Tuesday 25 April 2017

Going on strike is repugnant for most of our gardaí - but they have little choice

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Paul Williams

Let me nail my colours to the mast: as a close observer of policing in this country for almost 30 years I believe that gardaí have been left with little choice but to go to the edge of the precipice.

The herd of independent minds have been trampling over each other to condemn their decision to take unprecedented industrial action. The real coalition in all but name, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are standing firm together against the thin blue wall - arguing that if they get proper pay restoration it will cause a domino effect through the public service, spelling catastrophe for our budgetary well-being.

It is currently unfashionable and unpopular, nay reprehensible, to publicly state support for the gardaí who have simply had their fill of being treated as second-class citizens and are no longer prepared to stand for it.

The man who wants to be Fine Gael's next leader, Leo Varadkar, warned that this could do irreparable damage to the special relationship between gardaí and the communities they service.

But Varadkar and the rest of the 'new politics' brigade are missing the point entirely - either innocently or deliberately.

If they really want to address this impending crisis, they should first do what the striking cops would do at a crime scene: forensically gather the evidence to uncover the motive.

For industrial action is only the symptom of a much wider and bigger problem in the gardaí: withdrawing their services is an expression of years of pent-up frustration and anger at the way they have been treated by their own management and Government.

An Garda Síochána has been the lynchpin that held this State together ever since its birth from the smouldering ruins of civil war and social upheaval.

The men and women in blue held the line through the most volatile periods in the nascent State's evolution. Going on strike is actually repugnant for the vast majority of our police: it is simply not part of the collective culture.

So how have we arrived at this unprecedented juncture?

The evidence is all there in a comprehensive Garda Inspectorate report, 'Changing Policing in Ireland', which was published in November 2015.

The Inspectorate did what Garda management would never do. They interviewed gardaí across the ranks to hear their opinions and concerns. What they found should have caused alarm bells to ring in Garda HQ and in the Department of Justice.

It described how the lower ranks feel undervalued by a management that was more concerned with 'self-preservation' rather than acting in the best needs of the organisation.

Judging from the comments made by officials from the Garda Inspectorate at a Dáil committee this week, Bob Olson - who by the way would make a fine Garda Commissioner - and his staff are simply not being heeded.

Another piece of corroborating evidence was the open letter that Garda Ian Lester sent to the Commissioner advising her to eschew the politicians, stand up for her staff and that 'the truth costs nothing'.

Since the recession the gardaí have endured massive wage cuts - like most other citizens, it has to be admitted.

The organisation also suffered an unprecedented brain drain, was starved of resources with the most obvious effect being that frontline units - the people you call when you dial 999 - have been decimated.

Yet the top brass, as the Inspectorate pointed out, keeps piling on the pressure on those at the bottom.

It is little wonder that gardaí also find themselves socially isolated when the people who assault and threaten them are rarely made to pay by the courts.

All of this has been ignored and allowed to fester. The Commissioner and her staff in Phoenix Park have remained insouciant.

The mounting grievances were allowed to fester until the wound erupted in unprecedented strike action.

If the gardaí are criminals for taking industrial action, they should escape any sanction on the grounds of overwhelming mitigating circumstances.

Irish Independent

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