Shatter says protest 'a bad day' for Garda reputation
Members of the Garda Representative Association picket public sector pay talks at Lansdowne House in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has described as a “bad day for the reputation” of An Garda Síochána yesterday’s placard protest by Garda members outside the official talks on an extension to the Croke Park agreement and he said he was concerned it could "discredit" the force.
Commenting on the decision by members of the Garda Representative Association to engage in protest action outside the building in Dublin where unions were meeting Government representatives, Mr Shatter said: “Yesterday was a bad day for the reputation of the force when, outside Lansdowne House, members of the GRA executive saw fit both to engage in protest action, and criticise and abuse other trade unions and public representative bodies which were properly representing the best interests of their members by engaging in discussion and negotiation inside Lansdowne House.”
“I am concerned that what took place yesterday could discredit the force in the eyes of many people,” Mr Shatter said in a statement this evening.
He said the general secretary of the GRA, PJ Stone, had today stated that the body was “never part of the talks nor can they influence the outcome of the talks”.
“It is unfortunate that he chooses to so grossly mislead not only the general public but also members of the force who he should be representing.”
He said a number of sessions had been held with the Garda associations, the last of these being on January 24th. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors had withdrawn the following day, and the GRA had followed suit on February 4th, he said.
“Since the withdrawal from discussions by the GRA and AGSI, discussions have continued with all other trade unions and representative bodies.
“Instead of engaging in discussions the GRA position has evolved into a public protest movement and its executive is now encouraging members of the force to engage in a form of industrial action.”
Mr Shatter said he fully understood and appreciated the nature of policing and the critical role played by An Garda Síochána in relation to the security and the safety of everyone in the State.
“I know that the gardaí perform a difficult and sometimes dangerous duty on behalf of all of us.
“In this context, both myself and the Government have, despite the critical exchequer position, sought to ensure that An Garda Síochána have all the necessary resources that the State can provide available to them at all times.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny today reiterated pleas for representatives of rank-and-file gardaí to take part in the public sector pay talks.
As negotiations enter a critical weekend, Mr Kenny said the GRA should get the chance to put its concerns forward.
“The place to deal with the pay talks and the negotiations is at the table where these negotiations are taking place,” Mr Kenny said. “I respectfully request again that the Garda Representative Association would see it that they go back in there and have the full opportunity to articulate their concerns and the issues that are causing discussion for them.” Mr Kenny said he wanted the pay talks to conclude in a professional and proper fashion.
Mr Kenny was speaking as 11,300 members of the GRA began restricting what they described as “goodwill work practices” by refusing to use their own cars, phones, computers and cameras for police work.
The representative body has said people will have to wait to see what impact the action will have, but insisted members would not be breaking the law and were not putting the public at risk.
GRA president John Parker said gardaí had been providing a sticking plaster to an under-resourced force by using personal cars, mobile phones, laptops and cameras - all which stopped indefinitely from today. “The public will not be put at risk,” Mr Parker said. “But it will be up to managers to manage the situation.”
The association’s members will not volunteer to work on days off for non-public duties such as policing sporting events or concerts. They will only drive official Garda vehicles when on duty, and officers who have not passed the full driver training courses will not drive official cars.
Meanwhile, the GRA executive will continue to stage protests at official events for the EU Presidency.
There is deep anger in Government at the militant tactics adopted by the GRA in an effort to scuttle talks on the extension of the Croke Park agreement.
Mr Kenny and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter yesterday rebuked the GRA for picketing the venue where talks between the Government and union leaders were taking place.
Mr Kenny called on the GRA to return to the talks, which he said were critical for the Republic’s future.
Yesterday's GRA protest involved about 30 rank-and-file gardaí who carried placards that read “1913 Lockout: 2013 Sellout”; “Come Out, Not Sellout”; “Betrayed by Unions, Shattered by Cuts.”
The GRA action was a surprise and highlighted a major rift between gardaí and the trade unions in the talks, as well as the hostility to the Minister, in whom they have voted no confidence.
The GRA abandoned the talks on the basis that it would not discuss any proposals that involved cuts to its members’ pay and allowances.
However, Government sources were adamant last night that in the event that agreement is not reached on a deal, they remain committed to saving €170 million by tackling premium payments for frontline public servants rather than legislating for an across the board pay cut that would impact on the lower paid.
The talks on extending the Croke Park agreement will intensify over the coming days ahead of a deadline of next Thursday set by the Cabinet.
Key issues such as the proposed pay cut for high earners in the public service, the future of increments, additional hours of work being sought by management and cuts in premium payments are still being discussed between a small group of negotiators on both sides at a central level.
In the education sector, the Government is seeking to effectively remove all existing supervision and substitution payments from teachers – these currently cost about €120 million. Some of the money saved could go towards addressing the lower salaries currently paid to newly appointed teachers.
Meanwhile, the State-owned Bus Éireann has warned staff that if they take industrial they may have no jobs to return to when it is over. The unions are considering Labour Court recommendations aimed at dealing with the serious financial situation at the company.
In a letter to employees yesterday, company chief executive Martin Nolan said: “Unlike those directly employed in the public and civil service that would have jobs to return to after any industrial action, we may not...”
Additional reporting: PA