I am aware of the long-standing desire of PDFORRA to associate with the ICTU. Section 2(3) of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990 prohibits the Defence Forces representative associations from being associated with or affiliated to any trade union or any other body without the consent of the Minister. Members of the Permanent Defence Force also cannot become members of a trade union. To compensate for these limitations, there are a range of statutory redress mechanisms available to serving members, including redress of wrongs, a Defence Forces ombudsman and a conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.
In 2017 the European Committee of Social Rights, in a non-binding ruling, upheld the prohibition on the right of military personnel to strike but did conclude that Ireland was in violation of the charter in respect of the right to organise, that is, to affiliate to certain organisations, and the right to negotiate collective agreements. These findings were considered as part of an independent review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force which was completed last year. One of the recommendations from the review was that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with the ICTU to explore the practicalities of a Permanent Defence Force representative association forming an association or affiliation with the ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service. Association with the ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. I asked my officials to examine the matter further and, in that regard, defence management, civil and military, has engaged in discussions with the ICTU. Defence management has also met the Permanent Defence Force representative associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to discuss the matter. I have also recently discussed the matter of ICTU affiliation or association with both RACO and PDFORRA. The feasibility of association is the subject of ongoing discussion and engagement with the ICTU. The implications of possible association or affiliation are being carefully considered.