Ombudsman for the Defence Forces releases third Annual Report

28 May 2009

The Ombudsman for the Defence Forces has reported a significant increase in the number of cases referred to and investigated by her Office in 2008.

Presenting her third Annual Report, today (28.05.09), the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, Paulyn Marrinan Quinn, noted an increase of 39 per cent in the number of cases investigated by her Office last year.

In 2008, the Ombudsman’s Office investigated 106 cases. The nature of the cases and causes of complaint varied, with the majority concerning selection and nomination procedures for promotion and career courses; maladministration and career-related administrative procedures; and alleged inappropriate behaviour and bullying. The number of complaints under each category was as follows:

• Selection Procedures for Promotion: 33 cases
• Alleged Inappropriate Behaviour / Bullying: 32 cases
• Selection for Career Courses: 14 cases
• Administration procedures: 13 cases
• Maladministration: 12 cases
• Selection Procedures for Overseas Service: 2 cases

In 2008, the profile of the complainants tended to be broadly similar to previous years in terms of gender, rank and service.

The number of preliminary and final reports issued by the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces increased substantially in 2008. Of the cases investigated by the Ombudsman last year, a final report was issued in respect of 34 cases. Of these, almost 60 per cent of the cases were upheld in favour of the complainant. Preliminary view reports (PVR) were issued in respect of 48 cases.

According to the Ombudsman, it was notable that 261 complaints received were originally processed through the Defence Forces own Redress of Wrongs procedure. “This is the second consecutive year in which I have observed a significant number of cases – processed originally through the Redress of Wrongs – coming before my Office,” she said. “This trend illustrates the growing confidence and trust which members and former members of the Defence Forces place in my Office to fairly and independently adjudicate appeals from the outcome of the internal Redress of Wrongs procedures. Despite the obvious additional workload that this has presented, it is an encouraging trend.”

Ms Marrinan Quinn used the opportunity of her third annual report to reflect on the work of her Office since its inception in December 2005: “I am pleased to report that findings which I have made in some cases have informed work undertaken by the Defence Forces in revising a number of human resources, procedural and administrative practices. These include the selection procedure used for career courses and overseas service. In addition to dealing with issues arising in specific cases, I have increasingly developed the view that an Ombudsman is likened to ‘a sleeping policeman’: by its very presence, it is acting as an agent of change and a guardian of fairness.”

“The establishment of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces in Ireland has been widely supported and accepted in a positive light. It is evident to me that the Defence Forces have seen the wisdom in a number of recommendations contained in my final reports, and these have been accepted by the Minister for Defence. I commend this openness to change and hope that the coming years will see an even greater synergy between ODF recommendations and Defence Forces practices so that recurring sources of grievance can be reduced.

“The role of an Ombudsman is multi-faceted. It is a safety net, an early warning system and a catalyst for change. In these roles, an Ombudsman serves to ensure that unfair practices do not persist. Viewed in the context of the modernisation of the armed forces, it can provide independent overview of the grievance procedures, investigate individual complaints and contribute to safe-guarding the human rights of members of defence forces. Because the Office is complaint-focused, it can identify good practices that are badly applied, bad practices that are in need of reform and systemic issues that may arise.

“All dispute resolution processes, whatever their nature, are both precious and fragile. The essential elements of ombudsmanship are independence, accessibility, fairness and accountability. In the work of my Office over the past three years, I have – at all times – borne this in mind,” she said.

Ms Marrinan Quinn added that the Office of the Defence Forces Ombudsman was respected internationally and was viewed as a model of good practice, “While the Office has operated with small staffing levels, the impact has been far-reaching. I am confident that it represents significant value for money. It is notable that many countries are now considering the establishment of an Office of Ombudsman with specific responsibility for the Armed Forces. They are looking to Ireland for indications of the benefits which such an Office would bring.”