The Government is facing a near all-out Garda strike after sergeants and inspectors decided to join their rank-and- file colleagues on four days of industrial action next month.
It means 10,500 rank-and- file gardaí and an estimated 2,000 sergeants and inspectors will refuse to work for 24 hours from 7am on the four Fridays of November.
Just over 300 officers from the rank of superintendent and above will lead a contingency plan involving up to 2,000 Garda reservists, recruits in the Garda College in Templemore and probationers in the first months of their careers. The vast majority of this group, including almost 1,200 reservists, do not have the power of arrest.
As news was emerging yesterday that the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) had decided to withdraw service on the four days, rank-and-file gardaí offered some respite to Garda management and the Government.
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) said its members attached to the armed Emergency Response Unit and the Regional Support Units around the country should work on the days their colleagues stayed at home. It also said other members, such as those involved in intelligence gathering and the Garda Technical Bureau which collects forensic evidence from crime scenes, should make themselves available on an on-call basis.
Dubbed a “withdrawal” of service by both the AGSI and the GRA, the four days of action are a strike in all but name.
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said she was disappointed at AGSI’s decision to embark on four days of action, a decision it announced after a special delegate conference in Athlone yesterday.
Ms Fitzgerald said the AGSI had not carried out a ballot for such action and she noted it was only seven weeks since it had voted to accept the Lansdowne Road agreement on public service pay with a majority of 70 per cent in favour.
The AGSI has since resiled from that position, saying it had only recently learned an independent review of its pay and conditions would not be factored into the agreement.
Ms Fitzgerald said she was determined to find a way to resolve the dispute over Garda pay, but insisted any resolution must be within the “very real constraints on public sector pay”.
She said that while she was committed to extending access to the Labour Court and Workplace Relations Commission to Garda staff bodies, this would require legislative changes that would take time. “It would be most unfortunate if, rather than engaging further, action were to be contemplated that would not be in the best interests of our communities or of An Garda Síochána.”
The AGSI, which has lodged a 16.5 per cent pay restoration claim, has rejected a suggestion from Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar that the public would turn against gardaí if they withdrew their services in a row over pay.
“The Government would be better employed to go and try and find resolution to the issues the AGSI has rather than trying to pitch the public and the gardaí against each other,” said AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham.
Asked about the Minister’s offer of Labour Court and WRC access, Ms Cunningham said the association had been listening to the same promises for years and would remain “sceptical” until they saw real progress.