680. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps he is taking to provide members of the Defence Forces the right to join a trade union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 22000/17 asked on 09 May 2017)
Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Under the terms of the Defence (Amendment) Act, 1990 the Defence Forces Representative Associations are prohibited from being associated with, or affiliated to any trade unions, or any other body. Accordingly, the Representative Associations cannot be affiliated to ICTU. The basis for the prohibition is that it would be inappropriate to apply the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990 to members of the Defence Forces. The taking of any form of industrial action is irreconcilable with military service. This is a long standing policy position taken by respective Governments since the foundation of the State. The Defence Forces may be called on to contribute to maintaining vital services in times of industrial action. The potential for serious difficulties and conflicts could arise in these circumstances if the Defence Forces Representative Associations were associated with, or affiliated to ICTU, given ICTU rules in relation to such matters.
As the Deputy is aware, the Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) provides a formal mechanism for the PDF Representative Associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to engage with the Official side. The purpose of the scheme is to provide a means for the determination of claims and proposals from the Associations relating to remuneration and conditions of service.
It is open to the Representative Associations to submit claims to the Official side in relation to matters falling within the C&A scheme. Generally claims relate to pay and conditions, award of allowances etc. When submitted, these claims are generally the subject of negotiations and where agreement is not reached it is open to both sides to seek the assistance of an adjudicator to settle the matter.
In addition, a framework exists which facilitates the Associations engaging with the official side in talks parallel to those taking place between ICTU and the official side at National level.
I have received representations from PDFORRA seeking to have access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court made available to them in the event of any future legislative changes being made to provide An Garda Síochána with access to same. I am advised that the proposals in relation to An Garda Síochána being granted such access will require detailed legislative changes and the Department of Justice and Equality have established a Working Group to examine in detail what future legislative changes are required.
I remain satisfied with the present arrangements in place for the Defence Forces. However, in the light of PDFORRA’s representations the matter is being kept under review, including in the context of any future arrangements to be made for An Garda Síochána.