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.