Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said he is “willing to compromise” in the dispute with the Garda Representative Association (GRA) after it set out a planned schedule of industrial action and accused the commissioner of being “disrespectful” and having a “dogged single-minded approach”.
Speaking at a meeting of the Policing Authority, Mr Harris said he is willing to re-enter negotiations with the representative associations but that he expects all members rostered to work on November 6th to parade for duty.
He said the pandemic roster is expensive and delivers poor service to the public in terms of Garda visibility. Asked why he does not postpone the November 6th deadline for the return to the pre-Covid roster, Mr Harris said he cannot wait any longer.
He said the current roster means there are 13,000 fewer policing hours a week compared with the old system. This equates to 320 fewer gardaí on the street, he said.
The commissioner denied the issue is personal for him. “It’s a professional issue for me in terms of providing a policing service to the people of Ireland.”
Asked about the claim that his position shows contempt for rank-and-file members, Mr Harris said he “completely and entirely refutes” this.
In the Dáil on Thursday, Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty was strongly critical of Minister for Justice Helen McEntee’s “hands-off approach” to policing, saying it was “not working” and citing the new plan by rank-and-file gardaí to take industrial action as part of the rosters dispute.
Mr Doherty said it was “incomprehensible” that Ms McEntee would allow it to get to the stage where “gardaí have to go on strike”. He added Sinn Féin in government would start the biggest Garda recruitment drive in the history of the State and establish a retention taskforce to report back in a number of weeks.
In response, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the Garda and Defence Forces operation off the coasts of counties Wexford and Cork over recent days, which resulted in the largest ever drugs haul in the history of the State, showed there was “no soft-touch approach in respect of crime in this country”.
Mr Harris and the GRA – along with other Garda staff associations – held further talks on the rosters issue on Thursday, but no breakthrough was achieved. In a statement issued by Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, on Mr Harris’s behalf, it was stated the talks on Thursday were the fourth time this week the commissioner had met the GRA and other staff associations.
And despite claims to the contrary by the GRA, Mr Harris also said he had not placed any “preconditions” on holding talks, adding he had on Thursday once again reiterated his commitment to negotiations.
Given the lack of progress at the talks on Thursday – which were aimed at charting a path to substantive negotiations – the GRA intends to continue with its plan of refusing to volunteer for overtime on the four Tuesdays in October. That will mean frontline policing will be under pressure on budget day, when robust protests are expected outside Leinster House, and on Halloween nationally.
The association, which represents about 11,000 rank-and-file gardaí in a near 14,000-strong force, also plans to ignore the the re-introduction of pre-pandemic rosters on November 6th. Its members would also withdraw their service on November 10th, a strike in all but name, if no progress in the dispute has been achieved.
Mr Harris has said the pandemic rosters will end on November 6th, when the Garda would revert to pre-pandemic working patterns pending completely new rosters being agreed. The GRA says that deadline is unacceptable and is effectively a pre-condition. Its members passed a vote of no confidence in Mr Harris earlier this month by a majority of 99 per cent. The association leadership has said it was now mandated not to enter any substantive rosters talks until the November 6th deadline is deferred.
When the pandemic period began in spring 2020, new Garda rosters, specifically for the pandemic, were introduced. They involved Garda members working longer, 12-hour shifts four days on, four off rather than six on, four off.
Those pandemic rosters have proven very popular with rank-and-file gardaí because – due to the longer shifts – they work six fewer shifts every 60 days. And more of their time in work generates unsocial hours allowances, meaning their remuneration has increased.
However, Mr Harris has said the pandemic roster was only suitable for periods of flat policing demand, during lockdowns. He needed the Garda on November 6th to revert to the pre-pandemic rosters because they were designed to better meet surges in policing demand in a normally functioning society. He has also said the pandemic roster, with 12-hour shifts, was expensive and resulted in the loss of about 60 hours of policing per Garda member per year, or 695,000 hours in total per year.