Ahern says GRA ballot is 'affront to democracy'
MINISTER FOR Justice Dermot Ahern has launched a strongly-worded attack on the Garda Representative Association (GRA), saying its plan to ballot its members on industrial action was an “affront to democracy” that would do huge damage to the force and would not be tolerated by the Government.
He reminded the association’s national executive that any garda who took industrial action would be breaking the law, and said that those who facilitated such action left themselves open to criminal prosecution and civil actions.
“I would strongly urge the executive to take legal advice,” he said, expressing surprise it had not already done so.
“The people who uphold the law can’t be law-breakers. No society can countenance that, no democracy can countenance that.”
He believed industrial action by rank-and-file gardaí, who account for around 12,000 of a 14,500- strong force, would only aid criminals and damage the Garda’s relationship with the public.
The GRA is organising the ballot even though industrial action by a Garda member, or inducing gardaí into such action, is a crime punishable by five years in prison under provisions in the Garda Síochána Act 2005.
The association has decided to take the unprecedented step because of the erosion of its members’ pay since the recession began, and because its members have urged the association to show stronger leadership.
Mr Ahern has said the association’s actions will be stopped. He has already consulted the Attorney General Paul Gallagher and Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, and would discuss the GRA’s unprecedented plans at today’s Cabinet meeting.
He said the GRA was not a union and never would be a union.
He added that, unlike other workers, gardaí took an oath to uphold the law. They were the second-best-paid public servants and were not being asked to “take more pain” than any other public sector workers arising from the recession. The GRA national executive needed to reflect on this, he added.
Informed sources said the Government could initially apply to the courts for an injunction to prevent the ballot.
GRA general secretary PJ Stone said his members had lost up to €4,800 per year due to levies already imposed, and were now facing further pays cuts in the budget.
The GRA, because it was not a trade union, had not been given a place at the negotiating table during last week’s talks on public sector savings. It had no voice, and was left with no choice but to take firm action and ballot its members.
The exclusion from negotiations was “unprecedented” in European policing.
“ valueless and worthless, and that view is supported by Government,” Mr Stone said.
The result of the ballot could be known within two to three weeks.
Members will be asked if they are willing to withdraw their labour and join any further days of protest by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu).
Mr Stone said the GRA had been accused of dishonesty 10 years ago when it engaged in the “blue flu” action, when gardaí rang in sick for a day as part of a row over pay.
“We’re being upfront .” He denied the GRA was “putting it up to the Government and Garda management”.
When asked if he had considered the consequences if he was found to have broken the law in encouraging Garda members into industrial action, Mr Stone said the GRA was simply holding a ballot. It was not encouraging any particular course of action.
Said Mr Stone: “At the end of the day if it is the decision of somebody that we are breaking the law, well then the law is being broken and we will have to be punished.” Sometimes justice had to be “fought for”.
Fine Gael’s spokesman on justice Charlie Flanagan TD said the decision by the GRA to ballot its members indicated Mr Ahern’s relationship with rank-and-file members was poor.