Chaplains in the Defence Forces
Sir, – Almost exactly one year ago, on November 24th, you published a letter from me under the headline “Atheists in foxholes”. This correspondence related to documents I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which demonstrated that all chaplains in our Defence Forces are appointed by bishops. Unlike many other European militaries, there are no non-Christian chaplains in the Irish Defence Forces.
Over the last year I have written six times to the Minister for Defence Mr Paul Kehoe TD, requesting that he remove the Defence Forces regulation that reserves these appointments for the votaries of just one religion. Instead, I argued that military chaplain positions should be advertised publicly and awarded to the best candidate for the job. On all six occasions, the response indicated only that the Minister was “looking into the matter”.
The Equal Status Act requires that non-Christian members of our Defence Forces may not be disadvantaged with respect to chaplaincy services, just because they are not Christian.
The Employment Equality Act requires that the many talented and highly-qualified non-Christian chaplains in Ireland, may not be disadvantaged in seeking appointment to such positions just because they are not Christian.
Moreover, Section 6 of the Defence Forces Act includes an oath for every officer within Oglaigh na hÉireann, which declares their loyalty to Bunreacht na hÉireann. Article 44.2.3 of that Constitution insists that the State “shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status”. These legal and constitutional provisions cannot be reconciled with fully State-funded employees of the Defence Forces being appointed by bishops.
I will continue writing to the Minister every eight weeks until his deliberations are complete. Given that Mr Kehoe has been reflecting and cogitating on this issue for a full year now, if nothing else I can expect the outcome to be one of the most carefully considered positions articulated by any Minister in the current government. – Yours, etc,
Castleblayney, Co Monaghan.