67. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the implications of the ruling of the European Committee of Social Rights to allow the Defence Forces troops affiliate to a trade union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 10197/18 asked on 21 Mar 2018)

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): I propose to take Questions Nos. 57 and 67 together.

The European Committee of Social Rights has considered a complaint submitted by EUROMIL, a European umbrella body for military associations, on behalf of PDFORRA, concerning the lack of certain rights for military representative associations in Ireland.

In a non-binding ruling, the Committee has concluded that prohibiting military personnel from the right to strike was not in breach of the European Social Charter, but that the Charter was breached by prohibiting the representative associations from affiliating with a national employee organisation, such as ICTU, and in respect of the right to bargain collectively.

The Government welcomes the conclusion of the European Committee of Social Rights that the prohibition on the right to strike for members of the Defence Forces is not a violation of the European Social Charter.

The Government takes great pride in the dedication of the men and women of our Defence Forces and the enormous contribution which they make to domestic security, international peacekeeping and a broad range of supports to the civil authorities. The Defence Forces have provided valuable support on many occasions to the civil authorities in maintaining vital services. This was seen most recently in the response to the severe weather event. In this regard, I wish to record my thanks to members of the Defence Forces, Civil Defence volunteers, civil servants and civilian employees for their particular contribution.

It is critically important that the Defence Forces are fully operational at all times. A key concern is that such affiliation with a national organisation would carry obligations that would be incompatible with military operations and the roles assigned to the Defence Forces.

Members of the Defence Forces have a range of parallel complaint and adjudication mechanisms in law to compensate for the limitations on their access to the normal industrial relations machinery, which applies in wider society. This includes a redress of wrongs, a Defence Forces Ombudsman and a Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.

The C&A scheme, since its inception in the early 1990’s has provided the framework to progress many successful negotiated agreements between Defence management and the PDF Representative Associations. However, there have been many changes in the industrial relations landscape in the intervening period. In this regard I have initiated a fundamental review of the scheme to ensure that it remains efficient and effective for all parties.

I have appointed Mr. Gerard Barry to conduct the review. While the focus of the review will be primarily on the operation of the Permanent Defence Force C&A scheme, I have directed that the review considers the findings of the European Committee of Social Rights and this is incorporated into the terms of reference. It would not be appropriate at this stage to pre-empt any conclusions arising from the review.