The association representing the country’s frontline Defence Forces has taken a case to the Council of Europe to force the State to recognise the right of soldiers, sailors and aircrew to register as conscientious objectors.
PDForra, which represents 6,500 enlisted personnel, is leading the case on behalf of sister organisations in Denmark, Greece, Cyprus and the Netherlands. The Irish case has been lodged through Euromil, the umbrella body of European military representative associations, and argues that not recognising conscientious objection breaches Human Rights legislation.
A number of European Union countries — Belarus, Czech Republic, Germany, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Serbia and Switzerland — recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional military personnel. Ireland has no provision to allow people to solely seek a discharge from military service on this basis.
A conscientious objector would have to pay to get their discharge. PDForra general secretary, Gerard Guinan, flew to Brussels last weekend to give a presentation to Euromil members on the whole aspect of conscientious objection.
He told the Irish Examiner that the Defence Forces should formally recognise the right of people to be conscientious objectors and have this officially recorded if they want to opt out at any stage. Currently, if war or a major emergency is declared by this country, conscientious objectors cannot seek to buy their discharge. They can only do this in peacetime.
Mr Guinan also said they shouldn’t be penalised by having to pay for their own discharge if they wanted to leave on these grounds. He said it was important to have their conscientious objection recorded if they wanted to leave the Defence Forces so they would not be viewed as cowards.
Alternatively, he said such people could be transferred to non-combatant duties or assigned to either Civil Defence or the Red Cross. In some countries, conscientious objectors are assigned to an alternative civilian service as a substitute for conscription or military service.
A conscientious objector is defined as an individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service ‘on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.’ Mr Guinan said that in the vast majority of cases personnel who enter military service realise that they may have to fire shots in anger.
“But you could have a situation where a person gets a Saint Paul on the road to Damascus epiphany while they are serving,” Mr Guinan added.
On March 8, 1995, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution 1995/83 stated that “persons performing military service should not be excluded from the right to have conscientious objections to military service” The 2001 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union also recognised the right to conscientious objection.