Thursday 23 March 2017

'Mutiny': How boss of pay body describes the threat by gardaí to go on strike

Antoinette Cunningham, President AGSI pictured at her Phibsboro offices last night Picture: Colin O'RiordanIORDAN
Antoinette Cunningham, President AGSI pictured at her Phibsboro offices last night Picture: Colin O'RiordanIORDAN
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

The chairperson of the Public Service Pay Commission has stood by controversial claims that the recent strike threat by gardaí was akin to "mutiny".

Kevin Duffy, the former head of the Labour Court, came under fire yesterday after saying that any strike by gardaí would have been "unlawful by any standards".

Speaking at an industrial relations conference in Dublin, Mr Duffy said many terms had been used to describe the strike threat - but "mutiny" was most appropriate in his view.

"Here was a dispute that was unlawful and there was either no mechanism to enforce the law or no desire to enforce the law. And that sort of thing brings the law into disrepute," he said.

The comments caused concern within political circles given that Mr Duffy has been appointed to head up the new commission to examine pay and conditions in the public sector.

The two associations at the centre of the strike threat - the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectorates (AGSI) - called for the comments to be withdrawn.

Both organisations also questioned whether the work of the upcoming commission had been undermined.

AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham said the remarks were "extremely damaging and divisive".

GRA general secretary Pat Ennis went further, describing the situation involving the pay commission as "untenable".

"It is of great concern that such comments should be made regarding both this association and the Labour Court. Any confidence that the GRA might receive a fair hearing at the PSPC has diminished - and this situation is now untenable."

But speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr Duffy said he was not withdrawing the comments, including his use of the term "mutiny".

Mr Duffy said he had not intended to attack the integrity of gardaí, whom he said he had the height of respect for.

Criticism

He said that during the course of a lengthy debate on industrial relations he made two substantive points.

Firstly, Mr Duffy said the proposed strike action by members of the GRA and AGSI was "unlawful", as illustrated by the Garda Commission in correspondence with officers prior to the planned strike. "This could be regarded as a form of mutiny, a police force going on strike," Mr Duffy added.

Secondly, he said that he had also emphasised the fact there had been "subtle criticism" that seeped into the public domain over the recommendations laid down by the Labour Court.

The proposals, which are still being balloted on by the GRA, are set to cost the taxpayer at least €50m.

"I made the point, and I stand over the point that the criticism of the Labour Court was unjustified," Mr Duffy said.

Last night, Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald would not be drawn on the remarks by Mr Duffy.

"The Government fully respects the decision of the Labour Court as the independent industrial relations body of last resort in the State," a spokesperson for the minister said.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe also expressed full confidence in Mr Duffy, remarking on his "record and expertise".

He added: "He is the right person to carry out such work."

Irish Independent

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