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 Article 5 of the European Social Charter on the grounds of the prohibition against military representative associations from joining national employee organisations and in respect of Article 6.2 of the charter regarding the right to bargain collectively.
It should be noted that the basis for the complaint predates a number of significant Government initiatives. On collective bargaining, the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations was afforded equal standing to other public sector trade unions and representative associations during the negotiations that led to the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020.
The findings of the European Committee of Social Rights 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 that review was that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with ICTU to explore the practicalities of a PDF representative association forming association or affiliation with ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service. Association with ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. I asked my officials to examine this matter further and, in this regard, defence management - civil and military - has engaged in discussions with ICTU. Defence management has also met the PDF representative associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to discuss this matter. I have also discussed the matter of ICTU affiliation with both RACO and PDFORRA.
I am aware of PDFORRA's long-standing ambition to affiliate with ICTU. I am also aware that RACO, the representative body for commissioned officers, has a conflicting position on this matter. The implications of possible association or affiliation are being carefully considered and engagement is continuing with PDFORRA and ICTU on this matter.