Gardai to carry out strike threat
Gardai 'determined' to strike despite last-minute talks
Members of An Garda Siochana were last night said to be "determined" to act on a threat to withdraw labour in what will be an unprecedented development that is likely to pose a significant risk to the rule of law.
In a move that will prove deeply unsettling for the public, and possibly cause serious damage to the reputation of the force and the country, around 12,000 members of the Garda this weekend looked set to take effective strike action on Friday for the first time in the history of the State.
Last night the chances of a deal being reached to end potential industrial action in the next 48 hours were feared by both sides to be receding.
The Department of Justice, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) will this week engage in what Government sources expect to be "intense" negotiations at the Work Place Relations Commission (WRC).
But gardai were last night said to be "determined" to withdraw their labour regardless of the outcome of the talks.
Failure to reach agreement will give rise to fears of a series of unprecedented consequences, such as the potential for an upsurge in crime, gridlock throughout the courts system and the crippling of access into and out of the country at airports and ports.
The Garda Commissioner is expected to activate a national contingency plan by Tuesday if the two associations have not called off or announced the curtailment of the planned withdrawal of service by then.
Once the contingency plan is activated, the Garda will seek talks with the GRA and the AGSI for derogations in sufficient numbers to allow it to provide minimum policing cover.
Garda management have also discussed the option of ordering striking gardai to report for duty, or face disciplinary action. It is understood that many gardai will turn up if ordered to do so by the Commissioner.
Last night Garda representative sources said anything short of a €3,000 to €4,000 salary increase would mean industrial action would go ahead.
The Government is understood to be offering to pay gardai extra money for periods of time before their shifts begin.
Talks so far are understood to have focused on allowances and some form of compensation to gardai for extra productivity.
The Government has insisted that any pay deal must stay within the limits of the Lansdowne Road Agreement on public sector pay.
However, a Garda representative source said: "Members are determined to go on strike and talks without real money on the table won't avert that."
And they dismissed the Government's move to allow talks at the WRC as a "last minute stroke".
However, the Government remains determined this weekend to hold out against demands for a direct salary increase, although there is scope of increased pay under the complex allowance scheme available to gardai.
Government sources were again adamant last night that any deal would be within the parameters of the existing Lansdowne Road Agreement on public sector pay, to which 23 other unions are signed up.
It is understood an offer under consideration would boost pay for recently recruited gardai, as well as increasing the hourly rate, and potentially overtime payments for all members of the force; the re-introduction of a €4,000 payment, the equivalent of a rent allowance, for recently recruited gardai is also under discussion.
However, the feeling on the Government side is that some Garda representatives "want their day in the limelight now".
A Government source said: "They have invested a lot of political and personal capital in this campaign so they may feel the need to go out for one day regardless of what's on the table. If this goes ahead there will be very serious consequences. For a police force to strike in a civilised country is something that generally doesn't happen. The reputation risk is massive.
"You can have all the contingency plans you like but if the majority of the police force doesn't show for work, you can't magic them up," the source said.
However, there was no progress in resolving the dispute last night.
All sides took yesterday to consider their approach to WRC talks which are understood to be beginning in earnest today.
One association source told the Sunday Independent there were concerns that certain garda divisions will embark on industrial action even if the GRA leadership calls for a suspension of the four days of strike due to take place next month.
The WRC initiative, which was being hailed as a "major" move by senior Government sources, is a step closer to allowing trade union status for Gardai - something which has been historically opposed by the Department of Justice.
In relation to the move towards the WRC, a Government source said: "This is what the associations have been looking for. This is a test for them and their own level of professionalism now. The WRC are the consummate professionals when it comes to negotiation and compromise. The associations are on the big pitch now so they need to step up to that. They have to give ground which they are not very good at."
Senior Garda sources said that the contingency planning has been kept under the radar to allow "space" for the associations' negotiations with officials from the Department of Justice on pay.
The plan was drafted by Assistant Commissioner Eugene Corcoran and will include details of policing cover for institutions.
"The reality is that the focus is on actually trying to solve this issue. That is obviously the main priority," said one source. However, failing that, he said, the contingency plan "would actually have to be activated by Tuesday at the latest".
Three airport authorities in Dublin, Cork and Shannon are under huge pressure to make alternative arrangements in the event of the mass withdrawal of service going ahead.
The airports in Cork and Shannon may have to close if immigration garda, who operate passport control, withdraw their services. Dublin Airport hires civilians to operate passport control in Terminal 1, but may have to consider closing Terminal 2, where immigration gardai do the job.
The unprecedented planned mass withdrawal of service has the potential to expose the security of the State, and threatens the safety of citizens. Unless talks this weekend avert it, the strike will run over four Fridays in November, running for 24 hours from 7am, beginning this week.
The Sunday Independent understands that senior officers from the rank of superintendent upwards are quietly supporting the strike.
None is known to have issued any threats to members over the illegality of strike action.