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Speech at the PDForra 31st Anniversary Dinner (Part 2)

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  • Speech at the PDForra 31st Anniversary Dinner (Part 2)

    In February 2015 I was asked by the Under Secretary and Executive Director of UN Women to be a Chairperson of the HeforShe campaign. May I, at this point, once again express my concern for the welfare of the women who so bravely told their stories of harassment, exclusion or bullying within the Defence Forces on the recent Women of Honour programme which so shocked citizens across the country. Not only were those stories greatly distressing to hear, they also served as a salutary reminder of how critical it is that we continue to remain alert to the challenges we face in the ongoing work of creating and maintaining workplaces that are moral and ethical in nature.

    There can be no doubt that the degrading, discriminatory and sometimes violent treatment meted out to female members, or indeed any member, of the Defence Forces is shameful, besmirching not only the history of our Defence Forces, but the history of a nation that claims to be a democracy. Such actions too, become all the more heinous when rank is abused. We should be well aware now what horrific consequences can unfold when any member of a society or organisation seems to assert that they are holders of some superior rights or entitlements, such as would confer an immunity from the laws of the State. Strategies, and impunity or evasion, that allow any belittling and demeaning those who are of a different gender, religion or ethnic background than the prevailing majority have no place in any organisation in a Democracy. On such matters there should be no alternative process to the vindication of basic rights and State law, or any process that seeks to be superior to the law derived from the Constitution to which we should all adhere.

    It is vitally important that our Defence Forces be inclusive places for men and women, work places which accord to each and every member the dignity and respect that defines a truly ethical workplace, and that enables them to have the confidence to know that their talents and contribution are recognised and that false barriers are not erected on the basis of any perceived differences. I know that this atmosphere is one that you, with others, seek.

    While I welcome the fact that a review will now take place of the contents of the programme, I hope that the review can address all bullying, harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination within the Defence Forces.

    This forthcoming review is a critical exercise and must be given priority if we are to respond appropriately to, not only those women who have so bravely shared their stories, but other women or men who have gained courage from the Women of Honour’s actions. They are stories that should remind us all to remain vigilant. We share a common obligation to value and uphold human dignity, freedom, equality and democracy in our workplaces and in our society.

    As with all moments of crisis, the Coronavirus pandemic has presented us with opportunities as well as problems. It has been a catalyst in prompting the fundamental questions we are now asking about how we live our lives, and the core values on which we wish those lives to be based. Here in Ireland we have been questioning amongst other things, the way we work and the kinds of work we value. We have had the importance of caring presented to a society that might have been heavily individualised.

    I have every confidence that our trade unions and staff representative associations will be at the forefront of efforts to shape this new world of work around human dignity and solidarity. They must be central to any debates, indeed must encourage such debate among their members and offer an inventive and creative voice to national discussions.

    Yours, the collective organisations, are organisations which have fought tirelessly, across the decades, for the achievement of equality and respect for all those whom they represent. The tireless struggle against discrimination in the workplace and the key role those Unions have played in the establishment of a wide variety of employment rights legislation have greatly improved and enhanced our workplace environments. It is so very important that these achievements do not become undermined by any new or emerging divisive version of openness to extreme individualism that challenges collective welfare, that they be faced with facts and inclusive arguments.

    We know, from our own and from international experience, that the decline of unionisation can lead to the gradual diminishing or erosion of hard won workers’ rights in so many places, so many sectors, often in the name of economic efficiency, or indeed of ‘flexibility’. It is now urgent that we reassess and re-emphasise what is meant by ‘decent work’, understanding it as a source of personal dignity and freedom, family stability, fulfilment in the community and democratic flourishing.

    This will be an important conversation, to which I greatly hope PDFORRA will receive the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way, continuing the work of its founders as you enter your fourth decade of generous commitment to the rights and welfare of your members. Yours is a powerful voice and one I know you will use wisely as you continue to fight for, and achieve, the further benefits of solidarity yet to come.

    In the coming debate on the future of work, the impact of technology, the green economy, the appropriate place of the Trade Union Movement is at the front of the debate. When workers witness that happening, they will realise that the coming decades will offer great opportunities for an active campaigning citizenship will all the benefits of solidarity and with a new moral focus on an economy and society with ecological responsibility.

    Members, I am so proud of all those who serve at any level at home or abroad in our Defence Forces.

    Beir bua is beannacht.

    Media Library | Speeches | President of Ireland
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