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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Apr 2022

Vol. 284 No. 6

Defence (Restriction on Use of Certain Titles) Bill 2021: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am sharing time with Senator O'Loughlin, who is on her way. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire and at the start I thank the Minister, his advisers and officials for their help. I thank the parliamentary legal service for its help on the Bill as well as those in the Defence Forces to whom I have spoken about this matter. Our Defence Forces deserve the respect of the Members in these Houses and we take enormous pride in the contribution the Defence Forces make. It is a professional body of men and women who serve this country, both home and abroad.

The Minister has the Report of the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces, which is presented to him with a number of options, all of which will require investment. There is a consensus within the House that we must address the broader question around the terms and conditions of those who serve. They are very important debates and we look forward to having them with the Minister. They are, however, debates for another day. This debate is very much about respect for the title of the organisation of those who serve. At the outset it must be made clear there is only one "Óglaigh na hÉireann", and that is our Defence Forces.

In many ways there should not be a need to protect the title but we know, unfortunately, that it has been abused and misused by certain groups. Quite frequently, that is correctly viewed as an insult to the Defence Forces and, in many ways, to the State itself. The principle of the Bill is to protect the title "Óglaigh na hÉireann", and it would make it an offence to use the title of Óglaigh na hÉireann in contemporary circumstances where it is referring to anything other than the Defence Forces.

Provisions in this Bill would not apply to those who legitimately use it when we are talking about the Defence Forces. If we are talking about support or representative organisations of current or former members, or partners of Defence Forces members or dependants of same, its provisions would not apply. The provisions would not apply in an historical context, such as if we speak about those involved in pre-truce or post-truce military service. This is defined in the Bill with respect to the Army Pensions Act 1932, for example. We should be very clear about this. The Bill is not aiming to affect the Óglaigh na hÉireann we all know played a very important role in Irish history a century ago.

The aim of the legislation would apply very clearly to contemporary Ireland, from this point, and it would deal with dissident groups and others that would try falsely to link the activities of certain individuals to the noble actions of those who fought for Ireland a century ago. I hope all parties and none within this House will recognise there is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann. I was quite gratified that ,in February 2021, Deputy David Cullinane of Sinn Féin stated:

There is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann and that is the Irish Army. That is my view and that is Sinn Féin's view.

I welcomed the declaration at the time because it is important for any political party operating here to respect the title of Óglaigh na hÉireann. I hope in Sinn Féin's response to the principle of the Bill - I hope the same for all parties in here - the position will be upheld. I hope Senator Ó Donnghaile, on behalf of Sinn Féin, will make it clear there is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann, which is the Defence Forces. As part of the Sinn Féin contribution, I hope he will ask the members and supporters of Sinn Féin not to abuse the title of "Óglaigh na hÉireann" and that in contemporary Ireland it should only refer to the Defence Forces.

I appreciate fully that, with dissident groups, it is difficult to try to enforce measures when people misuse the name. It is one of the challenges in bringing forward this Bill. I am quite certain no political party in this House would want to associate with any of those dissident groups that have tried to undermine the peace process. Sadly, we still see them in existence on this island.

From speaking to officials in the Department of Defence, I am aware there are a number of issues within the Bill. I am quite happy to work with the Department and colleagues around the House to address a number of those issues on Committee Stage. It is the appropriate forum at which to tease out some of the detail of the Bill. The ultimate goal of the legislation and the reason it is on the floor of the House today is the protection of the title "Óglaigh na hÉireann". It is the principle of the Bill and it is about respect for and protection of that title. We owe it to the Defence Forces to achieve that aim. It is for that reason I am proposing the legislation.

I second the proposal from Fianna Fáil. I am taking this slot on behalf of Senator Joe O'Reilly, who is unavailable. Perhaps Senator O'Loughlin wishes to make her contribution before me?

I apologise for my late arrival and I did not expect the Senator to give way. I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and I am delighted to have the opportunity to second the proposal put before us by Senator Byrne this evening. I also thank Senator Byrne for affording all of us the time to pledge our absolute support to Óglaigh na hÉireann on the record this evening. I thank him for the work done to ensure the history and stoicism of our Defence Forces can be protected.

I will interrupt Senator O'Loughlin so that Senator Malcolm Byrne can give her a glass of water. For the first time in history, he did not take up his entire allocated time. He is a man who is well able to talk down the clock in normal circumstances but he has given Senator O'Loughlin the bones of ten minutes, so I will allow her to take a drink of water and to catch her breath.

I am only realising now that I am sharing time. I thought I was the second speaker.

The rotation is different because it is a Private Members' Bill.

I will learn that some day.

For the benefit of Members, the next speaker is Senator Craughwell, followed by Senators Carrigy, Martin, Ó Donnghaile, Wall and our newest Senator, Senator Clonan, will make his first contribution today on ordinary business.

Thank you for giving me that breather, a Chathaoirligh.

That is all right. I am well able to fill time when I am called upon.

