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High Court rules order banning military from protest against defence cuts was unconstitutional

In a judgment released today Mr Justice Mark Sanfey ruled against the State and said that the decision was outside the powers granted to officers under the law.

AN ORDER BY senior military officers blocking members of the Defence Forces from attending a protest against Government defence cutbacks has been ruled as unconstitutional by the High Court.

In a judgment released today Mr Justice Mark Sanfey ruled against the State and said that the decision was outside the powers granted to officers under the law.

The case taken by the Deputy General Secretary of PDFORRA Martin Bright centred around a “peaceful assembly and protest” which took place in Dublin on 19 September 2018. Bright is a company sergeant in the Irish Defence Forces. 

The protest concerned “conditions of service of members of the Defence Forces” and was attended by former members of the military as well as partners and family members of serving military personnel.

An order had been issued by a Major General telling all military personnel that they were not permitted to attend the event.

Bright statement of claim said that to disobey the order would be in breach of Section 131 of the Defence Act 1954 which deals with “disobedience to a senior officer”. This is punishable with imprisonment. 

Bright also claimed that banning him and other military personnel from attending such a march was against his fundamental rights in the Irish constitution – namely articles governing equality before the law and freedom of expression. 

The State had argued in its defence that Bright did not possess the legal standing to take the action.

In his judgment Judge Sanfey found that the order was outside the powers of the Major General to make and was therefore in breach of Bright’s constitutional rights.  

“The issue of what members of the Defence Forces may or may not do off duty in relation to matters which might be deemed “political” is a difficult issue; however, it is an area which requires regulation by the Minister in a manner which takes account of the interests and sensitivities of all concerned,” he said. 


PDFORRA represents enlisted personnel across the three military services of the Army, Irish Air Corps and Naval Service. 

Ger Guinan, the General Secretary of PDFORRA welcomed the judgment and said that the group would bring it up with Minister for Defence Tánaiste Micheál Martin at their annual conference tomorrow. 

“We’re happy it vindicates the rights of members of the Defence Forces to peaceful assembly. We would welcome further engagement with the Department and Minister around this issue,” he said. 

Guinan also said that the current Defence (Amendment) Bill which is passing through the Oireachtas at present now must be revisited. 

The Bill contains a controversial measure which PDFORRA claims would limit their ability to comment on Government policies on behalf of their members.  

“It has to be called into question now and the appropriateness of it needs to be looked at,” Guinan added. 

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