Thursday, 12 October 2006
Bullying in the Workplace.
Question 9: To ask the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing bullying and harassment of PDFORRA officials within the Defence Forces; and the steps he will take to address the problem and to ensure that a directive that members of the forces who carry out representative duties must not be disadvantaged or discriminated against is no longer ignored. [32314/06]
I assure the Deputy that any allegations of bullying and harassment in the Defence Forces are treated with the utmost seriousness. There are extensive processes in place to protect the rights of Defence Forces personnel, including PDFORRA officials. These procedures give robust protection and I urge PDFORRA officials to avail of them if they feel there are issues to be resolved.
As I have stated in the House on previous occasions, a wide range of measures have been put in place to deal with issues in this area. An external advisory committee, chaired by Dr. Eileen Doyle, was tasked with examining this issue in the Defence Forces and the committee presented their original report, "The Challenge of a Workplace", in March 2002. This independent report addressed a wide range of interpersonal issues within the Defence Forces and its contents and recommendations were accepted in full by the Department.
An independent monitoring group was established in May 2002 to oversee the implementation of these recommendations and its progress report, "Response to the Challenge of a Workplace", was launched by my predecessor on 24 September 2004. Arising from the Doyle report, a number of steps have been taken. Firm guiding principles have been set out in the Defence Forces dignity in the workplace charter. A major educational awareness programme is ongoing throughout the Defence Forces. A new administrative instruction on interpersonal relationships was introduced in March 2003. The instruction and a user's guide were distributed to every member of the Defence Forces.
Designated contact persons, DCPs, have been fully trained and are deployed throughout all Defence Forces posts and barracks, both nationwide and overseas. The DCPs facilitate the operation of the formal and informal procedures that may be used by any party wishing to institute a complaint. An independent, external confidential freephone helpline and counselling service was set up for members of the Permanent Defence Force in March 2003. An independent pilot project of exit interviews seeking the experiences and views of outgoing members of the Permanent Defence Force was conducted. Leadership training has been given by external experts and has been the subject of NCO focus groups with an emphasis on "training the trainers". Changes in cadet school instruction have been initiated, with issues concerning the ranking, selection and training for cadet school instructors being addressed.
Defence Forces regulations, administrative instructions, policies and procedures have been reviewed by an equality steering group under a Labour Court chairperson. The Ombudsman for the Defence Forces has now been appointed. An officer within the Defence Forces human resources management section has been assigned responsibility for equality matters. A training circular entitled military code of conduct for students and instructors in all training environments was issued in 2004 and was followed by an extensive series of associated workshops for all relevant personnel.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The specific matter raised by the Deputy is currently the subject of a claim by PDFORRA under the conciliation and arbitration scheme for the Permanent Defence Force. By agreement with PDFORRA, discussions under the scheme are confidential to the parties involved. Accordingly, the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on this issue at this time.
I welcome the Minister's reply. He is correct that the Doyle report made a number of recommendations, many of which have been acted upon. Does he consider it strange then that the president of PDFORRA said at its conference last week that certain barrack commanders punish, harass and charge PDFORRA representatives and deny them access to courses and overseas duty in order to force them out of the association? The president of the association made a very specific charge. Is the Minister concerned about it and how does he propose to find out if there is a basis for the charge and if there is ongoing discrimination, punishment or harassment of PDFORRA representatives as happened in the past? It happened when PDFORRA was first set up and continued for a while. I, like everyone else, hoped that the advent of the Doyle report would have stopped some of the harassment and victimisation of PDFORRA representatives. Hopefully, the Minister will take some action on foot of the comments of the president of PDFORRA, Willie Webb.
As Deputy Ó Snodaigh rightly acknowledged, the situation was examined by Dr. Doyle in 2002. She discovered a number of difficulties in respect of people making complaints about bullying. She made a number of recommendations, which were implemented, as outlined, in 2004. The situation is being kept under review because the Chief of Staff has a very personal interest and takes a hands-on approach in trying to eradicate bullying or any perception of bullying in the Army to the greatest possible extent. This means that the follow-up to the Doyle report is being reviewed again next year.
I was surprised at the PDFORRA president's comments for a number of reasons, particularly in light of all the internal procedures that now exist for dealing with bullying. If one examines the earlier question about the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, one can see that 12 cases have been referred to her, after the internal procedure failed, following her appointment on 1 December 2005, none of which relates to bullying.
I was doubly surprised by the PDFORRA president's remarks because I know that the specific allegation referred to by Deputy Ó Snodaigh that PDFORRA members are being discriminated against or bullied because of their membership of the association or because they are making representations has been the subject of a specific complaint. This complaint has gone to the appropriate subcommittee of the conciliation and arbitration council. When something goes to this council, both the Department and the other party, namely, PDFORRA, have a duty to maintain confidentiality. I have not inquired as to how matters stand because I know I am not supposed to talk about it in detail.