I appreciate that.

I thank the Minister for his indulgence.

I second the motion. It is important that this motion is agreed to ensure that the history and stoicism of the Defence Forces are protected now and for future generations. It only takes a simple glance at the Defence Forces website, news outlets or the history books to see the long and proud history of our forces. As many Members will know, I am a passionate advocate for the Defence Forces and I have always used my influence and voice to champion the cause of the Defence Forces community in Kildare and nationally. The call to serve one's country is something that cannot be matched. We are very privileged and honoured to serve our country within the Houses of the Oireachtas but having the opportunity to serve the country within the Defence Forces is an equal honour.

I regularly meet with active and retired members of the Defence Forces, as well as representative bodies, and I am always amazed by their sense of duty, national pride and their commitment to the State and its people. I mention PDFORRA in particular. Its members are an incredible group of people and the work they do representing their men and women on the ground is exemplary. Óglaigh na hÉireann is a remarkable organisation that has its roots deep in the fabric of this nation. We have all heard stories of the dedication of its members. Many of us have great affection and respect for members of Óglaigh na hÉireann, both past and present.

Hailing from south Kildare, our role and involvement in the defence community is something that we hold very dear to our hearts. Many communities in south Kildare rely heavily on members of the Defence Forces, who serve not only our communities but our nation with distinction. The Curragh Camp is home to 2,000 military personnel and is the main training centre for the Irish Defence Forces. People choose to enter Óglaigh na hÉireann to serve this State, in order to further the cause of the Irish people, and to pledge their support for our nation. That is why they enlist, put themselves in harm's way and sacrifice so much. They do this in the service of the State and the flag. As legislators, we must ensure that what they do, which they do solely in the name of this State, is sacrosanct - not in the name of a fringe group or an alternative military force or anything else. They deserve the respect of a legally protected title and that is what the Bill does. It is of concern that the title is not protected. This legislation will make it an offence to use the terms "Óglaigh na hÉireann" or "Defence Forces" in any context other than where it applies to the Defence Forces in this country. We cannot allow any organisation, political party or militia group usurp that title for its own cause.

The defence community serves on the shoulders of its predecessors. They serve at the pleasure of this State and they advance a long, proud and dignified history of Óglaigh na hÉireann. They are building on the legacy of heroes gone before them. The main issue being addressed by the Bill is that there is only one Irish defence force, made up of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service. Without this Bill, there would be no legislation stopping anyone using the term. This legislation is needed to stop the use of the title in any context other than referencing the legal actions and structure of the Irish Defence Forces. The Bill proposes the amendment of the Defence Act 1954 and will add a new section, which will ensure that it is an offence for anyone, without lawful authority, to establish a body of any description which uses either of the titles, "Óglaigh na hÉireann" or "Defence Forces". Senator Malcolm Byrne has referenced this. Any person found guilty of this offence may be charged with a class D fine.

I am pleased to see that the Bill does have exemptions for a variety of reasons for historical use of the term to former members of the Defence Forces. It is also welcome that it does not apply to veterans' organisations of the Permanent Defence Force or representative associations of other ranks such as PDFORRA, which I mentioned, that represents in excess of 6,500 members of the Defence Forces. Likewise, the Bill does not apply to the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO. Both organisations are highly important in representing the rights and interests of those who serve Ireland under the Defence Forces.

The Defence Forces have been under-resourced, ignored and have not always been shown the respect they deserve. The report of the Commission on the Defence Forces, which was unveiled recently, is very welcome. We need to hear the thoughts of the Minister on the recommendations that are made in the report and they must be implemented. The Bill is one aspect of showing the respect that is needed and deserved, and in enshrining the hard-fought legacy in the Statute Book.

I reiterate my calls in the Seanad for a permanent pay review body to be established as an absolute priority. It is hard to speak of issues relating to the Defence Forces and not point out the glaring resource issues and pay and conditions for personnel. That includes the opportunity for them to join the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. That is really important.

The implementation of the findings of the Commission on the Defence Forces must be tackled and commenced. We must deal with the cultural issues that were raised and we must support personnel at every stage of the transformation agenda. I will fight to ensure the recommendations are implemented and that the defence community in south Kildare and throughout the country is shown the respect it deserves.

ICTU membership is a vital component that needs to be addressed. Without the right of affiliation we risk excluding the very people we wish to include from talks on vital pay and conditions. However, to return specifically to the Bill at hand, we must honour, support and respect the Defence Forces. I will finish with a direct quote from the Defence Forces:

Since its inception the Defence Forces, Óglaigh na hÉireann, have faithfully maintained a strong ethos and a set of values that have ensured a continuous and exemplary level of professionalism at home and abroad. The Defence Forces ethos of continued volunteer service to the State and the six values of respect, loyalty, selflessness, physical courage, moral courage and integrity form the bedrock of the organisation and are central to our effectiveness. They are fundamental to sustaining Óglaigh na hÉireann as a steadfast pillar of the Irish State.

