Saturday 22 July 2017

Questions over how it got so close to the brink

Much of the problem was that the GRA had brought rank-and-file officers to the top of the hill and couldn't find a way back down (Stock picture)
Much of the problem was that the GRA had brought rank-and-file officers to the top of the hill and couldn't find a way back down (Stock picture)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It's good to talk - but too much talk generally leads to a tiresome headache. This Government is good at talking. In fact, they've turned it into a small to medium enterprise, opening a chain of 'talking shops' for everything from Brexit to water charges.

They've a space for people to talk about abortion, another if you're concerned about funding for third-level education and there's even one to review the increasing congestion at Dublin Airport.

And most recently we saw the creation of a talking shop on money, known as the Public Sector Pay Commission.

All these talking shops are flat-out keeping their relevant topic off the agenda as best they can.

So when gardaí announced on September 28 that they were going to withdraw services for four Fridays in November, nobody got overly excited.

It was big news but most assumed that a month would be more than enough time to talk the Garda Representatives Association (GRA) off the ledge. In and out they marched from the Department of Justice and yet last night the talking had reached "last-ditch" status.

Much of the problem was that the GRA had brought rank-and-file officers to the top of the hill and couldn't find a way back down.

"They wanted a helicopter off and the Government weren't going to give them one," said a source.

And so everybody has been dragged into an unprecedented situation. It's not an exaggeration to suggest the country would have been on a knife-edge today.

Or at least if you weren't, you should have been.

A modern, democratic country without a police force? It's as unthinkable as Donald Trump being president of the United States, but we were hours from it happening.

Anarchy was unlikely to break out, but no doubt as the moment of truth neared the head of the Garda Representatives Association (GRA) thought about how the narrative of this pay row could have changed dramatically if one elderly person collapsed while chasing a burglar or a gangland shootout happened in Dublin city centre.

We expect gardaí to protect us and to hunt down the bad guys. But similarly we expect our politicians to run our public service in a manner befitting a proud nation.

Seriously, questions have to be asked about how the Government allowed it to get to the point where last night they were watching media reports to find out whether the strike was on or off.

One solid theory is that the seeds were planted as far back as 2011 when too much sway was given to the moneymen.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and then public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin, under the watchful eye of the Troika, were effectively running the country.

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny set up what was called the 'Economic Management Council' that comprised of himself, the two money ministers and former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

All those in Government were holding their breath last night but thankfully the Labour Court is not just another talking shop.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) stepped back and the GRA then did what many members will consider as "bottling it". But the country got up this morning, safe in the knowledge that our police force is on the streets.

Perhaps if we gain one thing from this experience it's an understanding of just how important the gardaí are to Irish society. But this isn't over. We can only hope the garda bodies realise what a special place they hold in the community.

Irish Independent

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