Sunday 22 January 2017

Garda strike chaos: Disruption at airports and courts, 'sitting duck' retailers and 'carnage' on the roads

Revealed: True extent of the chaos expected if gardai carry out strike action

Shane Phelan and Allison Bray

Published 29/10/2016 | 02:30

Garda strike chaos: Airports and courts braced for disruption, 'sitting duck' retailers and 'carnage' on the roads
Garda strike chaos: Airports and courts braced for disruption, 'sitting duck' retailers and 'carnage' on the roads
Dublin Airport
The Four Courts

The true extent of the chaos expected if gardaí carry out strike action next Friday has been revealed.

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Industry insiders have described how airports, ports and courts are braced for disruption, how taxi drivers and retailers fear they will be 'sitting ducks' for criminals and how the could be potential 'carnage' on the country's roads.

The Department of Justice is holding discussions with airport and port authorities on contingency plans for keeping routes in and out of the country open when gardaí go on strike.

Courts are also likely to face considerable disruption next Friday.

Officials refused to be drawn on whether or not airports and ports may have to be closed.

The Garda National Immigration Bureau operates passport controls at Dublin Airport's Terminal Two, as well as in Cork and Shannon airports and Dún Laoghaire and Rosslare ferry ports.

Passport controls at Terminal One in Dublin are civilianised and would not be affected to the same extent by the strike action.

The airport police service, which patrols in and around terminals, is not part of An Garda Síochána and will be reporting for duty.

A spokesman for the department said it was working "closely with the Dublin Airport Authority and other stakeholders in relation to immigration control and the options for dealing with the planned garda action are being explored".

Meanwhile, there is likely to be disruption to hundreds of court cases around the country if the strikes go ahead. It is anticipated that most will have to be postponed.

The Four Courts
The Four Courts

A Courts Service spokesman said it would be up to individual judges whether or not to defer or cancel sittings.

"The Courts Service is in discussions with the judiciary and An Garda Síochána about logistical matters which might arise in the event of a strike," he said.

It is likely that ongoing trials at the Circuit Criminal Court and Central Criminal Court would have to be postponed should gardaí not be present to give evidence or manage exhibits.

In the District Court, judges would have the option of hearing their list and it would be open to them to adjourn or strike out cases if prosecuting garda or garda witnesses are not present.

Jeweller Damien Duggan outside his store in Fairview, Dublin Photo: Justin Farrelly
Jeweller Damien Duggan outside his store in Fairview, Dublin Photo: Justin Farrelly

Meanwhile, thousands of taxi drivers across the country are expected to stay at home out of fear they will be "sitting ducks", according to the head of the National Taxi Drivers and Private Hire Association.

Christy Humphrey, general secretary of the association representing 5,000 taxi drivers nationwide, predicted "it will be chaos" for drivers, who fear they will be robbed by criminals taking advantage of the absence of gardaí.

Drivers are also worried there will be "carnage" on the roads because other motorists are more likely to drive in bus lanes and commit other road traffic offences such as speeding due to the lack of gardaí.

He predicted about half of the association's membership would refuse to work on the days gardaí go on strike.

"People will be dubious of going to work," he said. "Drivers feel like sitting ducks. It's bad enough as it is now when there is garda back-up."

One driver, who did not want to be named, wrote to the association out of concern that drivers would be susceptible to thieves as they are a cash business.

"Dealing with the public is dangerous enough at the best of times as a taxi driver, but without back-up from the gardaí, I think we are very susceptible to petty crime and an open target, especially since we're a cash industry and at the coal face," he wrote.

Other business owners say they will have to dig into their own pockets to hire security and extra staff to prevent being targeted.

Damian Duggan, owner of Duggan Jewellers in Fairview, north Dublin, and head of the Fairview Business Association, said all retailers - especially those dealing primarily in cash sales - were nervous.

"Everyone is putting in contingency plans," he said of fellow jewellers. "Although we all have the most up-to-date alarms and security in place, we're going to have to be vigilant."

But the extra security measures are going to cost the business owners, who are still struggling to recover from the recession.

And it's not just high-end retailers such as jewellers who are concerned. "Anywhere that's handling cash is going to feel vulnerable," he said.

