Tuesday, 7 November 2006
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, for taking this Adjournment debate. The Kildare Town Ex-Service Men and Women's Association is a group of approximately 35 to 40 retired ex-service personnel. In total, those men and women have given approximately 750 to 900 years' service to the Army on behalf of the State. Their service has seen them represent their country with distinction in many parts of the world, including the Congo, Cyprus, Lebanon and Iraq. In total, they had 66 overseas UN service missions, 17 to the Congo, 20 to Cyprus, 28 to Lebanon and one to Iraq. They acknowledge the work of other organisations and representative bodies and have no problem with them. However, they feel that they would be best served by an organisation for ex-members in their own area.
They are already involved in many social and community activities and recognised by their local community for their continued good work and assistance. Those activities include fundraising for many worthy local and individual cases and assisting local community projects and causes of which they are rightly proud. The reason for the Adjournment debate is that they feel left out given the fact that in all the years they have represented their members and their community, they have received official recognition on only two occasions, when the Taoiseach invited two of their members to ceremonial celebrations in Kilmainham.
Given the wonderful service that each and every one of those people has given to the State, and as ambassadors of the State and Army on overseas duties, why have they received so little recognition? I recently attended our annual commemorative Mass and wreath-laying ceremony and the wonderful turnout from the local community showed how much the people of Kildare appreciate the work the group has carried out and continues to carry out. After the Mass and wreath-laying ceremony, the group held a social function where it presented several cheques to projects and groups from the local community following many fundraising and voluntary efforts. In a confidential capacity, it also provides financial support for families, especially from the Defence Forces, that may require it.
Last night, I attended the group's monthly meeting. It was gratifying and humbling to listen to the letters of thanks and congratulation read out by the group from the various organisations, families and individuals that had received support from the organisation over the year. However, the one defining issue that hurts this voluntary group more than anything is the total lack of recognition from the Department and the Defence Forces for which they served without fear or favour for most of their adult lives.
When one considers what these ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen have achieved in forming a group to cater for discussion, debate and social inclusion, and, most importantly, to provide invaluable service to the local community, the least they might be afforded is a degree of recognition. It is stated that a little recognition goes a long way and I know how much the latter would mean to the group in question, which, despite its wonderful service, feels discriminated against. Its request for recognition and to be invited to the many parades organised by the Army and the Government would go a long way towards erasing that view.
I thank Deputy Wall for raising this matter. I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, who sends his apologies for being absent.
I wish to refer to the official recognition of organisations representing military veterans and the related question of these organisations being invited to appropriate State functions, ceremonies and parades of retired Army groups. There are three national associations and organisations, representing ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen, which are recognised by the Defence Forces and by the Department of Defence. These organisations are Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann Teoranta, ONET, more generally known under its English language title, the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women; the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, IUNVA; and the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers, ARCO.
ONET holds regular meetings and, on occasion, takes part in parades and marches. ONET is nationally organised and has 48 active branches throughout the country. Retired military personnel are encouraged to join an appropriate branch for local areas. IUNVA is another national organisation which holds regular meetings and on occasion takes part in parades and marches. ARCO is a relatively new association and has not yet taken part in parades and marches but, I understand, has a programme of regular meetings. The membership of ARCO, as its name implies, is confined to former commissioned officers.
Both ONET and IUNVA are open to former members of the Permanent Defence Force across all ranks. Understandably, a number of people would hold membership of both organisations. Representatives of ONET and IUNVA are invited, as a matter of course, to all major military parades and reviews. Representatives from both are invited, from time to time, to attend and participate in locally organised regional events at brigade and formation level. Invitations are, for example, issued in association with events and religious ceremonies commemorating deceased members of the Defence Forces.
The Department of the Taoiseach is centrally responsible for the organisation of major State functions such as the National Day of Commemoration and the recent Easter 1916 90th anniversary commemoration. Both ONET and IUNVA were invited to participate in the Easter commemoration parade and representative contingents of both organisations, exceeding 100 personnel in each case, fully participated. More generally, the Department of the Taoiseach consults the Department of Defence in respect of invitations for the Defence Forces and for ex-military personnel and veterans organisations, as may be appropriate, in the context of specific events or functions.
As regards the Kildare Town Ex-Servicemen and Women's Association and in respect of any other such local groups throughout the country, the position is that it is considered inadvisable to afford official recognition to a large number of relatively small organisations. A multiplicity of such small local organisations would be considered to be detrimental to all concerned in the long term because it would result in duplication and would dissipate human effort and resources. It would also present serious difficulties for the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces in managing the process.
The Defence Forces advise that, in their professional view, ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen are currently very well served by the officially recognised national organisations, ONET, IUNVA and ARCO. They suggest that local groups such as the Kildare Ex-Servicemen and Women's Association may wish to consider joining ONET because they could then fully avail of the official umbrella recognition afforded to it. The association could also then avail of the substantial existing organisational and administrative infrastructure and the vast body of experience that has been developed by ONET over the course of many years.