Amendments 116 and 118 are similar.
We might discuss these amendments in a broad way. I move amendment No. 116 :—
In sub-section (1), line 4, before " he " to insert " or by the Minister or any official of the Department of Defence."
Without reading the section again—it is rather long—I have always felt, and I think that members of the Committee who have practical experience feel, that the machinery for the redress of wrongs in the old Act was inadequate.
As Deputy Collins says, farcical. I think the provision in this Bill is not much better. It is very seldom a soldier has a complaint against his commanding officer but very often he has a complaint against the section of the Department that deals with his pay, allowances, or matters of that kind.
I put down a series of amendments to provide that an officer or a soldier can ventilate a grievance against a superior officer or against the Department. This section provides that he has to make his complaint in the prescribed manner. That means it will go up through a number of channels to the top. I want to provide that he may send his complaint direct. It will be recollected that when I originally drafted these amendments I provided for a military secretary—which has not been accepted by the Committee. Nevertheless, I feel there should be a right of complaint direct, and also against any tampering with pay or allowances whether under the authority of the Act or under regulations.
No body of people has more grievances than officers or soldiers, but they are extraordinary in that, when they have the right to put their grievances and when they are satisfied that their complaints have been examined impartially, they are always prepared to accept the decision. Up to now, however, they feel the dice is loaded against them and they never can make any headway. I am not altogether satisfied that the amendments would completely remove all the deficiencies in the section, but if the Minister thinks the section can be improved, having heard the arguments, I will be prepared to withdraw the amendments and let him reconsider the section.
Once you provide a right, could the Minister not deal with it adequately by his regulations ? Is not the framework of the Bill sufficient ?
Before dealing with the Deputy's amendments it may be well at the outset to point out that the section as now drafted is an improvement on that contained in the 1923 Act. At present, while an officer can have his complaint against a superior or any other officer brought as far as the Minister, a soldier's complaint can only go as far as the Adjutant-General. The present section enables a soldier's complaint to go as high as the Minister.
The next question to consider is why this provision is in the Acts. The reason is simple. Unless an officer or soldier had a legal right to complain against his superior officers where he felt they had wronged him there is little likelihood that his complaint would ever be ventilated. It would either be regarded as contrary to good discipline or it would be likely to be smothered, and since it would be in the power of the officer against whom the complaint was made to do this, the soldier would have no redress. That is the reason for giving a legal right, and the position is the same in other armies.
What the Deputy is proposing, however, is that an officer or soldier should have a legal right of complaining when he thinks himself wronged by the Minister or an official of the Department of Defence. I take it that what the Deputy has in mind is mainly complaints in respect of such things as pay deductions. Now, apart from any other considerations, I think that there is no necessity whatever for a legal right in this connection. There is an incongruity, which I am sure members of the Committee will observe, in giving a soldier a legal right to complain the Minister to the commanding officer. But, apart from that, a legal right is not necessary. If the soldier has a complaint about a pay stoppage and goes to his commanding officer about it there is no reason to believe that the commanding officer will question it or refuse to let it go forward. If it were a complaint against the commanding officer himself, or a unit complaint, he might question it if the soldier's legal right were not there. But as far as I can see there is nothing to prevent a soldier writing direct to the finance officer, as an alternative to going through his commanding officer, if he thinks himself wronged in a pay matter.
Therefore I do not think any legal provision in the Bill necessary to cover the Deputy's point.
I am not completely happy about it. I can appreciate perfectly well the Minister's contention. There are implications in this particular problem that need at least amelioration of the method of complaint. The Minister has adverted to difficulties that may arise and power an officer may have to squash complaints, especially if he were concerned in them. But that is not the real burden of the grievances regarding the redress of wrongs section. We who have had experience of the Defence Forces know that the complaints ultimately get lost or there is interminable delay. It is the desire to cut across both of these paramount evils that has activated the mind of Deputy Cowan. I am not sure of the best method, but it might be of benefit to the Minister to hear the views of those present here.
It is true that a man may write to the finance officer in connection with wrongs he suffers under the pay section or deductions under S.3 Regulations, but somehow those complaints never seem to achieve any real result, as the axe has fallen, and it is difficult to get any money back. Apart from the amendments, there is something cumbersome about the whole machinery, although we agree with the underlying principle. The Minister has done a lot to improve the position, and if he had another little effort on this section, he might improve it still further. I do not think he or his advisers are completely happy about it yet, though it is a considerable improvement on the old one. It is not a section that will be over-used, but if the red tape were cut and there was machinery for direct representation to the Minister, as one of the custodians of the liberties of the individual under the Defence Acts, the soldier would feel he was getting a better hearing. In fact, that may not be so.
