It is “not sustainable” to continue with the pre-pandemic or Covid-19 roster for gardaí, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar also told the Dáil, on a day when gardaí withdrew from undertaking voluntary overtime, that it was not the role of Government ministers to “get involved directly in industrial relations disputes”.
“That’s not the way these things get solved,” the Taoiseach said during Leaders’ Questions on Tuesday.
Mr Varadkar said that he hoped the current dispute could be resolved “without any further escalation”.
From Tuesday, members of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), which represents 11,000 members of the near 14,000-strong force, will refuse to undertake voluntary overtime.
This will continue every Tuesday until November 10th, when members will withdraw service entirely for the day, a strike in all but name.
The GRA is resisting plans by Commissioner Drew Harris to revert to a pre-pandemic rostering system on November 6th. The association maintains the old roster will negatively impact policing services and means less time off and allowances for members.
Mr Varadkar said disputes over rosters “are always resolved in the end” and he had no doubt that “this dispute will be resolved”.
The Fine Gael leader said gardaí had a budget of over €2 billion this year, the “highest ever being invested in pay, equipment and in buildings”.
He said the Garda Commissioner and the four staff associations all agreed that a new roster was needed to “fit the modern workforce”.
“It’s not sustainable that we continue with the roster that was relevant during Covid when the country was in and out of lockdown, nor does going back to the Westmanstown [pre-pandemic] roster fit the needs for the Garda Síochána of today,” he said.
Mr Varadkar added that meetings were happening this week and the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee had “encouraged all sides to engage and engage in good faith”.
“It’s not the role of Government ministers to get involved directly in industrial relations disputes,” he said.
“That’s not the way these things get solved but there is a process within the gardaí to resolve disputes such as this internally, and if needs be, Government offices, the WRC and the Labour court can be made available.”
Mr Varadkar was responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said it was “unconscionable that we would have a further escalation in this dispute”.
“It is clear that relationships have been strained and now are very damaged,” she said.
Ms McDonald said the Garda dispute had “deepened and intensified” over the past year and it was now “very concerning that matters have come to this point”.
The Dublin Central TD said morale within An Garda Síochána was “at a really low ebb” and Garda numbers were falling, with recruitment targets being missed “again and again”.
Ms McDonald said people were no longer attracted to a career in the gardaí after “more than a decade of underinvestment and under-resourcing and a lack of prioritisation from Government”.