Disastrous Garda strike must be averted

Gardaí and some teachers have embarked on confrontation, determined to wrest concessions from Government through brute intimidation

 

A withdrawal of labour by the great majority of the Garda Síochána for four Fridays in November would be nothing short of disastrous: damaging to the reputation of the force; deeply unsettling for society and a significant threat of the rule of law.

It is not too late for both the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and the Garda Representative Association to reconsider decisions in favour of what is, in effect, an illegal strike or for the Government to provide specific assurances regarding their future entitlement to participate in wage negotiations.

Given the culture of the organisation and peer pressure to support colleagues in all circumstances, the leadership of the associations may find it difficult to chart a less confrontational course. Low morale and a disconnect between senior management and staff has been well documented.

A Government reform agenda, along with on-going reductions in pay and allowances, has caused frustration within the lower ranks that has grown into threatened industrial action. That threat has been magnified by more senior officers whose parallel, coordinated actions could ensure an almost complete withdrawal of services.

The kernel of this dispute involves pay and allowances. Nobody disputes the fact that members of the Garda are considerably worse off than they were in 2009 because of measures taken to rescue the economy.

In that, they are no different from other public servants and from many employees in the private sector who, in difficult circumstances, managed to hold onto their jobs. The two Garda representative associations are demanding their pay and conditions should be immediately restored to pre-crash levels. They are not prepared to wait until next year when a Public Service Pay Commission is due to report.

The Government and its predecessor brought this situation on themselves by encouraging unrealistic expectations. Two years ago, as the first faint signs of recovery emerged, they talked about putting money back into people’s pockets. In advance of the election, they set a process in train to unwind earlier, necessary cuts through the Lansdowne Road Agreement. But as became obvious in the budget, it is not possible to develop necessary services while, at the same time, restoring pay to pre-crash levels. The money simply is not there.

Gardaí and some teachers have embarked on confrontation, determined to wrest concessions from the Government – in advance of other trade unions – through brute intimidation. It is a corrosive strategy on many levels that will lead to a loss of trust and respect.

These pay demands are unaffordable. If conceded by this weak minority Government, they would prompt an avalanche of competing claims from across the public service. This should not become a “who blinks first” test of nerve. Both sides have too much to lose.

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