Garda row: Pat Ennis under pressure over aborted strike
GRA general secretary’s no-confidence vote looms amid claims he always opposed strike
GRA general secretary Pat Ennis: insiders say he is facing accusations he was never in favour of the strike. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
As the hours to the start of the first-ever Garda strike ticked down last Thursday, the Government and Garda management were in meltdown.
Rank-and-file gardaí, sergeants and inspectors were going on strike for 24 hours from 7am the next day.
The withdrawal of service, a strike in all but name, involved the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi), which between them represent 12,500 members of a total Garda force of just under 12,900.
Many in the GRA felt the Government could not and would not let the strike happen. They believed all they had to do was hold their nerve and a pay increase would be offered. Or they felt if the first strike went ahead, there would be huge public pressure on the Government not to allow further planned strikes to happen.
But on Thursday morning, a small group of officials from the GRA, led by general secretary Pat Ennis, was put under immense pressure in talks with Garda management to allow its members attached to key Garda units work during the strike.
Some sources have said the GRA was told martial law may have to be introduced unless the resources were made available. Others say the GRA was told of intelligence about an unspecified threat to State security on Friday.
In the end, those GRA officials present decided to grant the derogation Garda management was looking for and a statement was issued by the association urging its members attached to 18 key units to turn up for work the next day.
The crisis was over for Garda headquarters and the Government; they now had their contingency plan.
But many on the GRA’s national executive were incensed such a big concession had been granted to management that so significantly watered down the impact of the strike.
They believed that in the precise hours it was essential the association remained united and held its nerve, a small group had failed to do so.
They were also incensed the association’s leaders had granted derogation to some 800 gardaí in 18 units without consulting their colleagues on the executive. The anger has been directed at Ennis and he now faces a motion of no confidence.
Insiders say he is facing accusations that he was never in favour of the strike. When the GRA met to decide on strike action in September, Ennis urged them to reflect and consider carefully what they were voting for.
Sources also said he had raised the issue of providing personnel for the contingency plan only to be told three times by the executive in recent weeks that such a concession would not be made.
Others in the organisation point to the fact that Ennis is new to the job and say the departure of his predecessor, PJ Stone, after 19 years in the role was always likely to destabilise the leadership.
Shortly after Stone took over he led the so-called Blue Flu, when gardaí called in sick for a day in a row over pay.
The dispute was settled after the Government made an offer giving gardaí pay rises of between 9 and 13 per cent. Some gardaí believe a similar deal was possible this time around if the GRA had held out.
The last time Ennis faced a GRA vote was just six weeks ago when he was ratified as general secretary. It had been so long since the GRA had gone through the process that a dispute arose about whether he needed a two-thirds or simple majority of those present.
In the end, a solicitor was brought in to explain he only needed a simple majority. And a show of hands from the floor gave him one.
It was a shaky start but he got over the line; a scenario he would be happy to emerge with today.