Reporting of crimes ‘will have to wait’ during Garda strike
But GRA insists State security must not be compromised despite anger over pay
Some 2,000 sergeants and inspectors and 10,500 rank-and-file gardaí – in a force numbering just over 13,000 – are planning to strike. Photograph: Alan Betson
The Garda staff bodies engaging in four days of industrial action will supply personnel for a skeletal contingency policing plan but only enough to cope with extreme emergencies, according to sources familiar with the planning.
However, what precisely constitutes an “extreme emergency” and how each case will be handled, is unclear.
So, how will Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan frame a contingency policing plan for the State now that 2,000 sergeants and inspectors and 10,500 rank-and-file gardaí – in a force numbering just over 13,000 – are planning to walk off the job?
On Monday, almost three weeks out from the first of those dates, the Garda Representative Association (GRA), which represents rank-and-file gardaí, asked its members attached to the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and Regional Support Units (RSUs) to report for their normal rostered hours.
And those rank-and-file gardaí who work for the Garda Technical Bureau have been asked by the GRA to make themselves available on an on-call basis.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) is likely to make the same recommendation to its members attached to the same units.
There are slightly more than 100 members in the RSUs and ERU combined.
If they worked 12-hour shifts during next month’s strike days, there would be about 50 patrolling in armed teams – ready to respond to any serious incident as it unfolded, at any one time
This could include armed robberies, chasing dangerous criminals, kidnappings, hostage-taking and so on.
There would be at least one roving armed team in the Garda regions of Dublin, northern, western, southern, south western, south eastern and eastern.
And surveillance and other forms of evidence gathering are also expected to be maintained.
The fact the technical bureau will also be on-call means if any serious crimes are committed that give rise to the need for forensic examinations – including killings, serious assaults, major robberies – personnel would be available to examine crime scenes and gather evidence.
Apart from the ERU, RSUs and technical bureau, GRA general secretary Pat Ennis said his organisation had written to Commissioner O’Sullivan requesting details of the contingency plan for the first 24 hours of service withdrawal which begins at 7am on Friday, November 4.
In the meantime, the GRA was “encouraging individual members to be receptive to skeletal cover in emergency and evidence gathering areas”.
It added the “security of the State, protection of life and the gathering of evidence . . . must not be compromised” despite the “sense of anger” among gardaí over pay cuts.
Clearly, the GRA is acknowledging early the role it must play in providing contingency policing, and sources within AGSI said their association was of the same mind.
According to sources in both organisations, it was highly likely that, at any one time, there would be at least one Garda member per Garda station to respond to calls necessitating the presence of gardaí.
Range of tasks
These included suspicious deaths, suicides and fatal traffic collisions.
“There is nothing in it for any of us to not make (Garda) members available to attend scenes where they are absolutely needed,” said one source.
“You may have to draw up a contingency plan that grades 999 calls and decide from the start you are only going to respond to those high-level ones; the real emergencies that just can’t wait.
“But if you are looking for the gardaí to call to a burglary, for example, a theft from a shop, criminal damage where nobody is injured; you are just going to have to wait until the next day.”
Other sources pointed out that many people who were arrested were detained in connection with a crime that occurred days or weeks earlier, and only after the crime had been investigated and the identity of the suspect confirmed.
“So you will just plan to arrest them the day or two after the withdrawal of service,” said one source.
It is also possible that at least some of the largest Garda stations in each division – known as divisional headquarters – would remain open to the public and perform a range of tasks from stamping passport forms to receiving reports of crimes.
There are at least 100 Garda members across the ranks of sergeant and inspector who are not members of AGSI.
Between them they could, in theory, keep open or maintain a presence in some, or all, of the 107 divisional headquarters across the Republic.
These could be assisted by the combined 2,000 Garda reservists, probationer and recruit gardaí who are not involved in the day of action.
Their number could be added to by several hundred rank-and-file gardaí, who are not GRA members, and by other members of the force that AGSI and the GRA make available to Commissioner O’Sullivan to form a contingency plan.
It is also likely that a small number of Public Order Unit – or riot squad – members would be on standby, on an on-call basis, in major urban centres, especially in Dublin, to quell disorder on the streets.
Whether the courts would be adjourned for the day or whether gardaí due at hearings on the dates in question would attend was unclear.
However, much of the checking of passports at immigration controls at ports and airports had been civilianised and should not be compromised.
And one AGSI member said a “degree of common sense” was required across the force.
“If there are a number of people locked up in cells in stations at 7am when the action starts, people will have to stay on duty and go home when the suspects are released.
“But if there is trouble on the streets on a Friday night, it will take longer for the (gardaí) on to get there, if they get there.”