Published on November 13th, 2014 | by admin0
Retirement of Colonel Adrian Ryan
Colonel Adrian Ryan has served as RACO’s founding Deputy General Secretary and has been instrumental in representing the concerns of the officer corps in the Defence Forces for over 24 years. Here he talks to SIGNAL about his career within the military, the early days of the Association, perceptions of what has been achieved by RACO, the current status of representation and what challenges lie ahead.
As you near retirement from the Association could you give us a brief summary of the state of RACO today in terms of engagement amongst commissioned ranks with the Association and the impact RACO has in terms of securing best possible outcomes for its members. Since RACO’s foundation in 1991 the level of engagement by the membership has been especially strong. If the engagement wasn’t very strong we would never have secured and maintained 98 – 99% membership. Members may well initially join an association like RACO in the hope that it will improve their terms and conditions of employment but if the Association is not seen to be delivering positive outcomes for the membership then the level of participation would deteriorate very quickly.
Representative Associations are very democratic, in that policy is determined by the membership via delegate conferences. The National Executive, the Formation Committees and officials are tasked with delivering on the policy. Delegate conferences also receive and adopt reports by those tasked with delivering on the various policies decided by the membership. In this way they are accountable to the membership. Also, since RACO’s foundation there has been almost 500 reports recording agreement at Conciliation Council and an unquantifiable number of informal agreements have been also reached by the Association with both the Civil and Military elements of the Department of Defence. Over the years the Association has fully participated in a large number of reviews with the objective of endeavouring to ensure that the membership are shielded as much as possible from the more negative aspects of these processes. Unfortunately, this has been an ever-increasing part of the Association’s workload since the economic downturn. I have absolutely no doubt that were it not for RACO the officers of the Defence Forces would be in a much poorer place were it not for the establishment of the Association in 1991.
Can you take us back to the genesis of RACO and your own personal recollections of your first exposure to representation and how you became involved? Also, provide a brief summary of your military career prior to RACO.
I was awarded a cadetship in 1974 and entered the Cadet School on the 28th October 1974 as a member of the 51st Cadet Class. I was commissioned in December 1975 and was assigned to the Artillery Corps and posted to the 4th Field Artillery Regiment. Over the course of the next 15 years I served in a variety of appointments in the Corps and also served in the 1st Field Artillery Regiment and the 3rd Field Battery, Depot Artillery until my appointment as Deputy General Secretary of RACO. During this period I was posted to the Air Corps for a period of six years and qualified as an Air Traffic Control Officer. In 1984 I served overseas in UNIFIL with the Military Police Company based in Naqoura, South Lebanon. On reflection it was a wonderful time to be in the Defence Forces. The situation in Northern Ireland meant that the Defence Forces was expanding with new units being formed and the strength of the force was on a continual upward curve. All of this meant of course that the life of a young officer was very busy; multi-tasking was the order of the day and almost every Army Officer served on the border, trained recruits and performed the myriad of functions associated with all aspects of aid to the civil power (ATCP) operations.
There is no doubt that my experience in the earlier part of my career prepared me well for my subsequent career with RACO in that my career up to this point was quite varied and as a result by the time of my appointment as Deputy General Secretary of RACO I had developed a wide range of experience which stood me in good stead as Deputy General Secretary. My initial involvement in representation came about as a member of the then Curragh Command Committee tasked with preparing the Command submission to the Defence Forces Team which was preparing the overall submission to what is now called the ‘Gleeson’ Commission. Arising from my involvement on this committee I was asked to serve on a Defence Forces sub-group tasked with making a submission to the Commission on the particular problems facing officers commissioned during the 1970s. These officers are now commonly referred to as ‘hump’ officers because of the extraordinary large intake during these years. The submission was made to the Commission at the end of 1989 and once this task was completed the then Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, the late Brian Lenihan met all those involved in the various submissions and asked them to fulfill the leadership function in establishing Representative Associations in the Defence Forces. I was selected by GOC Curragh as the Chairman of the Curragh Command Committee and I was also a member of the Defence Forces Officer Team tasked with this very important work.
