Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Bill 2002: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 17, line 43, to delete "shall come" and substitute "comes".

This is a minor technical amendment which proposes to delete "shall come" and substitute "comes". The wording proposed in the amendment is now quite common. The use of the active voice has been recommended by the Law Reform Commission and my esteemed colleague, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, will be familiar with it. Some suggest that the Bill is drafted in the old style and the Minister admitted that when he stated a few minutes ago that it has been in the stocks for a long time. That was a rather unfortunate expression for something associated with the military. The word "stocks" was not intended to be derogatory. The Bill has been in existence for a while. Perhaps the Minister may comment on this amendment.

We are utilising the future tense which is in accordance with long-established style and custom and is the form used in the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 and the original Ombudsman Act 1980. I appreciate the co-operation from Deputies on all sides of the House in the passage of this Bill. I will accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank most sincerely all the Deputies from various sides of the House who contributed so thoughtfully and constructively to the debate on the Bill. All the contributions made were welcome and indicated Deputies had formulated their contributions to the debate with considerable thought and reflection.

As I stated on Second Stage and in addressing individual amendments on Committee Stage, I was pleased to have the opportunity to bring forward two important and fundamental ministerial amendments to the published legislation to accommodate specific concerns raised by PDFORRA. Both amendments secured the support of the House. The first widens the potential remit of the new Defence Forces Ombudsman. This amendment carefully redefines the term "military operations" to greatly limit the definition of the term in the Bill. The amended definition greatly restricts the application of the term "military operation" as a basis for the possible exclusion of the ombudsman from investigating a complaint.

The second significant amendment deals with those unusual circumstances where the ombudsman cannot become involved in the investigation of certain types of complaint, a limited number of which specific statutory exclusions are provided for in the legislation. The second amendment ensures that, in such circumstances, the complainant will retain the present right to refer the complaint to the Minister when internal military channels of appeal have been fully utilised up to and including the Chief of Staff. It has always been the intention to maximise the operational remit of the new Defence Forces Ombudsman to the greatest degree possible. It has always been my view that any limitations which will impose upon the new ombudsman must be materially justifiable in terms of essential criteria for military command and control, operating military effectiveness in the field and security.

Deputy McGinley and Deputy Sherlock, who was represented by Deputy Wall, also submitted a number of amendments on Committee Stage and I thank these Deputies for their attention to and interest in the legislation. However, in the event, I was unable to accommodate any of the amendments bar one.

The objective observer would agree that the Bill, as amended, has secured the proper balance and I am gratified that all the various amendments which I brought forward were so readily accepted by the House. I believe that the Bill, as amended, will provide an excellent statutory foundation for the operation of the new Defence Forces Ombudsman in future. I have every confidence that the establishment of the new office of the Defence Forces Ombudsman will prove to be an important milestone in the history of the Defence Forces. This significant new statutory office will be one major factor among others in ensuring a further development and maintenance of a modern contemporary working environment in the Defence Forces.

In bringing this legislation forward, I have been impressed to note that all the interested parties have acknowledged and agreed the need to preserve and maintain the unique disciplined environment of military life. This aspect of discipline has always been an essential requirement for meeting the challenges and responsibilities of military life. Moreover, these challenges and responsibilities must sometimes be faced under extremely dangerous circumstances.

I thank Deputies, in particular Deputy Durkan and his colleagues, for constructive and supportive engagement with the Bill in the course of its passage through the House. I thank my colleagues in the Department of Defence who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the legislation would be well developed and stand the test of time.

I thank the Minister for accepting one amendment. I do not suppose it will have a ground-shattering effect on anyone involved, but it might be seen as an indication of the modernisation of the phraseology used in this context. Having lived all my life in a constituency that has an ongoing relationship with the Defence Forces, it is timely to reflect on the role they have played heretofore. I do not want to go into that detail today, except to reiterate that they have played a significant role and we pledge our continued support for them. The whole procedure of dealing with complaints in the Defence Forces is something that was unknown 25 years ago, but is apparently working well. That is the way it should be. In the absence of a complaints procedure dissension occurs. Now that the procedure is in place, it is working well. I hope and trust that this element of the procedure, the appointment of an ombudsman and the definition of that office's powers, will be of benefit to the Defence Forces of the future.

I apologise for the absence of Deputy McGinley, who unfortunately is otherwise engaged and cannot be here today. He specifically asked me to stand in for him in discussions with the Minister on the Bill. I thank the Minister, Deputy McGinley and all those involved, including PDFORRA, in the Defence Forces, which made a very useful contribution in preparing this legislation. We hope it all works well.

Question put and agreed to.