Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has come out strongly against the Garda’s Covid-19 roster being allowed to continue, saying it was “not sustainable”. However, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said a huge number of rank and file gardaí had not volunteered to work overtime on Tuesday during the first in a series of protest actions against being moved off the pandemic rosters.
The association, which represents almost 11,000 rank and file gardaí in a near 14,000-strong force, said Tuesday’s overtime-related protest, which will be repeated for the next four Tuesdays in October, had reduced policing cover across the Republic. This had lowered Garda visibility and led to increased emergency response times.
President of the association, Brendan O’Connor, said the action was aimed at highlighting to senior Garda management how dependent they were on members of the GRA. Mr O’Connor told The Irish Times the feedback from GRA-elected representatives across the country was that gardaí had chosen, in very large numbers, not to undertake overtime.
“We are aware of members having to be taken off patrol and response duties to ensure static posts are covered,” he said. “And we are hearing of small numbers of members on duty in some larger towns with perhaps one district car to patrol and respond to incidents.”
However, the GRA did not want to be any more specific about manpower shortages brought about by the action because doing so would highlight policing “weaknesses” that could be “exploited by those with criminal intent”. The rank and file gardaí that make up the GRA would “prefer not to take this action but feel they have no other option available to communicate their frustration at the failure of management to listen to their genuine concerns”.
In reply to queries, Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, said its policy was to “not provide detailed comment on specific operational capacity in any geographic location”. To do so “would inform and potentially embolden criminal elements”.
Sources in senior Garda management said next Tuesday’s withdrawal by gardaí from overtime would perhaps present a biggest test for the force. This was especially the case in Dublin where violent protests were expected outside the Dáil on budget day. And while the final day of the overtime protest action would take place on October 31st, on Halloween, the same management sources said they believed the Garda would able to cope with policing demand on that day.
The GRA has said after its members have refused to volunteer for overtime on the five Tuesdays in October, they will then refuse to move off the pandemic rosters on November 6th before withdrawing their service, a strike in all but name, on November 10th.
Rank and file gardaí want to remain on the pandemic rosters as the pattern of working longer, 12-hour shifts in a four day on, four off pattern – rather than six on, four off – was much better for their work-life balance. The longer shifts mean they work an average of six fewer shifts every 60 days and also receive more unsocial hours allowances.
However, Commissioner Drew Harris has said the pandemic rosters were designed for lockdown periods, when policing demand was flat, and are not suitable for a reopened society. The current pandemic rosters were also “costly” and the added expense meant the Garda force had to forego 13,000 policing hours per week, which he said was unsustainable.
In the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said disputes over rosters “are always resolved in the end” and he had no doubt that “this dispute will be resolved”. While the Covid-19 rosters were “not sustainable”, it was not the role of Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, or others in Government, to get directly involved in a Garda industrial relations dispute.
He was responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said it was “unconscionable that we would have a further escalation in this dispute”.
“It is clear that relationships have been strained and now are very damaged,” she said.
Ms McDonald said the Garda dispute had “deepened and intensified” over the past year and it was now “very concerning that matters have come to this point”.
The Dublin Central TD said morale within An Garda Síochána was “at a really low ebb” and Garda numbers were falling, with recruitment targets being missed “again and again”. Ms McDonald said people were no longer attracted to a career in the gardaí created by “more than a decade of underinvestment and under resourcing and a lack of prioritisation from Government”.