I have spoken to Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, on this previously and I am sure that I will do so again. Under the Defence Acts, 1954 to 2015, the permanent Defence Forces representative associations are prohibited from being associated with or affiliated with any trade unions or any other body without the consent of the Minister.
To compensate for these restrictions, 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.
In 2017, the European Committee of Social Rights, in a non-binding ruling, found that Ireland was in violation of the European Social Charter in respect of the right to organise, that is to affiliate to certain organisations, and the right to negotiate collective agreements. It found that Ireland was not in violation of the charter in respect of the prohibition of the right of military personnel to strike.
The Government is aware of the long-standing desire of PDFORRA to associate with ICTU. However, association with ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. It is critically important that Defence Forces operations are not restricted and this is a key concern.
The European Committee of Social Rights, in arriving at its decision, took into an account a statement made in the complaint which claimed that ICTU had stated that “PDFORRA could be affiliated to ICTU with whatever conditions the Government deemed necessary”. Defence management, civil and military, have engaged in discussions with the permanent Defence Forces representative associations and ICTU regarding the practicalities of a Defence Forces representative association forming association or affiliation with ICTU. These discussions have encompassed matters of concern to all parties.
PDFORRA subsequently initiated legal proceedings on this matter on 26 June 2020. As this matter is now subject to litigation, it would not be appropriate to comment further.
This is an issue I would rather was not in court and was not concluded by legal ruling. What we are trying to do in setting up a commission to look at all issues, including pay and structures within the Defence Forces, and the commitment in the programme for Government to set up a separate pay entity to assess pay within the Defence Forces after the initial commission's work is to recognise that serving in the Defence Forces is different to other public sector work. People take an oath to the State, they are the last line of defence for the State and compromises come with that. My job is to ensure that we more than take account of that in the structures that are there to represent Defence Forces personnel properly, whether that be in public sector pay talks or in any other area. I do not have a closed mind in this area but I have real concerns and will continue to speak to PDFORRA and other representative bodies about their concerns.