Only one organisation can be associated with these values, this ethos and this service to our people, that is, Óglaigh na hÉireann, our Defence Forces. I am very happy to second the motion.

The Minister has indicated that he would like to come in. Would he like to come in now?

From a legal perspective, it might be helpful to the House if I did. I thank Senators for their accommodation, in particular the other party spokespersons. I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne and the other proposing Senators for bringing this Bill before the Seanad. I appreciate the honourable intentions and efforts of Senator Malcolm Byrne and his colleagues in bringing forward this Bill and I fully concur with his sentiments and the principles he is seeking to protect.

We all hold our Defence Forces in high esteem. I am also sure that we would all be concerned at any attempt by any person or organisation to lay claim to, or to represent themselves as, the lawfully raised Defence Forces of the State which, under section 16 of the Defence Act 1954, are to be called and known as "Óglaigh na hÉireann".

I wish to advise the House that the Government will therefore not be opposing the Bill on Second Stage. The Government fully respects and supports the intent of the Bill. However, there are major issues around the construction of the Bill as currently drafted and the extent to which it can successfully address the objectives of the proposers in protecting the title in a legally enforceable manner. There will, therefore, be a requirement to bring forward substantive Government amendments on Committee Stage to address certain difficulties identified following a review of the legislation by my Department and the Attorney General's office.

This Bill, as it stands, endeavours to address an issue that I am very much aware has been a sensitive one and has been raised on many occasions over the years. Successive Governments, Members of the Oireachtas, the Defence Forces and, indeed, many political commentators have expressed objections to the use of the title "Óglaigh na hÉireann" by non-Defence Forces institutions and, most particularly, by paramilitary and dissident organisation. Since the enactment of the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act 1923, the official Irish name of the Defence Forces of the State has been "Óglaigh na hÉireann". As such, the Defence Forces remain the only organisation entitled to use this term.

In brief, the focus of the proposed Bill is to amend the Defence Act 1954 to insert a new section 258A to provide that it shall be an offence for a person without lawful authority to establish a body of any description which uses either of the titles "Óglaigh na hÉireann" or "Defence Forces" and, second, for a person to join or act as a member of any such organisation.

The Bill further provides that a person found guilty of an offence under this new section will be liable on summary conviction to a class D fine, which is to a maximum of €1,000. In addition, the Bill contains a wide range of exemptions for organisations using the titles in question for various purposes, for example, historic reasons or the provision of services to serving or former members of the Defence Forces.

Following a review of the Bill, my Department identified a number of issues with the Bill which might potentially give rise to difficulties. The Attorney General has also reviewed the legislation and provided legal advice confirming the Department's concerns. Given the historical resonance of the title "Óglaigh na hÉireann", which dates back to the foundation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, I am concerned that it might prove difficult, on the basis of the Bill as currently drafted, to mount a successful prosecution for the unlawful use of such title.

In addition, the following difficulties have been identified on the basis on an initial review of the Bill. First, the provisions in the Bill concerning the formation of the prohibited type of body, and membership of it, would be difficult to prove in court. Second, under the Bill it would be for the Minister for Defence to prosecute the offence, further to section 7 of the Defence Act 1954. However, the procurement of evidence on the organisations targeted by the Bill would be complex and risk straying into the remit of An Garda Síochána. Obviously, this provision will require further consideration and consultation with my colleague, the Minister for Justice.

Further consideration would also be required to be given to the exemptions from prosecution provided for in the Bill. As currently drafted, any organisation prosecuted under the Bill is likely to claim that the exemptions provided for in the draft Bill apply to that organisation and would, potentially, be successful in that regard, thus undermining the very intent of the Bill. Finally, an organisation prosecuted under the Bill could claim it had used the title prior to the law's enactment and, consequently, the provision could be determined to amount to a retrospective sanction. This element of the legislation also requires further consideration.

Based on the advice of the Attorney General, there are substantial concerns that the Bill as currently drafted will not achieve the intent of the proposers. The Attorney General has also raised significant doubt about the potential to mount a successful prosecution of a person or organisation under the Bill as currently drafted. Further consideration will be required to ensure that the provisions of the Bill do not undermine the very purpose of the Bill in the first place. I hope that everybody will work with me on that point.

As I stated at the outset, the Government is not opposing this Bill and, indeed, fully supports its intent. However, delivering on that intent will require significant amendments to the current draft. My Department will need to engage with the Attorney General's office in that regard and will bring forward amendments on Committee Stage to that effect. My Department will also be consulting with the Department of Justice and the Attorney General's office in the course of the drafting of the required Committee Stage amendments. My Department will also engage, of course, with Senator Malcolm Byrne in advance of the Committee Stage debate.

