Ombudsman for the Defence Forces

Ombudsman For The Defence Forces Report Highlights Growth in Cases From Serving Members

3 June 2008

The 2007 Annual Report of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces has indicated that the number and range of complaints referred to the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces rose sharply last year. However, it remained that the greatest proportion of complaints related to non-selection for promotion.

Presenting the second Annual Report from her Office today (3/06/08) the Ombudsman, Paulyn Marrinan Quinn SC, said that there was a 192 per cent increase in the number of cases referred to her office in 2007. During the course of the year, she issued 39 preliminary view reports and 29 final reports. Out of the final reports, 20 were upheld.

The Office of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces (ODF) became operational in December 2005 with a legislative remit of offering an impartial and independent review of grievances by serving and former members of the Defence Forces.

Of the 76 cases referred to the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces in 2007, 39 per cent concerned non-selection for promotion; other issues such as maladministration represented 38 per cent of cases; while alleged bullying and harassment represented 5 per cent of cases. Previously, the Office had not dealt with cases concerning alleged bullying or harassment.

It was notable that – in 2007 – the number of referrals concerning non-selection for a career course or non-selection for overseas service had dropped considerably on the first full year of operations. In addition, 2007 saw a growth in the use of the Ombudsman’s Office by more senior ranks within the Defence Forces: 17 per cent of cases came from the ranks of Lieutenant or higher.

Addressing the launch of her 2007 Annual Report, Ms Marrinan Quinn said that the significant growth in referrals represented the increased awareness and trust that former and serving members of the Defence Forces now have in her Office. “As highlighted in my Annual Report, cases relating to allegations of bullying and harassment arose for the first time. This is a notable development, as it demonstrates that members of the Defence Forces trust my office to deal with issues of a very personal and serious nature.

With an increased work-load, the limited resources available to my Office did represent a challenge in meeting demand. However, in spite of this, the ODF managed to issue either preliminary or final reports in response to the majority of cases. All the while, my team and I strived to ensure that the principles of Ombudsmanship – independence, fairness and impartiality – guided our work.”

In 2007, the ODF provided assistance to other countries currently examining the role of an Ombudsman in a military context. “In the past 12 months, I briefed European and Asian officials on the role and remit of my Office. This international interest is an affirmation of the vision and commitment of those in the Defence Forces and in the political sphere who supported the establishment of the ODF on a statutory basis.”

Given the increased case load and the range of cases now coming before her Office, Ms Marrinan Quinn raised some concern about offering appropriate redress in cases that have been upheld. “In the instance of a complainant who has had their case upheld concerning non-selection for a promotion, it would be impractical to reopen or overturn the original selection procedure. Nevertheless, the wronged person deserves an appropriate remedy to mitigate the stress and effects of their grievance. Ensuring that there are suitable remedies for all cases which are upheld by my Office is an issue which will need to be considered by both the Defence Forces and by the Department of Defence as a matter of some urgency.

"Having appropriate remedies in place is critical in continuing and building the trust which members and former members of the Defence Forces have in the ODF. Moreover, without ensuring appropriate remedies, the purpose of my Office will be undermined,” said Ms Marrinan Quinn.

Today’s launch was also addressed by the former Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, Kevin Murphy. In his short address, Mr Murphy drew attention to the need for newly developing Ombudsman Offices to be properly staffed and resourced in order to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.

Photos of Launch