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Speech by Minister for Defence Mr. Willie O’Dea T. D.
at the PDFORRA Annual Delegate Conference
Mr. President, General Secretary, Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests and assembled delegates, I would like to thank you for inviting me to address your Association's fourteenth Annual Delegate Conference today.

As you will probably recall, my first official function as Minister for Defence was to address your annual conference in Letterkenny last year. In that speech I said that I was looking forward to having a positive and productive working relationship with you. In the intervening twelve months, I would like to think that this relationship has grown.

In the past year I have taken the opportunity to visit many military installations throughout the country. During these visits I have seen for myself the tremendous work being done by members of the Defence Forces in their everyday role.

When visiting Irish troops serving in Liberia and the Balkans I saw at first hand the dedication and professionalism of military personnel in bringing comfort and hope to those who are less fortunate than us. These visits also gave me an opportunity to meet with individual personnel and to discuss matters of interest and concern with them.
I have also observed with interest how the representative process in Defence operates: I have seen how Council, Subcommittees and Partnership function and how successfully both parties utilise the C & A process.

The past year has seen substantial progress on issues of interest to your members. More than twenty significant issues have been dealt with at Council with all but a handful recording agreement.

The use of the C & A representation system also facilitated agreement for individuals on a wide number of issues from the payment of technical pay to promotional matters. The year also saw the Facilitation and Adjudication machinery available under the C & A Scheme being used. Although your Association’s claim for the benchmarking of allowances was not heard by the Arbitration Board, the findings by the Board on a similar claim from RACO were offered to your Association and have recently been accepted.

Most significantly, in the past week, negotiations have been concluded on a claim from your Association for a review of the terms of service of personnel enlisting in the Permanent Defence Force post-1994.

When I met with the senior officers and officials of your association some months ago to commence these negotiations I indicated my determination to see this issue, which has been around for some time, brought to a speedy and mutually acceptable conclusion.

The successful outcome of these negotiations is a major achievement for both sides. While I do not wish to presume the outcome of your ballot, I do welcome your Executive’s decision to recommend acceptance.

I believe it will play a key part in the continuing development and modernisation of our Defence Forces into a vital and dynamic force – fit, able and ready to meet the challenges set before it.

The progress made shows what significant achievements can be made via reasoned argument and negotiation. This is the very essence of the representative process. I thank everyone concerned for their dedication and hard work. I know personally how many hours they put into reaching this agreement.

The progress we have made together is considerable. Nonetheless, I should express here my concern at the increasing incidence of the Association going outside the scope of representation in pursuing its claims.

A recent example occurred in Donegal, when your Association engaged in a lobbying campaign on an operational matter that is clearly outside the scope of representation. Delegates, I am very disappointed with these developments – as they can only undermine the whole representative process. Such occurrences create difficulties in endeavouring to deal with matters through the proper machinery, namely the Conciliation and Arbitration process.

So my message to you is clear – progress will be made only within the system we have developed together – not outside it. It is on that basis that we can work together in a constructive, co-operative and open-minded manner.

As I said at your conference last year, representation in the Defence Forces has come a long way. We have a common goal of developing and sustaining a system of representation that works for PDFORRA and for the Defence Forces.

There continue to be many positive developments and exciting changes for the Defence Forces. The White Paper on Defence sets out a comprehensive programme for the development of Defence and the Defence Forces for the period 2000 to 2010. We are just past the halfway point and most of the major elements of the White Paper have been implemented, including:
ˇ A rebalancing of Defence resource allocation and unprecedented investment in new equipment;
ˇ Continuous recruitment to the Defence Forces;
ˇ A continued commitment to overseas participation.

It is my intention that the White Paper will be fully delivered on, within the original schedule. A civil-military review of White Paper implementation will be completed by end-2006. The representative associations will be consulted as part of the review process. The review will commence soon and I believe that it will assist the implementation process.

This continuous investment is set against a background of ever increasing demands on exchequer funding. However, as I have stated previously, it is Government policy that the Defence Forces should be fully equipped to undertake the duties assigned to them at home and overseas and I intend to ensure a continuation of this policy.

