Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe has said he has full confidence in the chairman of the Public Service Pay Commission after he described the recent threatened Garda strike as being tantamount to a "mutiny".
Kevin Duffy, who is also the former head of the Labour Court, said the planned strikes by members of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) were illegal by any standard.
Mr Duffy’s comments were criticised as “extremely damaging and divisive” by the AGSI, which urged him to retract his remarks.
The GRA said the comments called Mr Duffy’s impartiality, independence and neutrality into serious doubt.
Speaking at an industrial relations conference in Dublin organised by Resolve Ireland, the organisation which provides dispute resolution services, he said there had been a lot of language used in relation to the planned industrial action by gardaí.
However, he said the most appropriate word was “mutiny”.
Mr Duffy said everyone had realised it was imperative that the Garda dispute be resolved but there appeared to be no appetite to deal with what was effectively an act of illegality on the part of people who had the job of upholding the law.
He said in the aftermath of its recommendation aimed at preventing the planned strikes, there had been “muttering” and suggestions that the Labour Court had gone too far.
“Here was a dispute that was unlawful and there was either no mechanism to enforce the law or no desire to enforce the law. And that sort of thing brings the law into disrepute,” Mr Duffy said.
The Labour Court issued a recommendation earlier this month to resolve the row between gardaí and the Government that centred on a new €50 million package of measures.
Members of the two Garda organisations are currently voting on the proposals.
AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham said: "In light of these comments, the AGSI would like to ask Minister Donohoe if he has confidence in Mr Duffy's objectivity and independence in his new role?"
A spokeswoman for Mr Donohoe said the Minister believed that Mr Duffy’s record, expertise and experience, as a former chair of the Labour Court, spoke for itself and that he was the right person to head the Public Service Pay Commission.
“The commission, which has been established to examine a pathway towards the unwinding of FEMPI [financial emergency] measures, is independent of Government, as are its members. Its function is to inform negotiations, which will ultimately be carried out between public service employers directly with unions and associations.”
The AGSI said its national executive, when they read Mr Duffy’s comments, were “shocked that a Government-appointed, and supposedly independent chairman, would articulate such views which we believe are unfair, unfounded and hugely damaging to relations between this association and the Public Service Pay Commission”.
The association added: “We would ask Mr Duffy to retract his comments as we have it on good legal standing that actions taken by our members during our industrial relations activities last month were in no way illegal.
“The law is not prescriptive in this matter and in fact we won an EU decision in 2014 which effectively recognised the right for our members to strike.”
The GRA said it was “dismayed” that the chairman of the pay commission was reported to have described the recent industrial dispute as “mutiny” and had openly declared the proposed industrial action to be “unlawful”.
It maintained that Mr Duffy’s comments also appeared “to have undermined the recommendation of the Labour Court in this instance”.
It said this called “ his impartiality, independence and neutrality into serious doubt”.
GRA general secretary Pat Ennis said: "It is of great concern that such comments should be made regarding both this association and the Labour Court; and any confidence that the GRA might receive a fair hearing at the Public Service Pay Commission has diminished – and this situation is now untenable.
“I am astonished that such comments would be publicly stated by the chairman of a State body designed to serve all employees equally.
“We are currently balloting our members on the Labour Court recommendation that was negotiated on a problem-solving basis; and for a public official to intervene in such a manner is neither welcome nor appropriate at this juncture.”