of the proposals. If both the Bill and the regulations had been circulated in the military establishments two or three years ago, they would have been more readily accepted. The Defence Forces were misrepresented and the elected representatives took what the Department said in good faith, but a great deal of what was said was put across badly and was misleading in many respects, as emerged following the previous review. One has to accept that there is a great deal of mistrust in the Defence Forces about the whole political scene, and particularly what comes out of the Department.
The Army wives set up an organisation to get around the DFR regulations and then we saw the formation of PDFORRA. On St. Patrick's Day I had the opportunity to meet with a wide variety of different ranks, officers, NCOs and men in a number of locations, particularly in the Border areas. The general consensus was that they would welcome the main thrust of the Bill and the regulations, with certain reservations. It was a matter of finding a way to unlock the impasse and I congratulate the two members of the Government party who took the initiative in that regard. Someone needed to take the initiative because, under the Defence Force Regulations, the Minister could not give official recognition to an organisation which was not provided for in the Defence Force Regulations or in the Bill. I would have proposed that the Minister leave the Bill in limbo, which he is entitled to do under section 8 (3), to allow for discussions either directly or indirectly with PDFORRA so that they could tease out the proposed regulations. I assume that the regulations as circulated are proposed regulations and not final regulations. There are certain aspects of the regulations that can be improved and changed without interfering with the main thrust of either the Bill or the regulations.
The Bill can be amended on Committee Stage and I will be suggesting a number of amendments to our own spokesperson. I know that other members of the Opposition, and perhaps the Minister, who have listened to the debate, will welcome amendments to certain sections, in particular sections 2 and 6. I do not think it is appropriate at this stage to start a discussion which can more appropriately take place on Committee Stage.
However, there are a number of problems that have to be overcome. One matter that came out loud and clear was the exclusion of the conditions of service from the provisions of the Bill. The members of the Defence Forces feel that conditions of service have to be included in a much broader sense and that the terms of reference in the regulations and the Bill are far too narrow. They are not, of course, suggesting for one minute that every time an order is given, be it a fire order or a command, people stop and question everything they are required to do. That is not the intention but there are more aspects involved than just pay and allowances which need to be put right.
It is an accepted fact that the Defence Forces have been neglected generally. While their living quarters and dining facilities in billets have been improved there is still a long way to go. For instance, some Army barracks should have been demolished and rebuilt 100 years ago. There is also the question of rationalisation. It is recognised within the Army that there is too much overlapping and wastage. Some units are not properly equipped and the transport service is a national disgrace. I have raised that matter in the House but was told that there was no problem. If there was an emergency tomorrow we would have to go to CIE to get buses to transport troops as the transport service within the Army has virtually broken down.
I do not know whether the new representative body would want to talk about things like that but I respectfully suggest to the Minister that they should at least voice an opinion as they will have to deal with this matter on a daily basis. Not alone should we give them the pay and allowances they rightly deserve but also give them back their self-respect. The feedback we have been getting in recent times is that their pride and self-respect have been taken away from them. They have been told lies and been misled. At times they have been told that things were OK when everybody knew they were not and they have taken a constant hammering. They must be free to voice their opinions.
In many other European countries not alone are there representative bodies within the defence forces but also all-party committees within parliament made up of people who have served in the defence forces who know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, I think the Taoiseach and I are the only two Members of this House whose service in the Defence Forces is worth talking about. Therefore one can see that the Members of the Oireachtas and members of the public service do not really understand the feelings of the men who have to do 24 hour duty on the Border. A former colonel in the Defence Forces who shall remain nameless, once told me that men do not do 24 hour duty and that I was wrong. That is an indication of the level of ignorance even among former members of the Defence Forces.
The real service, apart from the early days of the State, commenced in 1969. I am aware, being a former member, of the extent of the security duty which had to be performed at a time when the Army was very thin on the ground and when the FCA carried Defence Force personnel on their backs in the Border area. While reference is made to representation for members of the FCA in the form of Permanent Defence Force personnel serving with FCA units, there is no mention of direct representation for members of the FCA. We should bear in mind that most of the conditions affecting the members of the PDF also affect members of the FCA. I suggest that provision should be made in the regulations to allow the representative body co-opt a number of experts or advisers to represent a category not generally covered by that body. There would be nothing unusual about this. In fact it is quite common among trade unions. I have run national groups within my own union and very often have found it necessary to bring in experts. Perhaps a special place could be found for women and members of the FCA of officer, NCO and private rank as they have a contribution to make and have much more experience of industrial relations than the members of the PDF. That is one of the problems that is going to be encountered.