There are continuing developments in other areas too. Efforts are continuing apace to tackle bullying and harassment in the Defence Forces. Structures are now in place to ensure that every single member of the Defence Forces is treated with respect and dignity and has the right to work in an environment free from harassment, sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination. A number of major initiatives have already been put in place, including:
ˇ A Defence Forces Dignity in the Workplace Charter,
ˇ A major educational awareness programme,
ˇ An independent external confidential “Free Phone” Help line and Counselling Service,
ˇ A new Administrative Instruction on Interpersonal Relationships,
ˇ Defence Force Regulations, instructions and procedures have been reviewed by an Equality Steering Group under a Labour Court chairperson,
ˇ An independent pilot project of Exit Interviews,
ˇ An officer in the Defence Forces Human Resources Management Section has been assigned the role of Defence Forces Equality Officer with responsibility for Equality matters in the Defence Forces.

On 8th September last, the formal launch of the Designated Contact Persons (DCP’s) scheme took place in the Defence Forces Training Centre at the Curragh. Today the Defence Forces have approximately 190 fully trained personnel in place throughout the organisation, ready to deal with issues of an interpersonal nature.

A senior military officer in the Human Resources Management Branch chairs a National Consultative Team, which meets monthly. Membership includes the General Secretaries of PDFORRA and RACO, the Head Chaplain of the Defence Forces and an independent expert in the field. Two current DCPs - a Sergeant and a Commandant - are also members. Your Association has supported the strategy to deal with this challenge since the Independent Monitoring Group and the progress report last year. It goes without saying that cooperation offers the best approach.

This is clear evidence of further significant steps being taken within the Defence Forces to deal with the small but very damaging incidents of inappropriate behaviour that may occur from time to time.

Recently, the Government approved the appointment of Ms. Paulyn Marrinan Quinn as Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. Her appointment puts in place an independent forum that will provide further support of the major transformation in culture and practice that is taking place within the Defence Forces. Ms. Marrinan Quinn will bring her considerable knowledge and expertise to bear on this most important role and I wish her well in her new appointment.

I am committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women in the Defence Forces and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities.

The number of women recruited each year is almost in direct proportion to the number applying. While a lot is being done already to encourage more women to apply, I am reviewing the measures with a view to maximising the number of women applicants into the Irish Defence Forces.

I have written to the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, along with a number of outside organisations seeking their views and recommendations on how more women might be encouraged to join the Defence Forces.

When their replies have been received and examined, I propose that civil and military officials from my Department will meet with representatives of the organisations who made submissions, along with the Representative Associations, to consider the ideas and suggestions to see what, if any, improvements or changes can be made to the programme of recruitment so as to encourage more females to join the Defence Forces.

Ireland has achieved much over the last number of years. We have seen a continuing and steady growth in our economy. Much of this can be attributed to the partnership agreements forged between Government and the Social Partners.

The last three agreements have included measures to achieve public service modernization. Sustaining Progress, in particular, set out an extensive agenda for all the main sectors of the public service including the Defence Forces. While a Modernization Action Plan for the 2nd phase of Sustaining Progress has been agreed with your Officers, the Association has not yet formally accepted the terms of this agreement. As payment of the increases due on 1st June and 1st December 2005, and 1st June 2006 are linked to progress on implementing the agreement, I would urge you to bring your deliberations on this issue to a speedy conclusion.

Over the coming months discussions will begin on the terms of a successor to Sustaining Progress. The Government has again determined that pay under any new agreement will be linked to real progress on the implementation of the next phase of modernisation across the whole of the Public Service. In entering these discussions you should be in no doubt that Defence Forces personnel will be expected to engage in a further round of modernization linked to White Paper implementation.

Finally, I would like to thank you again for affording me the opportunity to speak to you here today. My presence here is a positive indication of my support for the representative process. PDFORRA is the voice of enlisted personnel of the Permanent Defence Force and continues to play an integral and valuable part within that process.

You can be assured that the decisions you take at your Conference will be carefully considered by me and by my civil and military officials. I want to thank your full-time officials and all of you who are actively participating as representatives at other levels for your positive and worthwhile contribution to the representative process in the Defence Forces.

I regret that other commitments prevent me from attending your banquet this evening and I wish you every success for the remainder of your conference.

Thank you

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