Ombudsman for the Defence Forces

Mediation in the Civil Service The Ombudsman for the Defence Forces

9 December 2010

In 2000, the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, Paulyn Marrinan Quinn.S.C. set about establishing a centre of excellence in the teaching and training theories of conflict resolution and dispute resolution skills and founded a Post Graduate Programme on Conflict & Dispute Resolution Studies (CDRS) at the Irish School of Ecumenics – Trinity College Dublin, which has pioneered the use of alternative dispute resolution processes (ADRs) such as mediation for many years.

The Ombudsman was invited to make a presentation to the Forum on the benefits of mediation in the Civil Service. The Forum, which is convened on a quarterly basis, considers all human resource management related policy proposals and implementation.

The Department of Finance is the custodian of the bullying and harassment policy for the Civil Service and holds responsibility for the Disciplinary and Grievance procedure for the Civil Service.

On an initiative from one of the Forum’s members, the hypothesis advanced was that firstly the Forum could do more to promote the use of mediation as an ADR within the State system. As matters stand, Departments and Offices have in-house investigators trained in investigating bullying or harassment allegations. In such circumstances there would be great potential in identifying those within the relevant Organisations who would be prepared, and appropriately trained, to mediate in relation to inter-personal disputes. Over the past ten years, many members of the Civil and Public Service have done the CDRS post graduate programme, including one member of the Forum who won the James Hare Memorial Prize in 2010 for the most outstanding essay (whom I identified at the meeting)

Early warning notification of relational disputes followed by the relevant ADR intervention should be the norm and note the exception. As matters stand within the Civil Service, responsibility for invoking processes in response to allegations of bullying or harassment, in addition to disciplinary matters, is vested in the Personnel Officer. Tri-monthly meetings of Personnel Officers are held, usually in Dublin Castle, to consider all HR related policy proposals and implementation and, indeed, to feed into the policy formulation processes itself. This Forum comprises 40 to 50 Departmental representatives from across the Civil Service.

I was very pleased to be invited by the Forum’s organising Committee Chairman, John O’Leary on the suggestion of Mary McKeon, Principal Officer, at the Department of Finance, to address and facilitate a discussion at the Forum. I welcomed the opportunity of addressing the gathering on the benefits and the positive influence of using mediation in relational type disputes and to share with the other members of the Forum the fall out and devastation, at a personal and professional level, which can sometimes arise when these kind of disputes are brought through the adversarial system.

I was also able to share with the Forum the experience of addressing a Conference in London last year at the Headquarters of ACAS. the subject of which was the use of mediation in Workplace Disputes. I was pleased to discover that, in many respects, I was preaching to the converted in that many of the members of the Forum had first-hand knowledge of the benefits of providing choice and an alternative means of resolving disputes. There was also consensus as to the need for experienced and well trained Mediators to be available within the Civil and Public Service.