Written answers

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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345. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if serving and retired women members of the Defence Forces who were victims of workplace sexual harassment, assault, discrimination and bullying have been actively consulted by his officials when drafting the terms of reference for the independent review of these matters; and if his officials have not consulted with the women, if he will now ensure they are consulted. [45127/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Ilistened with concern to the women who recounted their experiences on the Women of Honour programme on RTE Radio on the 11 September 2021. I expressed my willingness to meet with the participants, should they wish to do so, and I am pleased to say that my offer has been accepted.

I have instructed my officials to make the necessary arrangements without delay. In the meantime, I also wish to confirm that the Secretary General and senior officials of the Department are meeting with a number of the participants on Thursday of this week.

I would like to reiterate again in the strongest possible terms that all members of the Defence Forces have a right to be treated with respect, equality and dignity and to carry out their duties free from any form of sexual harassment, harassment or bullying. Unacceptable forms of behaviour are not tolerated in the Defence Forces and where there are allegations of offences having been committed, investigations will be initiated by the appropriate authorities.

Terms on the establishment of an Independent Review, which had been advancing in recent months, are being reviewed in light of the RTE programme, and are being finalised. The purpose of this Independent Review, which will be conducted by independent and unbiased personnel, is to examine the effectiveness of current policies and procedures for dealing with workplace issues such as dignity, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination.

I very much look forward to meeting with the women profiled in the programme, and listening to their views.

I can assure the Deputy that both I, as Minister, and the Defence Organisation, are committed to providing a safe place of work for all employees.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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346. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the date on which his Department was first contacted by victims of workplace sexual harassment, assault, discrimination and bullying in the Defence Forces; and the action he or his officials took on receipt of these initial communications. [45128/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I receive information on an ongoing basis from serving and former personnel on a range of issues in relation to their experiences within the Defence Forces.

The action taken on foot of such information is dependent on the circumstances of each individual case and whether the complaints are already the subject of investigation by other statutory authorities or within other grievance processes. If there is an allegation of a possible criminal offence, individuals are advised and encouraged to make contact with an Garda Síochána.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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347. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the amount spent on purchasing specialist fire service vehicles for the Defence Forces fire services in 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form. [45208/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The detailed information sought by the Deputy is not readily available within the time frame sought. At the request of my Department the military authorities are conducting the search, retrieval and collation of same. I will arrange to have this information forwarded to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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348. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason he accepted an Ombudsman for the Defence Forces report which ruled that a person (details supplied) was not discriminated against when it was subsequently determined that they were discriminated against by the Workplace Relations Commission. [45270/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I wish to advise the Deputy that the Ombudsman discharges his duties in line with the provisions of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, Act, 2004.

Under the provisions of this Act, the Ombudsman has full independence and autonomy in the discharge of his statutory functions. The findings of the Ombudsman, in relation to complaints submitted to his Office under the provisions of the Act, are therefore based on his independent assessment of the information he is presented with during the course of his investigation. In this particular case, the Minister is satisfied that the ODF had appropriately exercised his discretion, that a full, fair and objective investigation had been conducted by the ODF in relation to the facts of the complaints in this case.

The Deputy will be aware that WRC rulings are in the public domain and will be also aware that the Adjudicator in his December 2020 ruling on two complaints brought by an individual, upheld one complaint on the grounds of gender discrimination in relation to promotion, owing to the treatment of absences in terms of access to promotion contrary to S.8 (1) of the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015. The Adjudicator found that the Minister did not discriminate against the Complainant, and did not victimise her, within the meaning of S.2, S. 6(1) and S. 74 (2) of the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 as alleged in her second complaint.

The directions of the ruling are currently being implemented by the military authorities with a view to ensuring that all of the training programmes and materials for Defence Forces personnel are fully aligned, and compatible with, the provisions of the relevant equality legislation and that follow-on actions will be progressed. A Defence Forces Working Group is established comprising membership from the Defence Forces HR, Legal and Training & Education HQ Branches as well as representatives from the Defence Forces Formations. The Working Group has had 12 plenary meetings to date in addition to meetings of sub-groups. Progress is continuing in line with the timelines set out in the ruling and this will be fully complied with.

The complainant has ongoing active litigation in a number of fora, and therefore it would not be appropriate to comment further.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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349. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason he chose not to act, when it was brought to his attention in January 2017 through a protected disclosure that an officer in the Defence Forces (details supplied) was bullied, sexually abused, victimised and discriminated against and informed the person that their protected disclosure was subjective and could not be acted on in view of the fact they were taking a case; the reason he accepted an Ombudsman for the Defence Forces report which ruled that a person (details supplied) was not discriminated against when it was later determined that they were by the Workplace Relations Commission case and in further view of the fact that he is meeting other persons who have taken such cases. [45271/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The purpose of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 is to make provision for and in connection with the protection of persons from the taking of action against them in respect of the making of certain disclosures in the public interest and for connected purposes. Section 16 of the Act provides that subject to exceptions, a person to whom a protected disclosure is made, and any person to whom a protected disclosure is referred in the performance of that person’s duties, shall not disclose to another person any information that might identify the person by whom the protected disclosure was made. On this basis, it would be inappropriate for me to comment as to whether any individual submitted a protected disclosure.

The Ombudsman for the Defence Forces discharges his duties in line with the provisions of the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act, 2004.

Under the provisions of this Act, the Ombudsman has full independence and autonomy in the discharge of his statutory functions The findings of the Ombudsman in relation to complaints submitted to his Office under the provisions of the Act, are therefore based on his independent assessment of the information he is presented with during the course of his investigation.

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