I would not like to impute partiality or partianship to officers dealing with these matters, but the idea may occur subconsciously in the mind of the person making the complaint. The burden of complaint has been that, even though the theory and the principle appear to be effective, the machinery has never worked satisfactorily.
What this amendment provides for is a complete reversal of what happens at present. The complaint at present works gradually up to the Minister. If the amendments are accepted it would come direct to him. He would not know anything about the general administration so far down in the rank and file, so he would send it to the Adjutant-General, who might not know of the particular matter and it would have to go down along the line. Then it would have to come back again. The present section is a considerable improvement on the old section and is a fair attempt to meet any complaints that might be raised.
The Minister has to maintain the system of administration, the hierarchy of authority and a certain discipline that does not apply in civilian life.
I accept that the section, as drafted, is an improvement on the original section. It gives power to a Minister which can be operated for the benefit of officers and soldiers. However, by talking about the way files pass, we can defeat what we have in mind. The section provides that an officer who has a complaint sends it to the commanding officer, whether it is against the command officer or not. It is only when the commanding officer fails to deal with it to the satisfaction of the officer that I provide the next step in my amendment, namely, that instead of sending it to the brigade commander he may send it direct to the Minister. Let us consider what effect that will have. The commanding officer will know that it is his duty to investigate the complaint fully, to have an interview with the person concerned and satisfy him that this has been dealt with as it ought to be. If he does so, that is the end of it. But if he neglects to deal with it, if he considers the man a bit of a nuisance and says he is not going to bother, he will know that that officer has the right to send his complaint direct to the Minister. Then the Minister can set up his machinery.
Supposing the complaint is a serious one that needs immediate investigation, the Minister has at his disposal in the Department of Defence, the officer in charge of administration if it is something that should be investigated by the Adjutant-General. That officer goes right down to the unit and investigates the complaint. I have no intention of suggesting that a complaint is to be dealt with on a file that is getting bigger as it goes down, and getting bigger as it comes back.
I know what you are suggesting. Unthinkingly or not, are you suggesting that a commanding officer would smother at that stage a serious complaint ?
I am saying what is in the Statute, written in by the Minister's advisers.
You are talking about the manner in which it would come up. You are saying, in the first instance, it must be submitted to the commanding officer.
So the section says.
We are accepting that. Then you went on to show how the case would be dealt with under your amendment.
And in the course of that you said that a complaint might be of a very serious character.
It might be.
There seemed to me to be also a suggestion that a commanding officer would suppress a serious complaint.
The section says that if an officer thinks himself wronged in any matter by any superior officer or other officer, including his commanding officer, he may complain thereof to his commanding officer. A man feels that he is wronged by his commanding officer and he complains to the commanding officer. It never moves past the commanding officer unless he takes the next step. In the first step the commanding officer has the right to deal with it. It is only when he does not deal with it to the satisfaction of the individual that the individual takes the next step of having it passed on to the Minister through a whole series of channels. I say the better procedure to have a complaint remedied is, the commanding officer having failed to satisfy, the officer will write direct to the Minister : " I submitted my complaint ; I did not get satisfaction ; I ask you to investigate it." That does not interfere with military discipline or anything else. If it is a serious complaint that requires immediate attention, the Minister will have a word with the Adjutant-General and there will be sent hot-foot to that unit an officer in whom the Adjutant-General and the Minister have trust, to get to the bottom of the complaint and to bring back the report. That is how I visualise the section operating so that a complaint can be investigated as a matter of urgency, immediately.
Business suspended at 6.5 p.m. and resumed at 7.30.
I made the point that the complaint to be dealt with under this section is a serious matter and that if the commanding officer could not for one reason or another, or would not deal with it to the officer's satisfaction, the officer concerned could complain very rightly to the Minister and that the Minister, instead of sending down through the normal channels for reports could, if he considered the complaint of a nature to be dealt with speedily, appoint a special officer to investigate or take such action as he thought the circumstances of the case merited. Looking at it from that point of view one will see the necessity for speedy transmission of the complaint direct to the person whose duty it is to deal with it—on this occasion the Minister—and if the complaint is of a serious and urgent nature and the commanding officer fails to deal with it quickly and satisfactorily the officer concerned should have the right to cut out all the intervening channels of military communication and appeal direct to the Minister. As the Minister very properly said, this section confers an important right on the officer or soldier. It is a departure, to some extent, from the ordinary machinery of discipline but it is a very desirable outlet or safeguard, and is also desirable from that point of view that grievances or wrongs may be investigated speedily. If the Minister and the Committee consider it from that view they will, I am sure, be of the opinion that where there is a wrong of the type with which the section deals to be remedied, then the speediest way possible of bringing it to the Minister's attention should be adopted.
