Owen rejects special Garda pay rise


THE potential for a clash between Government and rank and file gardai over pay demands appears to be increasing after the Minister for Justice last night rejected the notion of a pay increase outside the public sector agreements.

However, Mrs Owen did suggest that there could be a "restructuring of awards" for gardai in the context of new efficiency and endeavour proposals.

Gardai to the rank of super intendent, representing all but around 56 members of the 10,800 strong force, are proposing to hold a demonstration to Dail Eireann on April 16th as part of their campaign for a pay commission.

Addressing the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) last night, Mrs Owen said the Government would be announcing legislation to implement changes to the bail laws in the next few days. She was responding to a call from the association for the publication of legislation to give effect to last year's referendum to amend the Constitution on the right to bail.

Referring to Garda pay demands, Mrs Owen said the Government had "no enthusiasm" for the Garda demands for a pay commission. She said the Government was determined to maintain general stability in public sector pay and had made it very clear that the £70 million award to nurses was a "one off and quite exceptional settlement."

She added: "There is no other option. To treat a totally exceptional case as the norm would simply undermine the healthy economic circumstances in which we find ourselves. That would serve nobody's interests. That is something we cannot and will not allow to happen.

"Against that background, I have to say to you honestly, that the idea of a special commission for gardai is one that meets with no, enthusiasm at all at Government level. Because, like it or not, the Government sees it - and I think others see it also - as another mechanism for securing pay increases above the norm.

"I say `above the norm' because you have, of course, received all the general round pay increases, all of which were in return for agreement to co operate with change and to improve efficiency.

"Constraints on pay, which are a vital ingredient in underpinning the overall strategy on targets of national programmes, affect all public sector workers - not just the Gardai - and are in no way discriminatory towards gardai.

However, she pointed out that the Government is about to receive a strategic management initiative report on the force and that this would make recommendations "which will involved significant change".

She commented: "No doubt one of these questions which will arise in the context of the delivery of efficiency and increasing change is the restructuring for endeavour and output. I believe that we should await the outcome of that review before we look at how such restructuring might proceed."