Defence forces demands over €8,000 for release of records

THE defence forces has refused to confirm how many staff were court marshalled as a direct result of being late for work or marked AWOL unless the organisation is given thousands of euro in search and retrieval fees.

In the aftermath of a controversial court marshal involving Trooper Paula Staunton, who is based at Collins Barracks in Cork city, the Irish Examiner sent a Freedom of Information (FoI) request asking how many people have faced similar punishments.

Trooper Staunton, who has been in the service for 13 years, arrived at the army facility an hour late on January 14, resulting in her being given a fine and “severe reprimand” – the most serious judgment below a jail sentence or dishonourable discharge.

Trooper Staunton was also told she should consider whether she had a future in the army.

Another individual travelling with the 34-year-old Staunton was also late as a result of the incident, which occurred during the height of the winter freeze, but was not punished. As a result, the Irish Examiner requested information on the case.

This included:

- The number of staff marked late for work each month since November 2008, and the barracks where these staff are based.

- The reason for the late attendance and what duties the person was unable to perform due to their late arrival during this period.

- The number of staff marked AWOL during this period.

- The number of court marshals since November 2008, the details of these cases, and whether the person is still in the defence forces.

This information was requested in late April, but no response was given until early July – well outside the one month response date stipulated under FoI legislation.

This delayed correspondence did not include any answers to the questions raised, and said a fee of €8,084.80 must be sent “in full before the defence forces release any records”.

In addition to this cost, the army’s director of human resources and management section, Colonel Piggott, said a further figure of €254.46 would be required to release information on:

- A monthly breakdown of staff based in Ireland and abroad who have failed drug tests since the start of 2008, including where the person was based, the substance involved, whether the person was charged, what responsibilities they had, and whether they are still a member of the defence forces.

- The number of drug tests conducted on staff during the same period and whether the person involved had failed an earlier or later test .

Since the April 20 court marshal, Trooper Staunton has changed her legal team and has lodged an appeal.

Her new representatives are seeking an appeal date for the court marshal on the grounds that the 34-year-old is being unfairly treated, an issue they believe is linked to a back injury she sustained last year.

Fine Gael defence spokesman David Stanton said it is clear there has been a “clampdown” on public access to state information.

“Costs like that are very high. In recent years the way the FoI Act is interpreted have changed, and we have to make sure people can access the information they need,” he said.


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