Pressure of strike pushes GRA to breaking point
Contingency plans for cover interfere with GRA resolve ahead of Labour Court talks
Ciaran O’Neill, president of the Garda Representative Association: his message was clear – nothing had changed and the strike was still on. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Having braced for over a month to step off the front line and into the first Garda strike in the history of the force, the unity of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has been pushed to breaking point.
Early on Thursday morning, it seemed like one day of ramping up the pressure on Government had seamlessly progressed into the next.
The GRA’s negotiators came out of the Labour Court just before midnight on Thursday morning having put forward the case for pay restoration.
But the association’s negotiators said the court would not have enough time to make any recommendation to it in time to avert the withdrawal of service, a strike in all but name, set to begin on Friday morning at 7am.
That prohibitive time line raised the prospect of postponing the action to allow the court consider what it had heard and make its recommendation.
The fact the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) was also due back before the Labour Court yesterday simply complicated matters in adding to the court’s workload and mopping up its time.
Back from brink
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald urged both the GRA and the AGSI to give the court a chance and “pull back from the brink”. She wanted them to call off the first of four planned 24-hour periods of striking on successive Fridays.
“I would ask them to stand back and suspend tomorrow’s action to allow the time and the space for the Labour Court to continue to do its work,” Ms Fitzgerald said early on Thursday.
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than the mobile phones of rank and file gardaí all over the country began buzzing with a message from GRA president Ciaran O’Neill.
“Nothing has changed in respect of the conference decision in Tullamore on September 28th,” he told members. “[The] decision of conference still stands in respect of industrial action.”
He was referring to the special delegate conference five weeks ago when the decision was taken to withdraw service for 24 hours from 7am on Friday and repeat the action three more times before November is out.
His message was clear; nothing had changed and the strike was still on.
But then panic began to really set in; first at Garda Headquarters and then within the GRA national executive.
Last month, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan had set out a plan to the GRA detailing the personnel she wanted excused from the withdrawal of service. These were from 18 areas or units of the Garda and regarded as necessary to run even a skeletal policing service.
But the GRA would not agree, first debating and then rejecting her request.
On Thursday morning, the screw was turned again by Garda Headquarters. An order made by Ms O’Sullivan on Tuesday evening that all Garda members be available for duty and that all leave and rest days were cancelled had been ignored.
The gardaí, sergeants and inspectors had simply told their senior officers locally they would not comply with the order. And with just 300 personnel at the rank of superintendent and higher and 950 trainee gardaí to call on, with almost 12,500 AGSI and GRA members walking off the job for 24 hours from 7am, Garda Headquarters was in meltdown.
The GRA succumbed and issued a statement suggesting to members in those 18 areas of the Garda they should make themselves available to work.
However, one group within the GRA’s national executive was incensed at the concession, accusing others of releasing the statement before the full executive had discussed it.
Heated exchanges took place at the GRA’s offices in Phibsborough, Dublin.
And it was only in the late afternoon when the atmosphere had somewhat – though not completely – calmed that the leadership responded positively to a request by the Labour Court to come back to it.
That hearing at the court commenced just after 5pm at which the GRA was told a recommendation would be made at about 8.30pm.
The Irish Times understands the GRA personnel who went to the Labour Court did so under pressure to withdraw the personnel made available earlier in the day for the policing contingency plan if there was not a substantial level of pay restoration in the court’s recommendation.