It may take some time to draft those amendments given the demands on the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. However, I would like to assure Senators that I will bring forward the requisite amendments as quickly as possible. In other words, we support what Senator Malcolm Byrne is trying to do here. His intent is correct but the legal advice of my Department and of that provided by the Attorney General, with whom I have spoken personally in respect of this Bill, is that we believe, with the input of the Department and of the Office of the Attorney General, we can deliver on the intent of the Bill as outlined.

We will work with the Senator on that to produce amendments that can be introduced on Committee Stage to try to deliver legislation that is fit for purpose and can secure the necessary prosecutions, should it come to that. I ask everybody to work with me on that and we will try to do this as quickly as we can.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. I thank the Minister for clarifying the position and for confirming that he is committed to the Bill, to what it proposes to do, and that he is prepared to put the resources of the State behind the bringing forward of any amendments that are required to make this Bill work.

I am a former member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and am very proud of that. I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for doing something that should have been done a long time ago to enshrine the name "Óglaigh na hÉireann" and to make it available to only one organisation in this country. My colleagues mentioned PDFORRA and RACO. We should also have put the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association, RDFRA, into the mix because during the time when I was in the Defence Forces the Reserve Defence Force was available to this State at weekends and at night when we were short of personnel and when we needed to protect the State and its citizens.

It has always been a bugbear of mine and of those of us who have served that frequently we found ourselves in a situation where we were searching houses in this country during the time of the kidnapping of Tiede Herrema and Don Tidey, and that those were the houses of people who were known sympathisers of a republican movement who regarded themselves as members of Óglaigh na hÉireann. The only people who had the right to use that term were those of us who stood in the uniform of the State and who stood to protect it in every way. It is a matter of deep regret to me that people putting themselves forward as Óglaigh na hÉireann killed members of both the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána under the name that they were pursuing at the time, whatever the hell it was. It is vitally important and is a matter of respect for those who serve. I know that the Minister has been aware for some time of the Respect and Loyalty movement which exists in the country among veterans but that is a topic for another day and time. Today is about this Bill.

Former members of the Defence Forces have always resented the fact that people have used the title "Óglaigh na hÉireann" and, indeed, have put it on headstones when the people that we are talking about were not members of Óglaigh na hÉireann, did not wear the uniform of this State, did not stand guard on the Border or on vital installations in this State, and did not disrupt the movements of terrorists who used this country to propagate attacks in Northern Ireland. We are talking about a step in the right direction today towards respect and recognition for those who served.

My colleagues and former colleagues will be extremely happy with it.

I would hope this is the first step in what I call restorative justice in the Defence Forces, because the Defence Forces, and this is a discussion we can have at another time, needs to go back through its history and recognise the actions and deeds of members of the Defence Forces who put their lives on the line regularly for this State. We know the Jadotville issue has gone a particular direction but there are other great deeds that were carried out by members of the Defence Forces both here in Ireland and in various other parts of the world: Lebanon, Chad and so on. They have never been recognised for the things they did. In a period in our history when we are pursuing restorative justice in other areas of Irish society, it would be a great act of loyalty to those who served if the Chief of Staff initiated a period of restorative justice and an examination of the history of the Defence Forces over the past 100 years to see where acts that were carried out and not recognised might be recognised now.

I was in Longford on Sunday at the removal of Quartermaster Sergeant Michael Tighe. Meeting his daughters was a truly emotional event. They spoke about Michael’s actions both in the tunnel and Jadotville. It is a sad situation that families believe they have been neglected and overlooked. This is not an issue for the Minister because he cannot do anything about the type of justice of which I speak. He is not in a position to do that. From the first day he tries to do something like that, he will have people such as me jumping down his throat asking why he is interfering in the military. He is the Minister and he can ask the Defence Forces to do things but it must make the decision itself.

Rightly or wrongly I am using my platform today to ask the Defence Forces to actually look into its own heart, as it were, and see if it has left people out, forgotten people or neglected the actions of people. If it has, as much a part of dedicating the title "Óglaigh na hÉireann" to the Defence Forces, we should also look at the actions of whose who served. I hope the Defence Forces will do that. I am very grateful to the Minister for throwing his weight behind this and that he will bring in the Office of the Attorney General. I am grateful to the Department officials who have taken the time to go through this and to engage with other Departments to see what has to be done and bring forward the amendments. I thank the officials for that. I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for what he is doing here today.

I welcome the Minister. I welcome the commitment from Government to support the Bill and to ensure it is robust and legal. I pay tribute also to Senators Malcolm Byrne and O’Loughlin for bringing it forward. When I think of Óglaigh na hÉireann, I think of General Seán Mac Eoin. I am from Ballinalee in County Longford. The blacksmith of Ballinalee served in the War of Independence and went on to become Chief of Staff in the Irish Defence Forces. I think of all the men and women who served in Seán Connolly Barracks in my home town of Longford and in Columb Barracks in Mullingar throughout the years. Columb Barracks is closed but I am delighted that the Minister of State, Deputy Burke announced that a new electric vehicle management agency is going to be based in the barracks and will bring life back into it. I also think of Custume Barracks in Athlone and welcome the commitment I received from the Minister some months ago that it will be maintained and improved to serve our Defence Forces.

