Sunday 23 October 2016

Leo just can't help shooting from the lip as Garda dispute gathers momentum

Published 19/10/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

Leo Varadkar probably knows the old political question and answer dialogue: Q: How do you quench a fire? A: Not sure - but I do know how to start another one.

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It just might explain why, on his way to shut down the notorious JobBridge scheme, that he had a good poke at the gardaí now set to "withdraw their labour."

The Social Protection Minister's one big job yesterday was to close off the JobBridge scheme which had drawn down heaps of trouble on the collective heads of the previous government who had introduced it. The bould Leo would eventually argue that overall the work placement scheme was a success.

But it had drawn serious fire for its €52 top-up to the weekly dole for would-be trainees, and allegations of abuse by some bosses seeking little more than cheap labour.

The man who would be Taoiseach was marching into Government Buildings for a Cabinet meeting early yesterday. He was asked about the impending month of industrial action by rank and file gardaí and the sergeants and inspectors.

For Mr Varadkar, the impending dispute could change relations between An Garda Síochána and the Irish nation forever.

"Obviously we all hope that a strike can be avoided - I do think that if a strike goes ahead that people won't ever look at the gardaí in the same way," he told reporters.

The riposte did not take too long. AGSI president, Antoinette Cunningham, representing the sergeants and inspectors, deployed both barrels.

"If Minister Varadkar wants to protect public relationships between the guards and the associations, then he should be putting his energies into finding solutions - and not pitching the public and guards against each other," the AGSI leader told Seán O'Rourke on RTÉ.

That could be another way of saying: if the Government leave the gardaí to go on strike, the public may never look at Fine Gael in the same way again. Bear in mind that his words were, as they so frequently are, far more strident than those of the Taoiseach, or the Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, who must try to defuse this garda dispute.

By early afternoon, the Social Protection Minister arrived to formally announce the demise of JobBridge, and was asked about the garda reaction to his hardline comments.

He stressed the Irish people's special regard for the gardaí - but he was clearly not for backing down.

"It is very much my personal view that if it is the case that the gardaí go on strike and leave communities unprotected for one Friday, or multiple Fridays, over the next couple of weeks, then the public won't be able to see them the same way as they did in the past," he said.

"I'd hope they would reflect on that before making a decision that can't be stepped back from."

Meanwhile, back in Dáil Éireann, Labour leader Brendan Howlin, was basking in the joys of inhabiting the opposition benches. Next month, there would very likely be no gardaí on the streets while the bulk of secondary schools shut down.

The former Public Expenditure Minister struggled to say "I told you so" with any kind of grace. It was reminiscent of "everything was fine when I left it".

The Labour leader warned that bitter disputes involving gardaí and teachers risked spreading all across the public sector. He had played a part in negotiating the Landsdowne Road Agreement which provided for phasing out emergency recession pay cuts. He urged the Government to negotiate a new replacement agreement and speed up pay restoration to public servants.

The Government's "cunning plan" of a Public Pay Commission will not help here. Teachers and gardaí are demanding quicker remedies.

Irish Independent

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