I have to put these amendments in order. Deputy Cowan dealt with a number of amendments. I take it that the Minister is not accepting amendment No. 116 to Section 113?
No, I am not accepting it because I am satisfied—I can only speak for myself as Minister—that if that system were adopted and such a complaint came to me passing over the intervening officers I would feel bound to pass it back. It is possible that a complaint of a certain serious type might arise where I would perhaps consult the Adjutant-General, and suggest to him that there might be a court of inquiry, but in general I think that the safest possible plan for any Minister is to trust his officers to do full justice as regards any complaint, and deal with it in a fair and reasonable manner. If it were necessary that a complaint should come to the Minister it should come in the way provided in the Act because I am satisfied that the individual would receive full justice. I have to resist the amendment.
- Cowan, Peadar.
- Minister for Defence.
- Davern, Michael J.
- Brennan, Thomas.
- Gallagher, Colm.
- Carter, Frank.
- Hilliard, Michael.
- Colley, Harry.
I move amendment No. 117 :—
In sub-section (1), line 7, to delete " in the prescribed manner " and substitute " direct ".
- Cowan, Peadar.
- Minister for Defence.
- Davern, Michael J.
- Brennan, Thomas.
- Gallagher, Colm.
- Carter, Frank.
- Hilliard, Michael.
- Colley, Harry.
I move amendment No. 120 :—
In sub-section (3), line 22, to delete " officer " and substitute " person ".
The Minister is required in the section to investigate a complaint and deal with it. The section deals only with an officer to whom a complaint is made. This is an Act of Parliament and I think it should require a Minister to whom a complaint is made, as well as an officer, to investigate it. I do not think that there could be any objection to that. Otherwise the Minister would be under no statutory obligation to investigate.
The Minister is already provided for. The Minister shall inquire into a complaint and give his directions thereon.
That is in subsections (1) and (2), but according to sub-section (3) he would be bound to inquire into it and—
" take such steps as may be necessary for giving full redress to the complainant in respect of the matter complained of and shall in every case inform the complainant in the prescribed manner as to what action has been taken in respect of the matter complained of."
That section lays down the machinery.
I think it ought to be machinery for the Minister as well as for the officer. This is not a regulation made by the Minister ; it is an Act made by the Dáil ; and the Minister ought to have power under this legislation to take such steps as are necessary to give full redress to the complainant. It is important that he should have that power and I want to give it to him.
And who are the persons to whom the amendment refers ?
The Minister or the officer. The word " person " includes an officer as well as the Minister. " Every person to whom a complaint is made "—it is made to a Minister as well as to an officer—". . . shall cause such complaint to be inquired into ", and so on. There is no use in having a complaint to the Minister if he is not bound by law to give full redress and if he is not empowered to give it.
It is only officers who will be dealing with the complaint.
The only other person involved would be the Minister.
Suppose an officer is wronged by his commanding officer. He complains in the prescribed manner to the Minister who, it says here, shall inquire into it and give his directions. I want to go further and say that not only shall he inquire and give his directions but, if he is satisfied as to the justice of the complaint, shall take such steps as may be necessary for giving full redress to the officer. That is not in the section and it is desirable that it should be. I want to give the Minister power to do it and not only that but to put him under the obligation to do it. There could be no objection to it because the Minister has no power to right a wrong, unless he is given it by statute.
I cannot see the force of it. There is specific provision in the section relating to his inquiring into complaints.
Under the section, the Minister shall inquire into the complaint and give his directions, but take the Adjutant-General in the case of a complaint by a man in respect of which the Adjutant-General is the final authority, subject to the overriding factor in the sub-section. He is obliged by law to inquire into it and take such steps as may be necessary for giving full redress. That is in respect of the soldier, but the officer's final court of appeal is the Minister and I want to give the Minister power in the statute to give full redress to the complainant.
The Minister has that power already.
To give directions.
