Relations between Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Garda Representative Association (GRA), which represents rank-and-file gardaí, have further soured after the latest efforts to break the impasse in an already bitter and protracted dispute over new Garda rosters.
GRA general secretary, Ronan Slevin has dismissed the meeting with Mr Harris on Tuesday as “a complete waste of time”.
“I now feel that the GRA’s relationship with him is in many ways irreparable,” he said in a very strongly worded statement, adding that Mr Harris’s approach amounted to “inviting conflict”.
The GRA was set to hold a special delegate conference in Kilkenny on Wednesday to determine the next steps it will take, up to an including industrial action, in the long-running rosters dispute. Rank-and-file gardaí want to remain on 12-hour rosters introduced for the pandemic because they result in fewer work days and are more lucrative due to additional unsocial hours allowances payable.
However, Mr Harris has said the pandemic rosters were designed for lockdown periods rather than a normally functioning society, adding they are expensive and cost the Garda about 13,000 working hours per month. He has insisted the pandemic rosters will end on November 6th, when the Garda force would revert to pre-pandemic rosters pending completely new rosters being agreed.
The talks on Tuesday afternoon involved the GRA, Mr Harris, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, the Association of Garda Superintendents and Association of Garda Chief Superintendents. They followed two weeks after the membership of the GRA – about 11,000 rank-and-file gardaí in a near 14,000-strong force – voted no confidence in Mr Harris by a majority of almost 99 per cent.
The GRA has said it would not enter into any process aimed at negotiating a way out of the rosters dispute until Mr Harris withdrew the deadline of November 6th for the return of pre-pandemic rosters. However, on Tuesday Mr Harris again made it clear he was not willing to do that and this has clearly angered the GRA.
Mr Slevin said a number of talks “to try and repair the damage” of the no confidence vote two weeks ago had “failed”, which he believed “completely vindicates the result of this ballot”. He added that the GRA had told the commissioner if the November 6th deadline was deferred the association would “immediately enter” new “proposed talks in good faith”.
Mr Slevin said if talks went ahead, and agreement on new rosters was reached, that outcome would still need to be put to GRA members in a ballot, with the whole process taking at least six weeks. That would mean gardaí changing rosters in November and then changing again in the new year. He believed the November 6th deadline must be removed to allow for meaningful discussions and to avoid a complete change of rosters in the Garda twice within a number of months.
“However, the commissioner has simply told us today that he is not for moving on the November 6th deadline and that, in his words, ‘the roster will change on that date’,” Mr Slevin said. “It is our view that the commissioner has now invited conflict and it will be up to our delegates at tomorrow’s specially convened conference to chart the direction of the actions to follow.”
In reply to queries, Garda headquarters confirmed Tuesday’s talks had taken place, adding that all the parties had been invited to further talks on Thursday.
The Irish Times understands the four associations will make submissions about how an independently-chaired conciliation process within the Garda could commence with a view to finding agreement on new rosters.
“A final decision regarding next steps has not been made,” Garda headquarters said of Tuesday’s talks. “All parties have asked to consider possible next steps. A further meeting has been scheduled for Thursday.”