Howlin ‘pulled rug out’ during talks with Garda representatives

Minister plans to implement new regulations for public service sick leave

Garda organisations say gardai have always been treated more generously than other public servants because the nature of their duties exposes them to injurious activities. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Garda organisations say gardai have always been treated more generously than other public servants because the nature of their duties exposes them to injurious activities. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin “pulled the rug out” during consultations with Garda representative bodies over the introduction of new public service sick leave regulations, the High Court has been told.

Garda representative bodies are trying to stop the Minister implementing the new regulations, alledging they will cause hardship to their members and are in breach of fair procedures and their legitimate expectations. The Minister claims the regulations are necessary to increase productivity and lower sick pay costs in the public sector.

In their proceedings, the garda organisations say gardai have always been treated more generously than other public servants because the nature of their duties exposes them to injurious activities. The new rules also do not take into account their 24 hour/7 day rostering arrangements, they said.

They want a derogation from the regulations which they allege arose from discussions held by public service unions at the Labour Court from which process the garda associations are excluded from.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA), representing rank-and-file members, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), and two associations representing superintendents and chief superintendents, have asked the High Court to continue injunctions preventing implementation of the regulations until the court has determined their full actions.

The hearing, before Mr Justice Michael Peart, resumes after Easter.

Mr Howlin had engaged in a consultation process with the garda representatives over the reform measures, Feichin McDonagh SC, for the four associations, said when opened the injunction application.

During that consultation period, the Minister indicated initially he would exclude gardai from the regulations but also told the garda representatives they would have to come up with other ways of saving money.

Just before last Christmas, the Minister’s department sent an email saying there would be no derogation. that appeared, from the way it was written, to be “a very personal decision of the Minister”, Mr McDonagh said.

The email, sent to the Department of Justice, said a mistake had been made and the Minister was not going to decouple gardai from the regulations.

By that stage, the associations had also consulted with then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan who subsequently wrote to the Department of Justice askng: “What is going on, we have an issue here which needs to be dealt with?”, Mr McDonagh said.

The Department of Justice continued to engage with the associations who had no idea Minister Howlin’s department had told the Department of Justice the regulations were with the Attorney General for drafting. On March 7th, they learned the Minister had signed the regulations the previous day, counsel said.

A major part of this case was that,  while the process of consultation was ongoing, “the rug was pulled out” by Minister Howling, Mr McDonagh said.

They were also alleging the regulations were, among other things, legally incoherent and incapable of rational application. They were further claiming the old regulations remain in force and were never repealed in the new legislation.

The court was told, in affidavits from Minister Howlin’s department, officials had argued absenteeism rates in the Garda were at 5.3 per cent, the high end of such rates in the public sector. Gardai enjoyed sick leave entitlements four times more generous than for others in the public sector, it was stated.