I will be there tomorrow.

Yes, indeed, and I will meet you there.

I proudly say that I think of Captain Marie Carrigy, my cousin, who read the Proclamation on Easter Sunday outside the GPO last year. As a family we were extremely proud of her serving in our Defence Forces and of the role she plays. I think of all our soldiers overseas, the 352 troops of the 119th Infantry Battalion who went to serve in the Lebanon last October, those who served in Israel, Syria, Mali, Congo, Bosnia, Kosovo and in various other military representations around the world, and all those who fought and died serving with our Defence Forces.

I thank the Minister for the commitment he has given to maintaining and bringing our Defence Forces up to an agreed strength of 9,500, which is extremely difficult but I welcome the commitment given by Government to doing that and bringing in schemes to incentivise people to join our Defence Forces. I was struck by Senator O'Loughlin's comment, and she is 100% right, when she said we need to honour, respect and support our Defence Forces. That is what the Minister and the Government are going to do. I want to give my support. There is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann and that is those who serve in our Defence Forces of the State.

Tá fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Seanad. We have a precious peace, but it is not a perfect peace. When it is not a perfect peace, it means much more work has to be done in the area of truth, reconciliation and healing. There are safe assumptions such as those my friend, Senator Carrigy, makes when he says that when he thinks of Óglaigh na hÉireann, he thinks of General Seán Mac Eoin, or when Senator Craughwell says he served in Óglaigh na hÉireann. I have no doubt the Óglaigh na hÉireann he served in is the real and only one, but in other parts of Ireland, people would not see it that way. They served in a different Óglaigh na hÉireann. I am not asking Members to agree or to appreciate that but I am asking them to try to see it through that prism, unpalatable as it may be. It is only when we reach deep into where other people are coming from that we will reach a genuine authentic peace. The peace process, which is an ongoing project, may well take a step forward in healing this evening. I do not like to make predictions but it might well be that this motion may not be opposed today. That is a huge step forward. It would have been unimaginable 20, ten or five years ago.

Parliamentarians in this Chamber are all old enough to remember the slogan, the ballot box in one hand and the Armalite in the other hand. That is the context. That is a long journey for people to travel in two respects. It is a seismic shift to be signing a press release with P. O’Neill, Óglaigh na hÉireann on it. That was in a different Ireland, thank God. They will make mistakes and get things wrong on that journey. We do not have to love them but we have to reach out, listen, try to understand where they are coming from and build up some respect.

Equally, on the journey are the die-hard parliamentarians and democrats who stood by the flag through all those years of bitter pain when members of Óglaigh na hÉireann and An Garda Síochána in most towns in this country went out, left their families and never came home. I know all about the hurt that caused. I know one member of An Garda Síochána who died in 1983, and his mother, now deceased, never recovered. That is damage it did.

Let us not expect too much. On this journey, do not expect modernisation. It may be a form of modification. If that modification is genuine, I am not asking people to embrace it but to work with it. As that modified force in Irish politics gets stronger and seemingly stronger again, it is important that people never take cheap political shots at it out of envy. This motion is driven 100% by authentic sincerity and it should be seen in that context.

It should be seen in the context that perhaps this safeguard will prove to be useful in years to come but it does not, thankfully, have to address any challenge today. My county, Kildare, has a very proud Defence Forces tradition. Of course, there is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann.

I welcome the Minister. I do not for one moment question the bona fides of the Senators who moved and seconded this motion. I also believe the Minister can never be accused, as sometimes happens, of putting up smokescreens and excuses or sending something off to another committee. Has anyone ever seen a monument erected in honour of a committee yet? I have not. It has not gone to committee, however. Each and every one of the points made by the Minister would appear to be statable, plausible and credible. He is right to take the best possible advice. In my humble opinion, however, none of those points would prove to me to be legally insurmountable, nor has the Minister said otherwise.

Senator Malcolm Byrne has started a journey by adding a piece to the jigsaw. That is all it is. It is a small step but when that step is fully enacted and completed, hopefully, in a politically mature environment, it will be a good day for that healing and authentic peace we all want and for which we are all striving. We have so much more work to do to achieve it, however.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire don phlé anocht agus aithním moltóirí an rúin, na Seanadóirí Malcolm Byrne agus Fiona O'Loughlin.

I will begin by welcoming the Minister and recognising Senators Malcolm Byrne and O'Loughlin for bringing this legislation before us. I accept that the term "Óglaigh na hÉireann" applies to the Defence Forces. While I do not have the same experience of the Defence Forces as others, either in terms of membership or their input into the life of my community and city and the world around me, since coming into this Seanad in 2016, I have always endeavoured to be a champion advocate for the Defence Forces and their needs. I commend, acknowledge and recognise their members' bravery, commitment and service.

