Garda Commissioner refuses to answer questions on strikes

Anger within force as middle management prepare for industrial action

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan declined to comment on growing industrial unrest within the force. Photograph: Alan Betson

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan declined to comment on growing industrial unrest within the force. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan has refused to make any comment on the revelation that sergeants and inspectors were considering breaking the law and going on strike in their campaign for pay restoration.

She walked away from journalists when they attempted to seek comment from her on the unprecedented plans for sergeants and inspectors to willingly and deliberately break the laws banning them from strike action.

The leadership of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) has said at its annual conference in Westport, Co Mayo, it was willing to go to prison over the matter.

The level of militancy is unprecedented within the ranks of Garda middle management, with members of the force set for work to rule practices and pickets of Ministers’ and Government TDs’ constituency offices, though they took an oath to be apolitical.

But when Ms O’Sullivan was asked about the serious industrial relations issues now building in the force, she declined to respond.

Meeting members of the media ahead of her address to the conference this morning, she spoke for several minutes about the additional resources she had secured for the Garda – including new vehicles, IT infrastructure and recommenced recruitment.

However, after speaking for just over five minutes uninterrupted on all she said she had done for the Garda since being appointed commissioner, she walked away from journalists when efforts were made to ask her for comments on the AGSI’s mooted strike action.

“I’m really sorry but I am under tight time pressure,” she said while turning and walking away, having been at the conference for almost an hour.

The comments earlier in the day from the AGSI confirming it was considering striking mark a major escalation in the level of hostility within the ranks of Garda middle management.

And they come at a time when the Government has said any changes to Garda remuneration must be cost neutral.

AGSI general secretary John Jacob said he knew that by even suggesting a special delegate conference would he held in June to consider striking he would be prosecuted.

But he said unless there was real progress with demands from Garda members for the reversal of pay cuts he was willing to be prosecuted and even go to prison.

Mr Jacob said he knew that by even suggesting a special delegate conference would be held in June to consider striking he would be prosecuted.

But he said unless there was real progress with demands from Garda members for the reversal of pay cuts he was willing to be prosecuted and even go to prison.

“I hope there is no need for a special delegate conference, I hope the Minister hears my calls for negotiations for engagement and that we sit down immediately after conference and she hears our concerns and our issues,” he said.

“However, I will have no option if I don’t see meaningful progress; I’ll have no option but to call a special delegate conference in June and the issue on the table will be the appetite of my association for strike action.”

He said he believed anyone who was at the AGSI conference session this morning and saw the “strength of feeling” from Garda sergeants and inspectors present would understand how anxious they were that their concerns about remuneration restoration be listened to.

“They’re prepared to do what it takes for Government to listen and if that means that they are going to be forced to strike, I think based on today’s evidence I wouldn’t say there would be no strike.”

When it was put to him by members of the media that it was against the law for gardai to strike he said: “Correct and right.”

While acknowledging that inducing gardai to strike was an offence, he was prepared to face the consequences.

“I have told my delegates, ‘look, I don’t want to go to jail’. But I am prepared to go on their behalf, to promote their cause. I am passionate about this.”

He said the association “was not a conservative organisation anymore”. But while it did not want conflict it was “prepared to enter into conflict”.

“If I had been called for a march on the Dáil three or four years ago, I would have been laughed out of court,” he said of the plans by gardaí to march in protest on the Dáil wearing their uniforms.

“Now people are insisting on it. Almost 90 per cent of our members voted (in a survey) to march on the Dáil and they also voted for industrial relations activity like work to rule.”

The AGSI has already accused Ms O’Sullivan of caring more about the corporate image of the Garda than members of the force and Mr Jacob reiterated those views.

He said there was a lack of awareness in Garda management and in Government about the kind of pressure Garda members were under.

For example, one pregnant female Garda member he knew of had been threatened that she would be raped by a criminal she had been dealing with.