The issue of maladministration in the Defence Forces was raised by |Labour Spokesman Brian O’Shea at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence & Women’s Rights.
This was an area in which complaints have grown rapidly, from five in 2006 to 29 in 2007, he told the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces Pauline Marrinan Quinn who was in attendance.
“Another matter that intrigued me was the notable increase in the use of the office of the Ombudsman by senior ranks,” he said.” Some 17 of the 76 cases referred to the office concerned the rank of lieutenant or higher, which is interesting. Is this a trend and what does it signify? The bald figure does not tell the whole story.”
Very few of the appeals have come from the Reserve Defence Force or from former members, he pointed out. Political spokespersons received letters from former members, but it seemed such letters do not reach the Office of the Ombudsman.
“How many of the complaints which initially come through from the internal complaints procedures are frivolous or vexatious in nature, or are such complaints filtered out by the time they reach the office, he asked. “How many are real complaints? Is there a culture in military life whereby one does not tell, let the side down or provide the information because it would be considered disloyal? Is this a feature of complaints with which the office must deal?”
In reply the Ombudsman said one very important point was that within the redress of wrongs procedure, the complainants are not bound by any time lines.
“They can sit on a considered ruling or a decision for a very long time without doing anything about it,” she said. “That is a historical fact and it is one of the very interesting areas where the establishment of an ombudsman’s office with its timelines and its attendant regulations can aid, assist, improve and modernise the processes”
Under the relevant Act, she said a person must complain to the Ombudsman within 12 months of the alleged action or within 12 months of becoming aware of the action. That explains why many former members found they are outside the remit of the office, as the action is long since past.
“Since that timeline exists for complaints, it has brought attention and focus on the fact that sometimes, because of the historical reality, members of the Defence Forces can sit on a decision from the general officer commanding, GOC, for a while without being sure what to do about it or whether to accept it. This came about following my inquiries.”
In relation to maladministration, she said many of the cases which come from the Defence Forces related to interpretations of the Defence Forces regulations and what are termed admin instructions, which are really the work-a-day interpretations of the regulations.