I am pretty convinced that this is not the most pressing issue currently facing the Defence Forces. I say respectfully to the proposers that it would have been a much better use of all of our parliamentary time to debate the failures of successive Governments to deal with the real issues facing the Defence Forces around pay and conditions and the lack of supports for veterans and their families.

At a recent visit to the Curragh Camp with colleagues from the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence - I think Senator Wall was there - I heard some stark contributions from soldiers. Some of them told me that they were actively considering leaving the Defence Forces to sign on. Some told me their children were now earning more money than they were. Some also said that despite being fit and healthy, they had aged out and could not longer go overseas with the Defence Forces and thereby modestly increase their money. Those were the issues that were conveyed to me and, I am sure, other colleagues just a few weeks ago.

This Bill is what we are discussing tonight, however. I accept that. That is the issue Fianna Fáil has put before us, as is its prerogative. That is fair enough. On the legislation, I, too, have concerns at this stage around its competency and the Minister referred to his concerns. The term "Óglaigh na hÉireann" is spelled out as the name of the Defence Forces in the Constitution. I accept that and it would seem to me that it affords legal protection.

All that said, I am more than happy to see the Bill move to the next Stage of the legislative process to examine whether it can be amended and improved. The Minister gave a signal of intent to bring forward necessary amendments. I have no doubt, as with many other issues pertaining to the Defence Forces, he will find a willing ear and people willing to co-operate with him right across this Chamber.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I thank him for indicating that the Government is not opposing this Bill and fully supports its intent. That is very important and the Labour Party fully supports it too.

It is also very important to note the following part of the Minister's statement:

Since the enactment of the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act 1923, the official Irish name of the Defence Forces of the State has been Óglaigh na hÉireann. As such, the Defence Forces remain the only organisation entitled to use this term.

That is why we are here tonight. I thank Senators Malcolm Byrne and O'Loughlin and Fianna Fáil colleagues for putting this Bill in front of us. As other colleagues have done, I also thank the representative bodies of the various parts of our Defence Forces, namely, RACO, PDFORRA, RDFRA, and, obviously, the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women, O.N.E., which are all doing a great job for those who have served or are currently serving.

I cannot let the opportunity pass to raise a couple of issues with the Minister. The previous time the Minister was in the House, I was in the Chair. We discussed the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. At that stage, the Minister indicated he would come before us again to discuss the findings of that report. I know he has had an opportunity to discuss it with Deputies in the Lower House. I ask that such an opportunity be offered to Members of the Upper House.

The Minister will be aware that a number of us have repeatedly spoken to him about issues surrounding our Defence Forces. Those issues continue to this day. We read the positive and hopeful news that the Cabinet is discussing offering an extra €1 billion to the Defence Forces. Will the Minister confirm discussions on that type of money are taking place Cabinet? Perhaps when he comes back, he will have some good news for our Defence Forces.

I cannot let the opportunity to raise the issue of affiliation pass. I raised it in the House the other day, and it was raised earlier by my colleague in County Kildare, Senator O'Loughlin. I ask the Minister, as Senator Craughwell has done on numerous occasions, to give the House an update on affiliation to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, by PDFORRA and RACO, should they wish to affiliate. We are hearing that pay talks have been triggered. Now is the time for the Minister to tell us he will allow PDFORRA to affiliate once and for all. I cannot see why there should be a barrier to that. The Minister said he did not see a barrier but that he had to be convinced. What is needed to convince him? That is the question many of us are asking. Affiliation is in place in almost every other European country. Now is the time to allow it in Ireland as well.

I want to bring up one other issue with the Minister. There were reports again in the media last week that another Minister had offered Army support to the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, in a commercial capacity to help with its commercial needs.

Surely that is not right and did not happen. Surely the Minister cannot stand over that and he will tell us it did not happen. That is not the professional force of which I know.

That is not the professional force we are talking about tonight.

That is not the subject matter of the Bill.

The term "Defence Forces" is in the Title, in fairness, and that is what we are discussing.

That is a very broad interpretation of the Title.

It is the correct one.

I will leave it at that, a Chathaoirligh. I have said my piece on that particular incident and maybe the Minister can comment. If not, I ask him to revert to me afterwards.

I thank Fianna Fáil and Senators Malcolm Byrne and Senator O'Loughlin in particular for introducing this Bill. The Labour Party fully supports it.

I hope the Minister will be back before the House to discuss the very important report of the Commission on the Defence Fores. I again thank all the representative associations. I thank the Minister as well. He has always made himself available when we have asked him to come to the House to discuss the Defence Forces. He has always been forthcoming in conversations. Tonight is the night for Óglaigh na hÉireann, however. It is the one and only organisation of which we are all proud. I will finish off with the four words I used previously. Respect, loyalty, dedication and professionalism are what sum up Óglaigh na hÉireann for me.

Hear, hear. Well said.

Go raibh maith agat. Aside from his maiden speech yesterday, I now call Senator Tom Clonan to give his first address to the House.

