Comment: The gardaí are meant to be our protectors - are they seriously going to abandon us to anarchy?
Published 03/10/2016 | 02:30
The most basic function of any State is to keep its citizens secure. It is also charged with providing an efficient health service, a good education system and social supports for the poor, unemployed and those in need.
But that we feel safe in our beds at night and while walking our streets is fundamental in a civilised world.
Ireland is facing into a winter of industrial discontent.
Now that the economy is turning around, hundreds of thousands of workers who made huge sacrifices during the worst recession in modern times are, understandably, screaming for an improvement in pay and conditions.
Transport workers, nurses and teachers are amongst those demanding payback for the lean years they have endured.
And who would blame them? They have the support of the majority of people who sympathise with them.
However, while we can just about cope with the inconvenience caused by industrial action in almost every sector, it is terrifying to think that the people charged with protecting us on a daily basis, and keeping us secure - the gardaí - would withdraw their services.
To have nobody between us and the bad guys leaves each and every one of us vulnerable and exposed and cuts at the fabric of our daily lives.
The threat of anarchy is real if the Garda strike threatened for November goes ahead.
It will bring fear to the streets and will damage public confidence in the force, which is only barely recovering from some of its worst years and some of the worst scandals in its history.
Yes, emergency measures will be put in place. The Army and young, inexperienced Garda recruits will be drafted in to plug some of the gaps. But they will be no substitute for the real thing.
Rural communities have already suffered enough with the loss of dozens of Garda stations and local patrols in recent years.
The disappearance of a Garda presence in so many villages and towns has stripped communities of a sense of security.
Defending these closures, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said earlier this year that the shutting down of 139 Garda stations around the country resulted in an estimated total saving to the State of €556,000 per annum.
Half a million euros in savings is a drop in the ocean in the context of the State's responsibility to keep its citizens safe.
An Age Action survey says that personal security was one of the most common issues for older people in rural areas.
For those in urban areas, fears about antisocial behaviour, late-night drinking and joy-riding are high. These will be heightened if the strike goes ahead.
In our cities - especially Dublin, where gangland shootings are now commonplace - the fear factor will explode. The crime gangs that have been systematically taking each other out - sometimes with no mind for children looking on - will have a free pass to continue their murderous ways.
Gardaí do deserve to be paid decently. After all, they put their lives on the line every day of the week.
Some have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. Most recently, Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe was gunned down by an armed gang during a robbery on a credit union in Co Louth.
An already depleted Garda force has still not brought the thugs who murdered him to justice.
But the gardaí are supposed to be upholders of the law.
The legal bar on them striking is there for a good reason.
It is despicable that they are clearly signalling their intention to break the law they swear to uphold - and putting men, women and children in this country at risk as a result. Including their own families, friends and communities, by the way.
If the gardaí want to enjoy the support of the Irish people, they need to look at ways to have their pay and conditions improved other than a strike.
The Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner also have a responsibility to do all in their power to ensure that sense prevails.
Withdrawing their services is not part of the contract that the gardaí signed up to when they were sworn in at Templemore for what is arguably one of the most responsible jobs that we have in the State.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the oath gardaí swear when they join the force.
That is to faithfully discharge their duties with "fairness, integrity, regard for human rights, diligence and impartiality, upholding the Constitution and the law and according equal respect to all people".
We are facing a nightmare scenario - as it is not just frontline gardaí who are threatening to go on strike on November 4, 11, 18 and 25.
Middle-ranking officers are also to ballot members on possible action, which could happen on the same days.
If the unthinkable happens, it is not going to be a mere inconvenience such as that experienced by thousands of commuters during the Dublin Bus strikes recently.
Instead it will instil fear in our citizens - who deserve better.