Little sign an immovable Government will cut a deal with disgruntled gardaí
Published 18/10/2016 | 02:30
Make no mistake about it, the State is on the verge of an unprecedented policing crisis.
When sergeants and inspectors "withdraw their labour" on the same day as rank and file members of the force on November 4, it will be far worse than any Garda dispute in the past.
To put things in context, 5,000 gardaí took part in the infamous "blue flu" in 1998 when members called in sick in a row over pay levels. On that occasion the Army was put on standby, some garda stations closed and court sittings had to be cancelled.
But come November 4, the numbers involved in industrial action will be much larger. Around 12,000 gardaí will not be showing up for work, with only a few hundred officers, mainly members of specialist units, being on duty.
To make matters worse, the involvement of members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) in the action has effectively shredded the contingency plan drawn up by Garda authorities as it means there will be no one available to supervise recruits or reservists who were expected to be sent out onto the streets.
The "blue flu" was a way around the various legal obstacles which impede the ability of gardaí to strike.
There is no single specific prohibition barring a garda from striking, but it is illegal to induce someone to strike, while individual members who strike can be subject to disciplinary proceedings.
This combination of law and regulations has effectively precluded strikes from occurring - until now.
It is a measure of the discontent within the force over pay and conditions that members are now willing to take their chances.
But while the resolve of the Garda membership associations has hardened to unprecedented levels, they find themselves pitted against a Government which has shown little appetite for budging from the course it has charted.
Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has repeatedly said the Government is only committed to the gradual restoration of pay under the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
Any divergence from that strategy for a single group, no matter how deserving they are, would only fuel unrest elsewhere in the public sector.
Ms Fitzgerald's response to the latest developments yesterday belied the urgency of the situation.
Any solution would have to be "within the parameters of the very real constraints on public sector pay," she insisted.
There was little if anything in her remarks to reassure disgruntled gardaí.
Perhaps that is because she knows there is little she can offer, unless there is a Government decision to rip up the path being charted under Lansdowne.
So far, only one concession has been signalled, but even that won't be happening any time soon.
Ms Fitzgerald said she would give Garda representative bodies access to the statutory dispute resolution bodies, the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, but that will only happen after a review by former Labour Court chairman John Horgan and it will require legislation.
In other words, it won't happen any time soon.
So the irresistible force of garda discontent meets the largely immovable object of a Government unwilling to cut special deals.
How this all ends may depend on who wins the public relations war.
While gardaí may have the public largely on their side, that could change if the strike days coincide with a spate of lawlessness or major criminal events, such as a feud-related murder.
In either scenario public goodwill could quickly evaporate.