My main task at this stage was to represent the views of the Curragh Command on representation and also on the electoral process involved. In order to ascertain the views of officers both the Defence Forces Group and the various formations produced a number of consultative documents and questionnaires. Inevitably, some of the more controversial of these were leaked to the media and the military authorities of the day reacted very badly. This resulted in the members of the Defence Forces Group being ‘paraded’ by representatives of the General Staff and I was also ‘paraded’ on a number of occasions at my formation level. In parallel with this process the Tánaiste brought enabling legislation before the Houses of the Oireachtas and this culminated in the passing of the Defence Amendment Act (1990) which gave the Minister for Defence the authority to establish Representation in the Defence Forces within certain limitations. The next phase for the Defence Forces Officer Group was to agree the electoral process to enable the election of representatives and this was successfully completed by the officer team with the Department of the Environment. Once the electoral process was complete in June 1990 elections were held and RACO was established in an ad hoc capacity until the Association was formally established in 1991.
It is well documented that the early days of representation were turbulent, in terms of the very concept gaining traction and in terms of the survival of the Association. What were the key discussions and outcomes in those days that led to representation establishing itself within the Defence Forces, and were there any occasions when you considered the possibility that the concept would not work and would never be accepted?
The issue of poor pay and conditions in the Defence Forces was building up a head of steam in the late 1980’s and one response to this was the establishment of the so-called ‘Brady’ Interdepartmental Committee chaired by Mr. Vincent Brady T.D. Minister for State and Government Chief Whip. This group was originally tasked with examining a ‘brain’ drain of personnel (mainly pilots and technicians) from the Air Corps. The Committee’s remit was subsequently broadened to examine pay and conditions in the wider Defence Forces at the request of the then Chief of Staff Lt Gen Tadhg O’Neill. The Committee reported in 1998 and awarded pay increases, which were already in the ‘pipeline’ for all public servants and thus the Committee failed to address the underlying issue of poor pay and conditions in the Defence Forces.
The leadership of the Defence Forces felt betrayed because they understood that the pay award was in addition to what was being offered to all public servants and when this was found not to be the case their position was completely undermined by the Committee and by Government. The period between the report of the ‘Brady’ Committee and the establishment of the ‘Gleeson’ Commission was very turbulent to say the least and the campaign for representation gained considerable traction with the National Army Spouses Association (NASA) to the fore, being ably assisted by PDFORRA operating in an ad hoc capacity and also by a number of officers on an individual basis. NASA proved to be a very effective protest group in the General Election of 1989 and this contributed in no small way to the establishment of the Gleeson Commission and to the establishment of representative associations in the Defence Forces. Looking back, the failure of the Brady Commission to address the underlying problems meant that the Defence Forces was on the road to representation in some shape or form and once this was accepted by the political establishment representation was inevitable. It is fair to say that the General Staff were not in favour of the establishment of representative associations but once the Oireachtas passed the enabling legislation this was inevitable and it was up to the newly elected representatives to ensure that the scope of representation and the conflict resolution process was at least as favourable as that which existed elsewhere in comparable organisations.
From a personal perspective, how did you find the change from serving with the Army as an officer to becoming involved in representation? In terms of what that change represented for your career, from the aspects of both opportunity and risk, what are your memories of that time?
I didn’t find the change very difficult at all. From the outset in 1989 when I became involved in the Defence Forces submission to the Gleeson Commission it was on the basis of a military detail. In other words I was chosen by my GOC to be part of this team and when this process was complete I was again chosen by my GOC to represent the views of the Curragh Command on the matter of representation. So, when I was elected as a RACO representative in June 1990 I had already gained considerable experience and in a way I made a seamless transfer from military duties to representational duties. I think the main reason for this is I always regarded representation as part and parcel of my duties as an Army officer and given the fact that representation in the Defence Forces was established by statute and operates under Defence Force Regulation S6 this is the only way it can be looked at. When I was selected as Deputy General Secretary in 1991 I realised that in becoming a full time official of RACO my career as a military officer was going to be very different from other officers. In addition, I realised that having taken this path it was not an easy task and while the challenge of being part of establishing representation in the Defence Forces was irresistible, the risks involved were, at times, considerable and my memories are of long days, longer nights and the realisation that I was part of something that was going to have a profound effect on officers’ lives and the Defence Forces in general.
