Last year, there was a political controversy in Ireland that related to the EU Rapid Reaction Force and the role that the Irish Defence Forces would play within it. If this European Union capability is to be in any way rapid, it must be hoped that it won’t be relying on the Department Of Defence in Ireland. In my experience, this organisation is more like the Department Of Slow Learners. The five year colloquium by correspondence that is described below, was required to explain for the Department (in words of two syllables or less) how to publish a job advertisement properly. Unfortunately, being so wrong for so long has not dulled their haughty arrogance.
On 16th November 2018, I wrote to the Minister for Defence about the process of appointing chaplains in the Irish Military. At the time, the Defence Forces Regulations required that all chaplains would be appointed by bishops. This is unlawful as it overtly discriminates against all non-Christians in how publicly funded positions are filled. It is also enormously disrespectful to the non-Christian members of our Defence Forces to insist that only their Christian colleagues may be allowed counsel from a chaplain of like mind. My correspondence stated as follows:
“It should not be necessary for you to wait for litigation that will require you to change the current Defence Force Regulations. Rather, I would urge you to immediately review these regulations in order to bring them into line with the Irish Defence Forces Equality Policy, with the Employment Equality Act, with the Irish Constitution and with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”Quote from my November 2018 letter to the Minister of Defence
Since I didn’t receive any meaningful response, I continued to write to the Minister for Defence making the same point, roughly every two months for around two years.
On 19th June 2020, I eventually received a two page letter that addressed the issues I had raised. The Minister for Defence was very clear that he didn’t need to worry about an inconvenience like the Employment Equality Act. He thanked me for drawing attention to the law, while pompously insisting that he would continue with his sectarian appointment process.
“I thank you for your correspondence and your observations on such matters. The Department will give due consideration to the points you have raised as part of any future review of the Military Chaplain Service. In relation to recruitment within the Military Chaplain Service – any chaplaincy appointments which become vacant will continue to be governed by the existing provisions. I trust this clarifies matters for you.”Quote from letter to me from Minister for Defence of June 2020
After I received this letter I took a legal case against the Minister for Defence, alleging religious discrimination contrary to the Employment Equality Act.
My case against the Minster for Defence was heard on 8th March 2022. While I was on my own, the Chief State Solicitors Office litigating the case for the Minister had three serving members of the Defence Forces appearing as witnesses. The arguments that they made were pretty absurd. I outlined my case first, which attempted to explain that the Department Of Defence was appointing State-funded positions based on sectarian headcount. Of course, this is contrary to the Employment Equality Act, which prohibits religious discrimination.
In response, the Department Of Defence described why they think awarding jobs by sectarian headcount is a great policy altogether, notwithstanding the Employment Equality Act. They also argued that only priests could effectively act as “force multipliers” when the dealing with Hezbollah. The decision was published on 1st March 2023 and unsurprisingly, I won. The Department for Defence was found guilty of unlawful religious discrimination.
Following the publication of the decision, I wrote to the Minister for Defence again. I asked him to apologise to all of the non-religious members of our military who had been treated so disrespectfully by his unlawful religious discrimination over many years. I had imagined that the legal judgement may have softened his cough a little. Since it had taken five years to explain to his Department that advertising jobs according to the requirements of the Employment Equality Act would be a better idea than giving the jobs to various Christian denominations based on sectarian headcount, his officials might have replaced a little of their hubris with humility. Not a bit of it. Having spent the previous five years admonishing me that sectarian bigotry within Military Chaplaincy was the best policy, the same people swapped seamlessly into chastising me about their “standard operating procedures”, which apparently wouldn’t countenance deviating one iota from the Employment Equality Act.
I hope that those involved with the EU Rapid Reaction Force aren’t relying on the “standard operating procedures” at the Department of Defence in Ireland. If there is a crisis requiring an urgent military response, the “standard operating procedures” referred to will likely involve sending priests to do jobs they’re not trained for, then arrogantly insisting in the face of all evidence to the contrary that nobody but a priest can do the job. It’ll only take five years of diligent instruction on how the world works, in order for the Department Of Slow Learners to understand what the problem with this might be.