Defence Forces group welcomes agreement on Congress affiliation

Extension of arrangement beyond upcoming pay talks to be considered, says Coveney

An agreement with Government that means the organisation representing rank and file members of the Defence Forces can participate in forthcoming public sector pay talks has been welcomed by its general secretary who said it marks the culmination of a 28 year long campaign.

PDForra's Gerard Guinan said his association had first sought the freedom to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) in 1994. He added the recent recent Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces report acknowledged his members "did suffer a form of disadvantage" by being excluded from centrally conducted pay negotiations.

The agreement to allow PDForra - the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association - apply for Ictu affiliation for the upcoming pay talks was "extremely welcome"," he said.

In a statement, Congress said was “pleased to note the decision... to grant ‘conditional temporary consent’ for PDForra to seek associate membership with Ictu”.

It is being granted on a temporary basis pending changes to the Defence Amendment Act 1990. PDForra has given assurances to Minister for Defence Simon Coveney it will not engage is strike action or disobey any lawful orders while affiliates to Ictu.

It has also restated “its commitment not to engage in public agitation, or protests”.

However, PDForra added all of these assurances related to activities already prohibited by legislation and Defence regulations.

Currently, commissioned and non-commissioned members of the Defence Forces are represented by staff associations – PdForra and Raco – rather than trade unions. Military personnel in Ireland are not permitted to join or form a trade union or to go on strike.

PDForra three years ago voted to seek Ictu affiliation after a case it took against the Government to the Europe Committee of Social Rights.

In a non-binding ruling, the committee said PDForra should have trade union rights, including the right to participate in public pay agreements, but not the right to go on strike.

The Government’s decision now means PDForra, which represents 6,500 soldiers, sailors and aircrew, will be free to secure associate membership of the Ictu which will, in turn, allow the group a voice at upcoming national pay talks.

The Government looks set to extend that position to future pay talks by amending legislation.

Mr Coveney said his officials were also in talks with the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) which represents commissioned officers, about a similar temporary concession for it. However, he added more work was required before any longer-term agreement could be reached.

“I note the complex nature of this issue, and there will be a requirement for a range of matters to be resolved for a longer term facilitation by Government to ensure that ultimately, the State’s ability to control and direct its Armed Forces remains absolute, and that any eventual solution in this regard retains that certainty,” Mr Coveney said.

Raco had long been opposed to Ictu affiliation due to concerns it would undermine military discipline and might give rise to military personnel becoming involved in activism or protest movements.

However, frustration has been growing for years within the military over a lack of progress on remuneration despite a haemorrhaging of skilled and experienced personnel from the Defence Forces leading to a retention and staffing crisis. Last month Raco voted overwhelmingly to affiliate itself with Ictu, thus reversing its long-held stance on the issue.

While both military staff associations had previously taken part in a parallel process as national pay talks were held, both Raco and PDForra have grow frustrated with the effectiveness of the arrangement.