Your Questions Answered: All you need to know about the upcoming garda strike

Considerable confusion exists over the extent of the service An Garda Síochána will be able to provide to the public when rank and file gardaí, sergeants and inspectors go out on strike next week.

The only official comment has been that Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan is encouraging all bodies to remain engaged in talks and that no comment will be made on contingency plans for operational reasons.

In a bid to cut through some of the confusion, the Irish Independent has spoken to a number of garda sources to flesh out what people can expect if they are the victim of a crime or are involved in an accident during any of the four strike days in November.

Will anyone answer if I call 999?

Yes. 999 calls are largely dealt with by civilians and they will be reporting for work.

Will my incident get recorded on the day?

Not necessarily. While Garda management encourages the recording of all incidents on the Pulse system on the day they are reported, this may not happen in all cases.

If the crime is of a less serious variety it may be the following day before it is recorded. For example, a report of the theft of a lawnmower from a garden shed is much less likely to be immediately recorded than the burglary of a home.

It is also anticipated there may be cases where an initial outline of an incident is recorded on Pulse, with further detail added later.

Will there be an immediate response?

That will depend on a number of factors.

The more serious the crime, the more likely there will be an immediate response. Incidents where there is an “immediate risk” to a person would also be prioritised over crime where someone is not in any danger.

Ultimately much will depend on how many gardaí are available, with the likelihood being that just a few hundred senior officers, supported by probationer gardaí and the regional support and emergency response units, will be policing the country on strike days.

What incidents are being prioritised?

Serious and violent crimes such as murder and assault would be prioritised, while a decision on responding to other categories of crime would be made on a case by case basis.

What if nobody responds to my incident on the day?

The intention is that complaints will be followed up the following day or as soon as possible after that.

What do I do if I am assaulted?

Report it immediately in the normal way.

As one senior garda source put it: “Preservation of life is a priority and assault falls into that category.”

What should I do if I have a car crash?

This too should be reported in the normal way. But whether or not a garda attends the scene will very much depend on the severity of the incident.

Relatively minor fender benders are unlikely to be responded to on the day.

“Lots of crashes happen which are minor in nature and can be sorted out amicably,” a garda source said.

This officer’s advice was for people involved in a crash to ensure they get the contact and insurance details of the other motorist involved, take their registration plate and take photos of their car and the scene on their phones or with a camera.

If there is a dispute or an issue over incorrect details being given, this can be followed up in the following days by gardaí.

What if I am burgled?

Senior garda sources said they would hope serious burglaries would be responded to quickly.

Even if it is not possible to immediately respond to a burglary, an initial report would be taken.

In such cases, victims would be advised to minimise disruption to the scene and to put aside or, if possible, not to touch anything they believe may have been handled by the intruder.

Such items can be forensically examined at a later stage.

What can I do if I have an intruder in my house?

Report it immediately. This is a situation where you may be at risk and, as such, it would be prioritised.

Things get more problematic when it comes to what force a person can use to lawfully defend themselves.

“You are entitled to take reasonable steps to protect yourself or your family, but this does not mean people will be able to act like vigilantes. The strike is not an excuse for someone to take out the shotgun and shoot intruders,” said a senior garda source.

But the definition of reasonable steps is open to interpretation by the courts.

“For example, if in the course of defending yourself you hit a burglar and restrained him, that could be seen as reasonable. But if you kept beating them, that would not be seen as reasonable,” the source said.

If someone does injure an intruder in the course of defending themselves they should call an ambulance as well as the gardaí.

I run a business. What precautions should I take and what can I do if someone is causing trouble in my premises?

Business owners would be advised to minimise the amount of cash they keep on their premises.

Some traders may fear they will be more exposed to shoplifters on a strike day and in those circumstances it would be advisable to employ a security guard or more security personnel than normal.

Businesses with a CCTV system should ensure it is in good working order.

It may also be advisable to conduct a risk assessment to determine additional security measures that could be necessary.

If a trainee or a reserve garda is assigned to my incident what powers do they have and what powers do they lack?

Garda reserve members have powers in relation to dealing with public order and road traffic incidents. But the indications at present are that many reserves will not make themselves available on strike days.

A probationer garda has full garda powers, but would be lacking in experience.

Under normal procedure they would be accompanied on the beat and work with a mentor. It remains to be seen how they will be supervised on strike days.

Irish Independent

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