Government drawing up contingency plans to maintain order
In the event of a strike, between 300 and 400 officers will be left to police the State
The focus in Government Buildings and Garda HQ in Phoenix Park will now shift towards the contingency plans that will have to be put in place to police the country, and make its citizens feel secure on Friday. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
The rejection by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) of the latest effort to avert a strike by members of the force poses challenges in the industrial relations and political spheres for the Government.
The GRA, and its 10,500 rank and file members, accounts for the vast majority of those who are threatening to take part in an unprecedented strike this Friday, and every Friday in November.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has some 2,000 members, and talks aimed at halting its participation in the action are ongoing.
The revised offer made to the GRA was, to say the least, at the outer edges of the Government’s overall public service pay policy, the Lansdowne Road agreement, which some 250,000 public service staff have signed up to.
As The Irish Times reported on Saturday, the Government was prepared to introduce a new payment to cover a 15-minute briefing before gardaí commenced their shift. The document given to the GRA says this would be worth €1,459 to each officer. Separately, the introduction of rent allowance payments would also have knock-on implications for overtime and premium payments for gardaí.
The deal on offer was going to the cost the Government nearly €30 million in additional payments. It is now very likely that nurses and other groups will seek similar concessions.
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The decision by the GRA to reject the latest proposals may also have a knock-on effect on efforts to find a resolution to the dispute involving secondary teachers, which could close hundreds of schools from next Monday.
The focus in Government Buildings and Garda HQ in Phoenix Park will now shift towards the contingency plans that will have to be put in place to police the country, and make its citizens feel secure on Friday, in the light of the move by the GRA.
These plans will be assessed minutely in the days ahead by the opposition and the media. The Government will also be concerned as to what will happen in the event of any disorder on Friday and where public opinion may fall.
If, as seems likely, Friday’s planned withdrawal of service goes ahead, between 300 and 400 officers at superintendent rank and higher will be left to police the State with the assistance of recruit and probationer gardaí as well as Garda reservists.
Government sources last night said members of the Defence Forces may also be utilised. The sources said the military had already been participating in the contingency planning should it be needed.
The presence of armed or unarmed soldiers patrolling on Irish streets appears unlikely as it would create panic and also damage Ireland’s reputation abroad, military sources say.
But there was a view that the military could be used as an additional resource to help control potential flashpoint situations that might arise in the absence of gardaí on the streets.
The first line of response should such a situation arise would be the Garda’s armed Emergency Response Unit and Regional Support Units. Military personnel would only be called in if those units were busy, too far away or if trouble flared involving a large number of people or at multiple locations.
Teams of military personnel could also be deployed to key installations such as the main ports and airports, Leinster House and Government Buildings to shore up security.
Following the GRA’s decision last night, its president Ciaran O’Neill said: “We’re still open for talks. It is still in the hands of the department to come back to us.”
The Government must now decide if it can afford to make a more generous offer, likely at a significant cost to its public pay strategy, or enter into new territory and face the consequences of an unprecedented garda strike.