‘Bizarre’ row over soldier’s allowance lasted 16 years

An adjudicator for the Defence Forces has claimed it was “bizarre” that a dispute over allowances, paid to a soldier on a Department of Defence overseas training course, should have lasted 16 years.

The adjudicator, Daniel Murphy expressed disbelief that he was being asked to determine a dispute between the Department of Defence and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) that dated from 2001 and, furthermore, related to just one individual.

The long-running row between the parties revolved around the expenses allowed to a commandant who attended a training course over 12 months at a military college in Paris between 2001 and 2002.

The Department of Defence maintained it was owed €8,295 by the officer.

Raco, on the other hand, claimed the officer was still owed a further €5,418 by the department.

Various discussions were held on a number of occasions over the years to attempt to sort out the problem but no agreement could be reached.

In 2013, the Department of Defence said that it was prepared to conclude the issue if the officer returned €5,192 which it claimed he had been overpaid in expenses and rent during the time he spent in Paris.

Such an offer, however, was unacceptable to Raco.

A conciliation council overseen by the Department of Defence made another unsuccessful attempt to secure an agreement in 2015.

During further talks, the Attorney General was consulted for advice after there was a suggestion the Department of Defence could be statute-barred from trying to recover money from the officer after so many years.

At recent talks, both sides agreed the sums of money involved in relation to rent and travel but remained in dispute over a cost of other allowances.

Outlining his ruling, Mr Murphy said he was very disappointed that the two sides could not come to a pragmatic solution by themselves.

The adjudicator criticised the interaction between the military and civilian sides of the Department of Defence and the mixed messages that were given to the officer.

He noted that the commandant was only notified of the allowances he would be getting three days before he was leaving for Paris in 2001.

Mr Murphy said the officer had written a letter to his superiors, at the time, which could be regarded as “acceptance under protest” of the allowances.

However, the adjudicator said he was also unimpressed with some arguments advanced by Raco.

Mr Murphy ruled the “most sensible approach” was to leave matters as they stood, with any amounts already paid to be regarded as settlement of the issue.

He made his finding on a pragmatic basis rather than coming to precise judgements about the finer details of the various arguments of both sides.

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