RACO has been in existence throughout a period of almost constant change within the Defence Forces. Some of the key milestones include the ‘deafness’ issue, the White Paper on Defence, the continued process of downsizing and restructuring in the Defence Forces, benchmarking, and most recently the financial crisis and the reduction of 1 Brigade formation in the Defence Forces. Where has RACO made key contributions in terms of how these developments impacted on the officer corps? What are the best examples of how RACO has served the interests of its members?
As I stated earlier RACO’s primary purpose is to represent its members primarily in matters of pay and conditions of service. In this context I consider the improvement to officers pay during our formative years culminating in the first benchmarking report as being a shining example of how the association served the membership. Indeed its fair to say that the impact of the pay cuts in recent years would have had a much more significant impact on the officer body were it not for the gains made by RACO in earlier years.
In all of the other areas you mention RACO has to a greater or lesser extent been involved either formally or informally. On a number of occasions I know that RACO had a positive impact and because of the circumstances it wasn’t always possible to inform the membership of the significant impact our informal representations made. However, in more recent times one of our primary roles has been to endeavour to protect our members from the worst effects of the response to the financial crisis. In this regard the initiative of standardisation of all terms and conditions by an increasingly centralised administration has been one area where RACO has been willing to participate in the initiative but are determined to protect our members in circumstances where these initiatives are not compatible with the practicalities of Defence Forces Life. Were it not for RACO some of these initiatives would most probably have been implemented without any regard to their negative impact on the Forces.
The recent retirement of the founding General Secretary and your own impending retirement represent a defining moment for RACO as the work of the association passes to a new generation. What are your hopes for RACO in the medium to long-term future? What key challenges lie ahead for your successor?
In the first instance I would like to publically congratulate both Comdt’s Earnán Naughton and Derek Priestley on their new appointments. As you imply in your question they face very significant challenges over the coming years but after working with these officers over the past few months I have no doubt that they are more than up to the task. As I leave the association I see the immediate challenge as continuing the effort to protect the officer corps from the negative impact of ill- thought out initiatives, which emanate from an overcentralised civil service. Also, I suggest the end of the Haddington Road agreement poses a significant challenge and the preparation for this eventuality will be a priority for the association. Lastly, it is worth noting that for the past 5 years or so, industrial relations has been governed by the Financial Measures In the Public Interest Act and this has meant that all trade unions and Representative Associations have been very restricted in their ability to represent their members. As we emerge from this period it is imperative that all the conflict resolution processes return to the position they were in before the financial crisis was thrust upon us. The challenge for the association is to play their part in insuring that that this occurs.
You recently spoke at the retirement of the former General
Secretary Col Brian O’Keeffe. How would you categorise
the relationship you had with Brian during your time with
RACO and the impact he had?
I believe that my relationship with Brian was quite unique. Prior to the establishment of Representation in the Defence Forces I think its safe to say we knew of each other but had never worked together. Most people would say that we are opposites and I think this is one of the main reasons our relationship was so successful. Another reason our relationship was so effective was down to Brian’s management style. From the outset Brian insisted that our relationship would be based on a partnership approach and from that day on the adaptation of this approach meant that our relationship grew into an unbreakable bond. This of course proved to be very effective in our negotiations in the various fora over the years. When I spoke at Brian’s retirement function I tried to give an outline of the impact he had on RACO and the Defence Forces and I failed. I failed because I believe his impact is incalculable. It’s easy to outline the tangible impact Brian had but when you look at the role of RA CO over the last 23 years we have been involved to a greater or lesser extent in every facet of life in the Defence Forces and it is for this reason that his impact is incalculable. Lastly, I would like to say that we should be grateful to have had the considerable talents of Brian in RACO and the Defence Forces at a very critical time in our history.