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29 May 2022

High Court challenge brought over order preventing off duty soldiers attending protests

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High Court challenge brought over order preventing off duty soldiers attending protests

The case was heard at the High Court in Dublin

A serving soldier has brought a High Court challenge against a senior military officer's order that all members of the Permanent Defence Forces should not attend unofficial parades and protests held on their behalf. 

The action has been brought by Sergeant Martin Bright, who is also the Deputy General Secretary of the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDFORRA) the body which represents the interests of full-time members of the PDF.

The court heard that Sgt Bright intended to attend a protest that took place in in Dublin City Centre in September 2018.

That event was organised over army pay and conditions, and was mainly attended by family members of serving members and veterans of the PDF

However, Stg Bright did not go to the parade after the PDF's Deputy Chief of Staff issued an order in August 2018 directing members of the Permanent Defence Forces not to attend such unofficial parades and protests.

The order issued by the Deputy Chief of Staff of the PDF requested all members of the members of the PDF not attend a number of unoffical parades and protests on behalf of PDF members.

The order said that the PDF members should be aware that attendance in uniform or civilian clothing at such events "is not compatible with military service".

Sgt Bright, represented by Oisin Quinn SC with Micheal O'Higgins SC instructed by solicitor Fergus O'Regan, claims that the order breaches his rights to freedom of assembly or to express himself freely. The order, he claims, should be withdrawn but the State has refused to do so. 

In proceedings against the Minister for Defence, Ireland and the Attorney General he seeks a declaration that the order issued in August 2018 is unlawful and outside of the Deputy Chief of Staff's powers.

He also seeks declarations that his attendance at lawful assemblies and protests, while not on duty, is not incompatible with military service.

If necessary, he seeks a declaration that the order is unconstitutional, and breaches various articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Opening the case Mr Quinn said that there is no express power that allows an officer to order an off duty, and not in uniform, PDF member not to attend a civilian event.

The Defence Forces regulations do prevent the attendance of members at political events in uniform, but no such restriction applies in respect of soldiers in civilian attire counsel said.

Represented by Patrick McCann SC and Mark Dunne SC the defendants deny the claims.

In their defence they say that he lacks the legal standing to bring the action, which should be struck out.

This is because Sgt Bright was seconded to PDFORRA which the State says cannot engage in any public agitation as a means of furthering its claims.

The defendants also deny that Sgt Bright was prevented from attending the protest, which the defendants say amounted to a political demonstration.

The defendants deny that the officer's note of August 2018 was unlawful or invalid, or that Sgt Bright's rights were breached as alleged.

The declarations sought should not be granted, the defendants further submit. 

The hearing, before Mr Justice Mark Sanfey, continues.

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