Minister for Justice Helen McEntee is coming under increasing pressure to get more involved in the dispute over rosters between Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Garda Representative Association (GRA).
The GRA, which represents almost 11,000 rank and file gardaí in a near 14,000-strong force, has now written to Ms McEntee urging her to intervene and ensure Mr Harris defers a deadline of November 6th for current pandemic rosters coming to an end.
GRA general secretary Ronan Slevin told Ms McEntee, in correspondence seen by The Irish Times, that Mr Harris’s insistence he had placed no preconditions on talks that might resolve the rosters issue were “not accurate”. Mr Slevin said Mr Harris was insisting current pandemic rosters would end on November 6th, which was a precondition now blocking talks.
Mr Slevin, in his correspondence to Ms McEntee on Friday, said he and his colleagues in the leadership of the GRA had a “very clear” mandate from their members “that this precondition is a major inhibiting factor in progressing any talks”.
“Accordingly, the association is calling on you to intervene at this juncture with a view to removing this barrier,” he told Ms McEntee, who has repeatedly said the dispute will only be resolved in talks between Mr Harris and the GRA.
Meanwhile, Mr Harris has told the Government there will be “adequate policing” for Budget Day and Halloween regardless of plans by rank-and-file gardaí to refuse to volunteer for overtime on the five Tuesdays next month. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Harris had given the assurance amid the GRA’s plan that its members will not take on voluntary overtime on those days as part of the dispute over rosters.
The GRA’s plans have led to concerns in some quarters that frontline policing will be under pressure on Budget Day, when robust protests are expected outside Leinster House, and on Halloween nationally. Asked about such concerns by reporters on Friday, Mr Varadkar said Mr Harris “assures us that there’ll be adequate policing. He also said he believes there will be a negotiated solution to the dispute”.
The row is over Mr Harris’s plans for gardaí to return to pre-Covid pandemic work schedule known as the Westmanstown roster.
Mr Harris said on Thursday said that the current roster means there are 13,000 fewer policing hours a week compared with the old system. This equates to 320 fewer gardaí on the street, he said. Mr Harris also said he is “willing to compromise” in the dispute.
The GRA has opposed the re-introduction of the pre-pandemic roster because the pandemic roster introduced in the spring of 2020 means they get an extra six days off every 60 days. Furthermore, under the pandemic rosters they work 12-hour shifts and they are eligible for more unsocial hours allowance payments. GRA members passed a vote of no confidence in Mr Harris earlier this month by a majority of 99 per cent.
Mr Varadkar said industrial relations disputes “are always solved in the end, and sometimes there’s a process that people have to go through before we get to a resolution. Asked if the Policing Authority - which has ruled itself out of getting involved in an industrial relations dispute - should be asked if they have a role in resolving the dispute, Mr Varadkar said: “There is an agreed mechanism by which disputes of this nature can be resolved by the Gardaí.
“There’s an internal dispute resolution mechanism which is being used at the moment, and bear in mind, three of the four guard organisations are actually in the talks, they’re participating in that resolution option at the moment. Beyond that, then there’s the option of going to the WRC [Workplace Relations Commission] but we’re not at that point yet.”