I am pleased to have the opportunity to commend this Bill to the Seanad. It is being brought forward as a result of a commitment given by the Government as part of the resolution of a dispute within An Garda Síochána. Following complex negotiations at the Labour Court in November 2016, resolution was found to a potentially very serious dispute within An Garda Síochána and, as part of this resolution, a commitment was given by the Government to provide the Garda associations with access to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court. The Government agreed to the amendment of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to provide access by the Garda associations to the WRC and the Labour Court. A high-level cross-departmental working group comprising representatives from the Departments of the Taoiseach, Justice and Equality, Public Expenditure and Reform, Defence, and Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and representatives from Garda management and the Workplace Relations Commission was set up to progress the issues identified by the Government.
Two subgroups were established under the main working group. The first subgroup on legislation aimed to progress the Bill, which included amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1990. A second subgroup examined industrial relations structures within An Garda Síochána that aided in the resolution of internal disputes, and identified and agreed procedures to provide access to the WRC and the Labour Court. My Department and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel actively engaged in drafting the Bill in discussion with other relevant Departments, namely, the Departments of Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform. All the Garda associations have been full members of phase 2 of the work of the subgroup and have been actively engaged in deliberations on the current proposals for amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1990. Some of the associations, in particular the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, have expressed disappointment with the decision of the Government to rule out trade union status, to refuse members the right to strike and to refuse to set up a separate pay commission for members of An Garda Síochána. The Bill also forms part of the ambitious four-year plan for the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Accordingly, this Bill recognises that the Garda Commissioner as the employer, instead of the Department of Justice and Equality, has the lead responsibility in engaging in discussions on pay and conditions for the purposes of the Bill. The legislation will be subject to a commencement order and will not come into effect until robust internal dispute resolution procedures are in place within An Garda Síochána.
There have been some calls during the passage of this Bill for the inclusion of the Defence Forces and there was strong input in this regard on Second Stage. However, while policy concerning the Defence Forces is a matter for the Minister for Defence, I understand that members of the Defence Forces have a range of parallel complaint and adjudication mechanisms in law to compensate for the limitations on their access to the normal industrial relations machinery that applies in wider society. This includes a statutory redress of wrongs process, an Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, Defence Forces representative associations, and a conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.
Furthermore, I understand that only last year, the Department of Defence completed an independent review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force. The review contains several recommendations aimed at improving the efficiency of the scheme. It is noteworthy that the review did not recommend that the Defence Forces representative associations be provided with access to the WRC and the Labour Court. Instead, the reviewer recommended that the revised scheme should be reviewed after a three-year period, as this would afford the parties an opportunity to assess the scheme's performance. It is appropriate that this time be allowed to assess the operation of the revised scheme. It is not intended to make any legislative amendment that will pre-empt the outcome of the review of the revised scheme, due to take place in 2021.
I will now outline the main provisions of this short Bill, which contains five sections. Section 1 provides for the insertion of a number of definitions in the principal Act, the Industrial Relations Act 1990. Section 2 provides for the amendment of section 3 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to include definitions of a "member" of the Garda Síochána, "Garda Síochána" and "Garda Commissioner". Section 3 provides for the amendment of section 23 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990, which deals with the definition of a number of terms used generally in the context of industrial relations legislation, including the definition of a "worker", which in normal course constitutes a person over the age of 15 who has entered into, or works under, a contract with an employer. In the context of this Bill and the untypical nature of the employment relationship for members of the Garda Síochána, the Bill provides that a "worker" includes a member of the Garda Síochána, that a reference to "employer" means the Garda Commissioner, and that a reference to a contract with an employer is covered by the particular terms and conditions to which members of An Garda Síochána are subject. Section 4 sets out the provisions of the various industrial relations enactments that are being actively disapplied in the context of this Act. These provisions will form a new schedule to the principal Act of 1990 and will include provisions relating to trade union law and the right to collective bargaining under sectoral employment instruments such as the employment regulation orders and the sectoral employment orders. Section 5 relates to the Short Title, collective citation and commencement.
I look forward to hearing the Senators' views and to working with them to progress this important legislation. I am proud to commend the Bill to the Seanad this afternoon.