I thank the Cathaoirleach. I was not aware that I would have an opportunity to speak. I welcome the sentiment contained in the Bill and I thank the Minister for setting out his concerns clearly in this regard. We live in an era of disinformation and propaganda. In 2014, we saw the Russians elide their activities in Donbas by referring to their own troops as "little green men". Nomenclature is very important. I was a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and am very proud of my service. It is very important in an era of fake news, propaganda and uncertainty that we should avoid at all costs a situation where any group or grouping might exploit the good name of Óglaigh na hÉireann either to cause confusion, sow dissent or in any way to politicise the identity of that organisation. The Bill is a good proposal. Looking at the Order of Business on my first day, I was particularly interested in it.

I am sure the Minister will not thank me for raising this at the first opportunity but I am aware that the principal concern among my former colleagues is pay and conditions. I know he is very committed to looking at that situation. In order to protect the great institution that is the Defence Forces into the future, aside from all of the transformation that is required, to which I know the Minister is very committed, we must work to preserve the corporate skill sets within the organisation and its capacity to protect and defend us in what will be a very challenging couple of decades ahead. To do that, we really need to fix the pay and conditions aspect. I look forward to working with the Minister, my colleague, Senator Craughwell, and everybody else in this Chamber to advance the restoration of pay and proper conditions for serving members.

I welcome the Minister and congratulate Senators Malcolm Byrne, O'Loughlin, Casey and colleagues on bringing forward this important Bill. If I were to use one word to describe what it is about, it would be "respect", that is, respect for the institutions of the State. Since independence and the seminal moment of the handover of Dublin Castle to our Army and the raising of the Tricolour, we have had one armed force in this State. It is right and proper that the correct title would be applied to the Defence Forces and would only be used to describe them. They are, as outlined in the Bill, the forces "raised and maintained under the Defence Acts 1954 to 2015". In essence, the Bill is about respect for a very important institution of our State, which has been a symbol of our independence since the foundation of the State and of our security and protection thereafter. I certainly commend it. There have been elements in this country who have not been recognising of the State and our institutions and who would use the term "Óglaigh na hÉireann" to describe forces other than the Army. I support the recognition of the proper use of the term, as described.

A number of weeks ago, I attended a ceremony marking the 100 years since the handover of the former Renmore Barracks in Galway, now Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa Barracks, to the Irish State. It was a nice ceremony, as such Defence Forces events always are. They put on a good show, as it were, demonstrating their professionalism and the respect and courtesy they have for the flag and the institutions. The occasions are always moving, whether they be the Easter 1916 ceremonies or other such events. The Defence Forces put on a professional event, with invitations for people living locally and former members and their families. It is particularly important when we consider those who have lost their lives while serving abroad that the correct and proper name is used to describe the Defence Forces and to describe only them.

Like other speakers, I hope the Minister will be back to discuss the whole area of defence. For some months now, starting with the incursions in our economic waters and the stance he, the Government and, indeed, the fishermen in the south east took, there has been a need for such discussion. With all that has happened in Ukraine and the publication of the independent report, it is high time that we have a larger debate on defence, NATO and neutrality. I hope the Minister will return at an early date to have that debate. I congratulate Senator Malcolm Byrne and others on their work on the Bill. I hope it can progress quickly and that whatever amendments are proposed by the Government will be debated and taken on board to strengthen this very symbolic and important, although technical, Bill.

I propose to share time with my colleague, Senator McGreehan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister to the House for this debate. I congratulate my colleagues, Senators Malcolm Byrne, O'Loughlin and Casey, on bringing forward this important legislation. From my office, I listened with interest to all of the contributions. I cannot disagree with any of them.

I take this opportunity to welcome Senator Clonan to the Seanad. I look forward to working alongside him for many years to come. He joins the House as a distinguished academic and also a former member of the Defence Forces. We know he will bring that expertise to any discussion we have on the Defence Forces. That is very welcome. As he knows, we have had an expert on defence matters on the Independent benches for some time. Whether the latter continues to be the expert or becomes the second in command, we have yet to see. We very much look forward to that.

On a serious note, Senator Wall and other colleagues on all sides of the Chamber have, throughout the past number of years and even before that, highlighted the difficulties our Defence Forces, Óglaigh na hÉireann, have faced, particularly in the past ten years. Like all my colleagues, I have the height of respect and regard for Óglaigh na hÉireann, including our Army, Air Corps and navy. I am very proud to say that a family member of mine is a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann, serving with distinction in Custume Barracks in Athlone. I am aware of the significant work the Defence Forces carry out on our behalf on a daily basis. They do so covertly. An old county manager of mine once said to me that the reason the waterworks and sewerage works are the last to get funding in every council is because the work that goes on cannot be seen. Our Army does a fantastic job covertly. Perhaps we should start doing more to highlight the important work it does.

I am fully supportive of this Bill. I know the history of the name and was present in this House when then Senator Cullinane, whose words were referenced earlier, stated his belief that there is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann and it is the Defence Forces.