This is a new weapon for the members of the Defence Forces and there is no manual they can consult. The majority of serving members have never been members of trade unions. As I said, 99.9 per cent of them have no experience of industrial relations other than what they have learned from the newspapers, their families and friends. Therefore we will have to be very patient. They have waited a long time for this representative body. This is a very important step and it has to be thought out properly. Above all, there has to be agreement between both sides. There would be no point in asking the Army to operate under conditions they do not agree with. We would be far better off having no legislation or regulations if we were to go down that road. A big mess was made the last time. However the Minister seems to be handling the matter this time in a much more professional and understanding way.
A number of other matters should be looked at. First, I suggest that eventually there will have to be a second phase as, given the turnover of personnel particularly at NCO and private level, it is obviously going to be difficult to maintain continuity within the ranks. I hope the position will improve and that serving members will stay longer now that some of their dignity is being restored. The second phase would be the setting up of some form of outside secretariat, in other words the representative body would be serviced by somebody recruited from outside the Army, such as a professional person or group of people who would be paid by way of contributions from the members of the Defence Forces or jointly by them and the Army. As members of the public service will know there is not the same level of turnover or transferability in other sectors. For example, many hundreds of members of the Defence Forces over a period of two years will have served overseas with the United Nations or other international groupings. Many of these will have to go on courses while others will be transferred, go on the ticket, retire or leave the Army for one reason or another. Therefore to maintain continuity in the organisation the second phase should be the establishment of a full-time secretariat.
I am also very interested in the question of conciliation and arbitration. It is also the question I am most concerned about. As I have pointed out previously, the members of the Defence Forces receive pay increases following the conclusion of negotiations carried out by the public service unit of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. This unit negotiates with the Government of the day to work out an agreement for the public service and eventually this is passed on to members of the Defence Forces. I have also pointed out and it has come out in this discussion that they have never been paid special increases unlike various other sectors within the public service whose union are able to negotiate such increases. I am referring to national understandings and national pay agreements. The Defence Forces could not do that because there was no procedure under which they could put their case. There is no form of arbitration or conciliation for them and the Minister should give careful consideration to that.
We must bear in mind that there is no professional expertise in the Defence Forces in relation to industrial relations. This is a new ball game for them and that is why I welcome the suggestion that PDFORRA should have further consultations on the regulations and the provisions in the Bill. I suggest, respectfully, to that group that they should consult with trade union representatives, preferably at Congress level, who are expert on conciliation and arbitration. They will get only one bite at the cherry.
Much of what I wish to say in regard to the Bill will have to be left to Committee Stage. I can understand the reluctance on the Minister's part, and on the part of senior officials in the Department and senior Army officers, to broaden the scope of the provisions of the Bill. They are afraid that to do so would create problems. I suggest that the regulations should include a provision that the scheme should operate for a trial period of one year or, perhaps, two years. The period should be based on the term of office to be included in the regulations. At the end of the agreed period there should be a positive review of the scheme and any changes considered necessary should be introduced. There is no such thing as a perfect document when dealing with industrial relations and nobody knows that better than I do.
I am satisfied that the proposals in the regulations for representation are reasonable. They are based on a 50:1 ratio which is the type of representation that exists within the trade union movement. It appears to me that geograpically and by command corps and unit, every effort is being made to make the scheme as fair as possible. There is no doubt that problems will arise. For example, the problems of a married man with six children and those of a single person are very different. There is no doubt that conflicts will arise within the ranks because a married man is paid in a different way and his allowances are different from those of a single man but those problems will be sorted out as time goes on.
I should like to ask the Minister to consider a point I wish to make in regard to the FCA. In my view the FCA is the eyes and ears of the Permanent Defence Forces. The members of that group are the main link between the Army and the civil population and it would be wrong to exclude them from this whole operation. The Minister should make provision for the co-operation of a representative of the FCA. I should like to congratulate the Minister on taking the initiative in regard to the Bill. Many years ago an attempt was made by a famous FCA senior officer to form an association but not alone did he run the risk of being court martialed but he was almost excommunicated. It was considered that he had committed a mortal sin by making such a suggestion. This is a proud day for me because I claim, whether other people agree with me or not, to be the person who initiated this campaign. I am pleased that the changes will be made without a split being caused in the Defence Forces. If the Minister had not taken a step to the rear, perhaps an iompaigh thart or a seasaigaí ar ais, we would have been in trouble. We were heading in that direction. It would be better if we delayed a decision on the Bill for a further period and reach agreement on all aspects of it so that we can soldier together on this issue, the political and the military.