Commissioner warns gardaí on industrial action plans

Wed, Dec 9, 2009, 00:00

GARDA COMMISSIONER Fachtna Murphy has written to all Garda members to warn them that that any industrial action leaves them open to prosecution and could ruin the force’s hard-earned relationship with the public.

In a conciliatory but firm circular sent to more than 14,000 members last night, Mr Murphy said he understood they were under financial pressure and faced uncertainty but insisted the GRA’s plans to ballot its members on industrial action were not the answer.

Industrial action would leave hard-working and dedicated members open to criminal and civil liability. This concerned him “greatly”.

“I believe the proposed course of action could compromise our moral authority to police and impact on public confidence in us as guardians and enforcers of the law as well as jeopardising the respect and esteem in which this organisation is held,” he wrote.

“I am anxious to avoid a situation which has potentially serious consequences for a proud organisation and for individual members.”

Mr Murphy sent the circular after meeting senior officials from the GRA to urge them to take legal advice on the implications of pressing ahead with plans to ballot their members on industrial action.

Mr Murphy called GRA general secretary PJ Stone and president Michael O’Boyce to his offices at Garda headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, yesterday.

He relayed the advice he had received from Attorney General Paul Gallagher.

Mr Murphy outlined the provisions in the Garda Síochána Act 2005 under which gardaí who take industrial action or induce others to do so face five years in jail. Mr Murphy also stressed that members of the GRA who took industrial action, including its executive, could be targeted in civil actions by the State and other parties.

The civil actions can be brought because, unlike trade unions, Garda representative groups are not exempt from redress that might arise from industrial action.

Mr Murphy said he would be concerned at any plan by Garda members to act in a way that would amount to breaking the law.

He said both he and Assistant Commissioner Fintan Fanning would be available for further talks with the GRA.

Mr Fanning, the senior officer in charge of human resources, was also at yesterday’s meeting.

The GRA’s central executive committee will meet today and tomorrow to discuss the reaction of Mr Murphy and Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern to their plans for a ballot.

They are expected to meet Mr Fanning again when their talks conclude.

Mr Ahern has described the GRA’s ballot plans announced on Monday as “an affront to democracy” that the Government would not tolerate.

Mr Stone said his members had lost up to €4,800 a year due to levies already imposed and were facing further pay cuts.

The GRA 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 members.

The ballot will ask GRA members if they would be willing to withdraw their labour during any further Irish Congress of Trade Unions days of protest. Balloting could be concluded within a fortnight.

Mr Stone has said cover would be provided if his members, who number 12,000 in a 14,500-strong force, take industrial action.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said it “completely understands” the GRA’s anger and frustration at the collapse of last week’s talks. Its executive is meeting today to discuss recent developments but there is no indication they plan to ballot their members on industrial action.