Military management has absolutely nothing to fear from rank and file Defence Forces personnel having an affiliation with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).
That is the message from Gerard Guinan, general secretary of PDForra, the association which represents 6,500 enlisted personnel in the army, naval service, and air corps.
Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett and some other senior military officers have expressed concern that such a relationship between enlisted personnel and ICTU could have security implications for the State. ICTU has agreed in principle to PDForra’s request for affiliation.
“Pronouncements to the effect that our association, aligned with ICTU, would potentially give rise to security concerns, were contained within various Government submissions to the European Social Rights Committee in 2015 and 2016,” Mr Guinan said.
However, despite these pronouncements, the European Social Rights Committee vindicated PDforra’s stance that we should be allowed to associate with ICTU.
He added that PDForra had “committed to even further guarantees on specific concerns, by way of assuaging the fears of interested parties”.
Mr Guinan said he believed recent comments in the media and on social media could be seen as an attempt to try the case for associate membership in the public domain to see how it was received.
“We want to stress that PDForra remains steadfast in our belief that this represents the best opportunity to secure future advances, equality and justice for our members,” said Mr Guinan.
He said his association did not support calls for the establishment of an independent pay review body for the Defence Forces, similar to one set up by the British armed forces. Raco, which represents Defence Forces officers, has called for this.
“Our experience with such bodies has been more than disappointing,” Mr Guinan said. “The interdepartmental pay review body in 1988, was rubbished by soldiers at that time and resulted in the setting up of the Gleeson Commission. This Commission also had its flaws, some still impacting on our members today, such as the denial of a rent allowance.”
Mr Guinan added that more recently the Benchmarking Process 1 & 2 and the latest Public Service Pay Commission recommendations had not been well received by his members.
PDForra members feel the only way they can win better pay is by getting ICTU to represent it at national pay talks. Its members have reaffirmed that they will not break their oath of service to the State and take any form of industrial action.
The junior minister with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe, has refused to rule out vetoing PDForra affiliation with ICTU.
Mr Guinan said his association will engage with officials from the Department of Defence in the coming weeks, prior to the commencement of the next round of national pay talks, to see how the department of Defence wishes to proceed.
He called on the Government to “urgently” act on recommendations contained within the Public Service Pay Commission’s report about poor pay in the Defence Forces.
He also said there should be an increase in more allowances.
Meanwhile, PDForra’s national health and safety officer, Ray McKenna, told the conference that soldiers based at the communications section at McKee barracks, Dublin were constantly complaining about foul smells since it was flooded with raw sewerage in 2017.
On most days, especially when it’s warm, soldiers reported they can taste sewage in their mouths, and it could be smelled everywhere in the air.
Earlier this year, PDForra made a complaint to the Health and Safety Authority. The area was subsequently shut off and the soldiers transferred to another part of the barracks. Work is ongoing to rectify the situation.