Yes, but here is where we are at variance. The section says that the Minister shall inquire and give his directions. I want to lay it down that it is the Minister's duty to inquire into it and, if he is satisfied as to the justice of the complaint, to take such steps as may be necessary for giving full redress to the complainant. If that is not the section, the section to a large extent does not meet what we are trying to do in regard to the redress of grievances.
All I can say is that, if I were the Minister, I would give instructions for full redress. Would that not be the same thing?
I do not want to discuss this on the basis of personalities. I do not want a Minister in the Department to read that section and say that he is not obliged to do so. He might be advised by the deputy Judge Advocate-General that he could not take the steps to give full redress but would have to refer it to some officer to do something. I want to give the Minister full power, if he is satisfied as to the justice of the complaint, to take all the necessary steps to give full redress. It is important that he should have that power given to him by law.
When I refer to what I would do myself, I speak as one who would regard himself and other Ministers as being of similar outlook ; that they would be satisfied that they had these powers and would give instructions, if satisfied that they should give them, for the redress of the particular wrong.
Why is it provided in the section that, say, the Adjutant-General shall do this in regard to the soldier, when it is not so prescribed that the Minister shall do it in regard to an officer or a soldier, if a complaint comes to him ?
There are regulations governing both, which differ considerably.
We are not dealing with regulations here. We are dealing with a statute, a law, and the law sets out the machinery for making the complaints. I want to have the proper machinery in the Act for putting the complaints right and, unless this amendment is agreed to, there is no obligation on a Minister by law to take such steps as are necessary to give full redress to the complainant.
He may complain in the prescribed manner to the Adjutant-General who, if so required by the man, shall report the matter to the Minister, who shall inquire into the complaint and give his directions thereon. If I personally were dealing with it, I would deal with it in the manner I have suggested, and, because I am satisfied that, without the insertion of the word " person "——
Why sub-section (3) at all ?
Sub-section (3) deals with complaints that do not go to the Minister at all.
Every soldier has the right to go to the Minister. Every officer must go to the Minister, if his commanding officer does not deal with it. The Minister is the person invested by statute with powers. Everywhere through this measure we are giving him powers and I want to give him the power when a complaint comes before him which he is satisfied is well grounded to take such steps as may be necessary to give full redress, and not only to give him that power but to make it his statutory duty to do it, laid down for him by law.
The Minister does not come into this subsection at all.
Take the case of an officer who complains to his commanding officer and the commanding officer says : " You have no complaint at all." The man then complains to the Minister. There are only two people involved now—the Minister and the commanding officer. The Minister is satisfied that it is a just complaint and I want to give the Minister full power to take such steps as may be necessary to give full redress.
The Minister says he has the power already.
You want to change the word " officer " to " person " ?
And who are the persons ?
There are only two people—officers and the Minister.
Can we not say that? Would that satisfy you?
" Every officer and the Minister."
I will accept that.
I think we could accept that. We will have it examined from the point of view of seeing how it can be put in.
I would like to ask the Minister a question. This section applies where an officer (or a man, under sub-section (2)) thinks himself wronged by any superior officer—which seems to mean a military officer. Is there any provision for redress of grievances if he feels himself wronged by the Army finance section ?
8 o’ clock.
Yes, or deductions from pay. There is ample machinery for redress of grievances where they are against the military personnel but not where they are against the administrative side. Many of these directions regarding forfeitures of pay will come from the civil side. Is there any safeguard there ?
There is an established practice by which the military personnel can get in direct contact with the finance people in the Department of Defence. They do it fairly regularly. They even telephone for explanations in regard to deductions or forfeitures. They can also write in if they wish.
There is nothing to stop them. On the military side there is the chain of command that would prevent a man going higher than his commanding officer. The same thing would not apply on the civil side. Where a man felt he had a grievance against an order or direction on the civil side—I can only visualise it happening in regard to pay or a deduction—the civil side should be open to check also. In practice, if he feels aggrieved about a deduction or about the rate of pay he will go to his commanding officer, who will take the matter up. The finance section will simply give a ruling—to give them credit they will do it in the most objective and fair way—and there is no appeal from that.
They sometimes come to me.
Is there anything to prevent a soldier going further ? Can he within the military discipline refer it to the Department ?
Yes, he can write direct to the Minister.
It is often done.
I am glad the Minister has said that because I have for years advised soldiers that in matters of pay or allowances they were not bound by disciplinary procedure and could write direct to the Department of Defence. As long as that is accepted as the practice ——
They do it. That has been the established practice and I have never heard it objected to.
It is on the record now that that is accepted.