WATCH: Defence Forces Reforms.

Full transcript:

A minor frustration in relation to this Bill is that it is yet another amendment of an Act that has been amended and amended. It would have been in everybody’s interests to produce a consolidated version of the various amended Defence Acts and produce a clear piece of legislation instead of one needing six or seven Acts to try to understand what is going on.

We certainly have a habit in this House of producing amendment after amendment instead of neat consolidated Bills which would allow people to understand the legislation clearly. The legislation before us is crying out for that.

That aside, all the speakers I have heard acknowledged the role and value of our Defence Forces and the pride we have in them. I imagine all subsequent speakers will do likewise. The Defence Forces do essential work and provide essential services. That takes the form of peacekeeping globally and aiding the civil power locally. Frequently, when something goes wrong the response is that we should get the Army in to help out. The Defence Forces are very willing to do that. It is their job. It is the service they provide. They are simply looking to be respected, acknowledged, understood and listened to as part of that, as a quid pro quo for the service they provide. We need to see an investment in the pay and conditions of our Defence Forces members. The struggles with recruitment and retention have been mentioned numerous times. Without addressing pay and conditions and the culture in the Defence Forces, we are never going to address the issue of recruitment and retention.

In broad terms, the legislation must be welcomed for implementing the recommendations of the independent review group to try to address the issues with the culture within the Defence Forces. We are only going to achieve this change if we involve the members of the Defence Forces through their representative associations. We need to acknowledge them in order to ensure they are part of the conversation and are seen, respected and listened to. When we look at the membership of this new external review body we see the representative associations are not represented whereas the Department is. That is a bit contradictory and it needs to be changed if we are to value and recognise the role of the representative associations. We need to acknowledge there is a tension and a difficulty in the relationship between the Defence Forces and their Department. They have very different mindsets and they are very different organisations. I am not sure they communicate with or understand each other very well. This leads to frustrations and problems. Deputy Howlin gave an example from the area of procurement showing the speed at which these two different organs of the State move and their respective world views. Having the Secretary General on the body but not the representative associations will just deepen that, which is a real problem. Again, the unnecessarily broad restrictions on the activities of the representative associations reflect the fact that the associations are not being listened to in the Bill. That, too, needs to change.

We need to do many things to address the needs of the Defence Forces. We need to do them quickly because the Defence Forces perform an essential role globally and nationally. We need to address those issues. External oversight is welcome but if we do not do it the right way, we will just further entrench the problems. As I said, the problem is that members of the Defence Forces do not feel listened to or respected. The issues I have highlighted will feed that feeling, which, in turn, will drive the retention and recruitment crisis. There are issues that can be remedied on Committee Stage. I am not necessarily expecting full consolidation – as if I would recommend that it would emerge in the committee – but the other issues I have highlighted can be easily fixed on Committee Stage and I hope they are.