Written Answers. - Bullying in the Defence Forces.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

83 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Defence the position in relation to the problem of bullying in the Defence Forces; if he has satisfied himself that problems arising have been dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18630/03]

Dr. Eileen Doyle and the external advisory committee group presented their completed report to me in March 2002. I accepted the report and recommendations in full. Action to implement the recommendations of the report has been a priority since that time. The follow-up action has been driven by an independent monitoring group, chaired by Dr. Doyle. This group meets regularly to oversee the implementation of the report's recommendations. This group has overseen the following important developments in relation to this issue: the establishment of an equality steering group; the launch of an independent confidential help line and counselling service for members of the Permanent Defence Force; the launch of a revised administrative instruction on interpersonal relationships in the Defence Forces; the sourcing of training on a pilot basis for commanders and senior NCOs focusing on the area of prevention and resolution of interpersonal conflict, which the monitoring group identified as important to organisational development and change; the appointment of an independent body to design, administer and analyse an exit interview questionnaire for personnel leaving the Defence Forces; the identification and training of personnel with appropriate skills to act as contact persons to assist in allowing personnel to deal with bullying issues by an informal approach, where appropriate; and the use of focus groups to identify appropriate ways of enriching training at all levels.

The equality steering group has engaged in an equality audit of various Defence Forces regulations and instructions. It has examined a range of matters including the legislation, regulations and administrative instructions, practices and procedures under which the Defence Forces operate. This examination is taking account of the current legislative requirements, best practice in employment in Ireland, the particular requirements of the military environment and the Challenge of the Workplace report. The equality steering group will ensure that progress is made both in relation to legislative requirements and best working practice.

The independent confidential help line and counselling service provides a 24 hour, 365 days a year, freefone care line to all serving members of the Defence Forces. A counsellor is available to answer the care line at all times. The monitoring group plans to review the service after six months' operation. The service is fully confidential and is intended to complement existing personnel support services.

The exit interview questionnaire will be tested on a pilot basis before being administered to approximately 300 personnel leaving the Defence Forces. Exit interviews will be part of the process and a comprehensive report will be presented to the monitoring group. Total confidentiality is assured in relation to any individual member of the Defence Forces who participates in the work of the project.
On 9 April 2003, I launched the revised Defence Forces administrative instruction, Interpersonal Relationships in the Defence Forces. This administrative instruction sets out policy and procedures regarding interpersonal relationships in the Defence Forces including negative workplace behaviours such as bullying, harassment, discrimination and sexual harassment. This new administrative instruction reflects best practice and contemporary workplace legislation.
A guidance booklet and easy reference card were also launched for distribution to each member of the Defence Forces. The aim of this new instruction is to set down policy and procedures regarding interpersonal relationships in the Defence Forces in order to deter unacceptable behaviour and promote a service environment based on mutual respect and professionalism. The instruction also provides detailed procedures for an individual who may wish to make a complaint of unacceptable behaviour. It explains how the individual can use either an informal or formal approach. It explains the methods by which a formal complaint can be dealt with using either the legal and disciplinary process – the existing military legal system – or the administrative action process, for less serious complaints.
No document will of itself promote trust in the organisation and the need for a parallel structure remains. The monitoring group agreed on the importance of training for those who will implement the revised procedures and for those within the associations who have a crucial role in representation of their members. The success of the new administrative instruction as a formal structure for dealing with complaints, will depend on those who interpret and implement it. Training in human resource management is crucial. The military authorities have engaged an associate of IBEC to provide initial training on a pilot basis for commanders and senior NCOs. The focus of the training is on the prevention and resolution of interpersonal conflict which the monitoring group had previously identified as important in organisational change and development. The monitoring group will review this pilot work.
The monitoring group has agreed that the informal approach to dealing with bullying issues should include contact persons with appropriate support skills. The selection and training of such personnel is now under way. The most significant development is the genuine and growing collaboration between the military authorities, the two representative associations and the Department of Defence in relation to implementing the recommendations.