Today, his colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, has reiterated that and I very much welcome it.

I commend Senator Byrne and his colleagues again on bringing forward this important legislation. I hope the difficulties the Minister outlined can be dealt with. I look forward to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, coming back to this House to discuss the Commission on the Defence Forces.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I congratulate my colleague, Senator Malcolm Byrne, on bringing forward this Bill. It is long overdue. When one considers the history of this country and the men and women who wore this uniform, it is a Bill of respect. It is about standing up for democracy, being proud of our soldiers and institutions and standing tall alongside our Army and democratic institutions. I am deeply saddened that the name Óglaigh na hÉireann has been disrespected and dishonoured for decades by terrorist organisations. We have a proud tradition of Defence Forces in this country. We all know there is only one legitimate Army.

I think about the proud origins of our soldiers and Defence Forces and their early beginnings in our State a century ago as Óglaigh na hÉireann. I have to remember some Louth people who lost their lives and served with great dignity in our Army. Sean Magee, was a young officer in pre-Independence times who was murdered by the Black and Tans. Two years later, James Boyle, a member of the national Army, was killed during an ambush during the Civil War. We honour these men. We honour Private Michael McNeela, who lost his young life serving in 1986 in Lebanon. It would also be remiss of me not to mention Lieutenant General Seán Mac Eoin, who was born but 200 m down from my own home. He was an officer who entered in the Army in 1930 and was commissioned the following year.

It is this proud legacy as a proud, distinguished service that makes this Bill so important. This Bill is a symbol of respect, but we also need that symbol of respect translated into actions. We have to have more than respect. We need to look after all our serving and retired Army officers.

When I see the gravestones and headstones of Provisional IRA members using the name of this great country’s Army on their headstones, abusing and insulting a legitimate Army, bastardising and denigrating the name of our Army in the same way they do our flag, it is both upsetting and infuriating. I welcome the acknowledgement that we have only one Army in this country. However, I would ask a question that I would like to have answered because we have not had a clear answer. They purport to support this Bill and say we have only one Army and recognise that. One side does that and the other side does not recognise the State, the Constitution and the background to that State.

Does the Minister want to make a brief remark at this stage?

I do not think I can come back because I am not the sponsoring person.

I thank all Senators who contributed to this discussion because it is an important matter. Any time we have had a debate on defence matters, the Minister has come into this House regularly. He takes his responsibilities with that portfolio very seriously, as he does with his responsibilities in foreign affairs. For that, we are grateful. Like colleagues, I look forward to those debates on those other very important defence issues.

I respectfully disagree with Senator Ó Donnghaile when he said this was the issue we chose to raise on Private Members’ business because, like other colleagues in all parties and none, we have all be raising Defence Forces issues. However, this is one that has rankled for a long time. Indeed, in the Minister’s address, he acknowledged the fact this has been raised by Members of the Oireachtas, Ministers, Deputies, Senators and political commentators. Most importantly, it has been raised by members of Óglaigh na hÉireann. Serving and former members get particularly annoyed at how the title of the Defence Forces is abused and misused and they want it to be protected.

When I started in the drafting of this legislation, I thought it was possibly going to be a bit easier than it turned out to be because we regularly protect other titles of professions and so on, and it is much easier to be able to do it. The word “university”, for instance, is a protected title. Given the historical nature of the title "Óglaigh na hÉireann", that presented quite a number of difficulties. As we worked through the legislation, I certainly found there were a number of challenges. I am very happy and it is appropriate that, on Committee State, we work in a collaborative way with the Minister, his officials and in a cross-party way to ensure we achieve the objectives of this Bill. I understand the time pressures that are on Parliamentary Counsel, but I would certainly hope that within the lifetime of this Oireachtas, we finally enact legislation that protects the title “Óglaigh na hÉireann”.

It is also not just about legislation. This is about that broader question around us all respecting the title and speaking it with respect. I reiterate the call to Sinn Féin and others to make sure the members of every political party in this House only use the title "Óglaigh na hÉireann" when referring to the Defence Forces.

The word that was most used during the course of this debate this evening was “respect”. The motivation behind this legislation is respect for those, including Members of both Houses and our family and friends, who have served within the Defence Forces. We have enormous respect for them. It is appropriate we would enact legislation that recognises and protects the title of the forces in which they serve.

I welcome the support of all political parties and none in this House for this Bill. I welcome the Minister’s commitment and contribution. I appreciate there is much work that will have to be done on Committee Stage. I ask that we would try to move on it as quickly as possible. I keep thinking it is a relatively simple area of work, but the more we look at it, it is quite complex. It is ultimately about achieving a very simple goal. If we can do that in the lifetime of this Oireachtas, we will be showing enormous respect to those men and women who have served in the past and continue to serve.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday. We have a bit of time.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 12 April 2022.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 5.38 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 6.35 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 5.38 p.m. and resumed at 6.35 p.m.
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