Garda management can order or “direct” rank and file gardaí to work overtime on the days they plan to withdraw from voluntary overtime in a row over rosters, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.
Highlighting that power available to senior Garda management, Ms McEntee said she had been “assured” the same number of gardaí would be on duty on Halloween at the end of the month as last year. There would also be “sufficient” Garda resources to deal with anticipated violent protests outside the Dáil Éireann on budget day on Tuesday week.
But she had no plans to intervene in the rosters dispute and tell Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to defer ending the current Covid-19 rosters on November 6th as planned, as the Garda Representative Association (GRA) have urged her to.
“I will not direct the Garda Commissioner, nor will I direct [Garda] members as to when or how they should be working, because that is essentially what I would be doing; directing the commissioner not to implement a particular type of roster,” Ms McEntee told RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week programme.
The Covid-19 roster was designed for a period when “people were in lockdown, you had no night-time economy”. Under that roster – which creates a flat supply of gardaí for duty – the same number of gardaí were now working on Tuesdays as Saturdays. Ms McEntee said the current Covid-19 roster “doesn’t provide the [Garda] visibility and the presence on the ground that everybody wants” and was costing 13,000 Garda working hours per week. It was also “incorrect” to claim, as the GRA was, the November 6th date for the Covid-19 roster ending was a precondition to roster-related talks resuming.
She also said the other three Garda staff associations were “ready to go” for talks about new rosters, even though the GRA was not. The GRA had also “personalised” the dispute against Mr Harris by holding a vote of no confidence in him and this was “not the right thing to do”.
Ms McEntee refused to be drawn on whether Garda members who withdrew their service on November 10th, as planned, were breaking the law or would be disciplined. However, she said Mr Harris was due to hold separate meetings with all four Garda staff associations in coming days. There was time for progress on the rosters dispute before any of the threatened actions by the GRA occurred, including the “strike action being threatened” for November 10th.
The GRA, which represents almost 11,000 rank and file gardaí in a near 14,000-strong force, is resisting plans to move off the Garda rosters introduced in early 2020 for the pandemic. Under those rosters gardaí work longer, 12-hour shifts four days on, four off, rather than six on, four off.
Under those rosters gardaí have one extra day off every 10 days and their remuneration is higher as more of their hours attract unsocial hours allowances. Mr Harris announced in July the Covid-19 rosters would end on November 6th, when the pre-pandemic rosters would be reintroduced.
However, the GRA voted no confidence in the commissioner, by a majority of almost 99 per cent, last month. And last week they set out their plan to protest against the pre-pandemic rosters being introduced. That includes not volunteering for overtime on the five Tuesdays in October, continuing to work the Covid-19 rosters after November 6th and withdrawing their service, a strike in all but name, on November 10th.