JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter has accused protesting gardai of abusing trade unionists at public sector pay talks and damaging the reputation of the force.
Mr Shatter claimed PJ Stone, general secretary of the Garda Representatives Association (GRA), was grossly misleading the public and the 11,300 officers he represents by claiming that the organisation was never part of negotiations nor could influence their outcome.
The minister and Taoiseach Enda Kenny both reiterated pleas for the GRA to take part in the Croke Park talks with other public sector bodies.
And in a new low for strained government-garda relations, Mr Shatter claimed the association's anger has moved to public protest and industrial action.
"Yesterday was a bad day for the reputation of the force when, outside Lansdowne House, members of the GRA executive saw fit both to engage in protest action, and criticise and abuse other trade unions and public representative bodies which were properly representing the best interests of their members by engaging in discussion and negotiation inside Lansdowne House," Mr Shatter said.
"I am concerned that what took place yesterday could discredit the force in the eyes of many people."
Under the rules of the force gardai cannot be granted trade union status or form a union and officers take an oath not to engage in strike.
GRA members showed their anger against any cuts by withdrawing what they described as "goodwill work practices" from today by refusing to use their own cars, phones, computers and cameras for police work.
They have also voted no confidence in Mr Shatter, Mr Kenny and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, which the minister condemned.
Mr Shatter denied Mr Stone's claims that the GRA was never part of the talks, which the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) also left.
"It is unfortunate that he (Mr Stone) chooses to so grossly mislead not only the general public but also members of the force who he should be representing," the minister said.
The minister said all public sector representative bodies were invited to a series of meetings ahead of the talks, which were facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission.
"A number of options were put to the Garda associations at those meetings. The intention was that these options would be negotiated with the Garda associations with the objective of realising the relevant savings," Mr Shatter said.
"However, both AGSI and the GRA withdrew from these discussions prior to any meaningful engagement by them on these options."
Mr Shatter said Mr Stone "well knows" that the GRA and the AGSI can make a valuable and substantial contribution if they return to the talks.
"For as long as the GRA and AGSI remain outside the talks they can have no such influence and I would, once again, urge each body to properly represent the best interests of their members by re-engaging immediately in the talks process," Mr Shatter added.
Negotiations will enter a critical phase this weekend with the Taoiseach repeating his calls for gardai to join the unions.
"The place to deal with the pay talks and the negotiations is at the table where these negotiations are taking place," Mr Kenny said.
"I respectfully request again that the Garda Representative Association would see it that they go back in there and have the full opportunity to articulate their concerns and the issues that are causing discussion for them."
Mr Kenny made his plea as rank-and-file gardai continued their "goodwill restrictions" and also stopped volunteering to work on days off for non-public duties such as policing sporting events or concerts.
Officers will only drive official Garda vehicles when on duty, and officers who have not passed the full driver training courses will not drive official cars.
The GRA insisted, however, that the public would not be put at risk during the ongoing protest.
The association, which also vowed to continue to stage protests at official events, has claimed that as it is not a trade union it has not taken part in talks on a new public sector pay and reform deal. It said that it only walked out on a briefing session when the talks began earlier this month.
The weekend's negotiations will focus on securing a deal on public servants working additional hours without extra pay; wage cuts for high earners; reductions in premium pay for overtime weekends, anti-social hours and Sundays, and salary increments; and flexitime and redeployment options.