Video: Taoiseach confronted by off-duty garda on Meath East canvass

Fine Gael remains the slight favourite to win the byelection

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and candidate Helen McEntee meet an off-duty garda  in Ratoath village. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and candidate Helen McEntee meet an off-duty garda in Ratoath village. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Taoiseach Enda Kenny was involved in a heated exchange with an off-duty garda over public sector pay cuts during a whistle-stop tour of the Meath East constituency yesterday.

The incident took place in a supermarket in Ratoath where the Taoiseach was canvassing with Fine Gael candidate Helen McEntee ahead of tomorrow's byelection to fill the seat left vacant by the death of her father Shane McEntee in December.

The garda, who did not disclose his name, expressed anger at Government plans to cut payments to frontline staff as part of the revised Croke Park agreement.

On the eve of polling, Ms McEntee remains the favourite to retain the seat for Fine Gael which won two of the three seats in the constituency in the last general election.

However, Fianna Fáil candidate Thomas Byrne has confidently predicted he can regain the seat he lost in 2011 when his party took only 19.6 per cent of the vote, compared to Fine Gael’s 40.9 per cent.

Similarly, Darren O’Rourke of Sinn Féin is confident his party’s support will rise significantly from the 8.9 per cent it received in 2011.

Much attention will focus on the performance of Labour candidate Eoin Holmes. If the junior Coalition party’s support drops into single digits from the 21 per cent it garnered in 2011, it is likely to put a strain on the authority of Labour leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

In yesterday’s supermarket confrontation, the garda, a father of three, told Mr Kenny that his shift work meant he often did not see his children when they were off school.

“I am entitled to an unsocial hours allowance,” he said, saying the €15.06 allowance currently being paid worked out at about €7 after tax.”

The debate between Mr Kenny and the garda lasted for almost 10 minutes and attracted the attention of dozens of shoppers.

The garda recounted how he had taken his sick daughter to Tallaght hospital on St Patrick’s Day where doctors, nurses, and catering and cleaning staff were all working.

“You are turning around and cutting their wages and taking other wages including my own which I feel I am entitled to,” he said. “It’s not my fault the economy collapses but I feel I’m being singled out,” he said.

Mr Kenny robustly defended Government policies saying “every public servant from the top down” had taken pay cuts. He criticised the Garda Representative Association for leaving the pay negotiations. “Fire officers and prison officers were all able to get a settlement and stay on the pitch,” he said.

On the overall situation, Mr Kenny referred to the public expenditure deficit which he described as very tough and challenging: “Do you think it’s going to sort itself out? You're a guard, which is a very important job. You’re an intelligent man. Who do you think will pay for the services?”

Both shook hands at the end with Mr Kenny praising the garda for fulfilling an important service in society, and the garda saying: “We will agree to disagree.”