Members and management of An Garda Síochána are no closer to resolving their dispute over the new rostering system, meaning some level of disruption to policing services is now inevitable.
The Garda Representative Association (GRA), which represents rank and file members, objects to the reintroduction of the pre-pandemic roster which Commissioner Drew Harris insists will come into effect on November 6th.
Its members prefer the Covid-era roster under which they work 12-hour shifts, four days on, four off. If the Commissioner gets his way, they will revert to six days on, four days off.
The GRA wants Harris to at least remove the November 6th deadline before it returns to negotiations. The Commissioner says the Covid roster is too expensive and too rigid and that he cannot delay its replacement any longer.
In response, starting Tuesday, GRA members will refuse to work voluntary overtime every Tuesday until November 10th when they will withdraw their service completely for the day.
Garda management has been at pains to reassure politicians and the public that frontline policing and public safety will not be impacted. And this is true, but only to a point.
For the next couple weeks, communities are unlikely to notice any reduction in gardaí on patrol. This is because the rosters for that period have largely already been set. This is also the case for Budget day next Tuesday, when gardaí expect robust and potentially violent protests outside Leinster House, similar to the far-right demonstration there two weeks ago.
“We don’t wait for the morning of October 10th to see who comes in and who doesn’t,” Harris told reporters last Thursday. “Individuals are detailed and briefed for those sort of duties and will be notified in advance of the requirement to work.”
Furthermore, while the force is extremely dependent on overtime to provide a full policing service, this is more the case for investigations and court appearances, rather than patrolling.
So, while the industrial action may mean delays in progressing investigations, the part of policing that the public sees – ie gardaí on the street – will probably remain largely unaffected.
Management also has the power to redirect members from back office duties, such as administrative work, to patrol duty to fill any gaps. It can also bring in gardaí from other divisions to provide cover, something it may have to do on Halloween, a particularly busy policing night which happens to fall on a Tuesday this year.
And, if it comes to it, gardaí can be ordered by management to undertake “voluntary” overtime on any days they plan to withdraw service, mentioned by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee over the weekend.
Management is reluctant to resort to this as it will inevitably escalate tensions.
An Garda Síochána is, as the Commissioner is fond of repeating, a discipline organisation, however, and members are obliged to obey management orders in way other public servants are not.
And while the GRA talks and sometimes acts like a union, it is not one. It cannot legally compel its members to undertake industrial action.
In fact, Garda management hopes some members will be driven by financial considerations to defy the GRA and continue to take voluntary overtime.
Whether this hope is grounded in reality remains to be seen. GRA members have, so far, presented a remarkably united front. This was clearly illustrated last month by a vote showing almost 99 per cent of members do not have confidence in the Commissioner.
While the withdrawal of voluntary overtime is unlikely to severely impact frontline policing, the threat by the GRA to withdraw service completely on November 10th inevitably will.
Management hopes the GRA will return to the negotiating table before then. But, with both sides digging their heels in on the November 6th deadline, this currently seems unlikely.