Gardai win right to go on strike and form their own trade union
GARDAI have won the right to strike for the first time under a landmark ruling which will have major implications for the force.
A new ruling by the European Committee of Social Rights means that, for the first time in their 90-year history, they will be legally allowed to strike, engage in pay talks and organise as a trade union.
The ruling comes at a time when morale within the force is at an all-time low thanks to the Guerin Report, which heavily criticised the gardai, the Justice Department and the Garda Ombudsman Commission for their handling of complaints by garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
The significant decision follows a battle fought in Europe by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) over the past two years.
AGSI general secretary John Redmond last night described the decision as a "defining moment in our history and a significant decision for our future".
He said AGSI had spent many years trying to progress issues of concern through the mechanisms, which were available to it, including use of the fractured conciliation and arbitration scheme. "The association had on many occasions pointed out the inadequacies of the scheme and the unfairness of its operation," he said.
"These arguments were never accepted by the departments of justice or finance nor, indeed, by the government."
He said they were ultimately left with no alternative but to pursue the issue at a European level. "This has resulted in a far-reaching and binding decision by an EU body that Ireland has erred and breached a charter, which it had signed in November 2000.
"The association hopes it will never have to resort to using its newly acquired right to strike in pursuit of the rights and entitlements of its members and we now urge the Government to work quickly to agree mechanisms which will give AGSI access to the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court."
Up until now the associations were excluded from access during discussion on vital issues, including pay talks and changes to working conditions.
Because they could not join the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), garda groups had to rely on briefings from civil servants rather than taking an active part in negotiations.
The European ruling will now pave the way for them to join ICTU.
The AGSI lodged a complaint to the Social Rights Committee through the European Confederation of Police against Ireland's implementation of the European Social Charter.
The complaint alleged that it, and other police associations, did not enjoy full trade union rights in Ireland and that articles allowing the right to organise, to bargain collectively and access information and consultation, were violated as a result.
A spokesman for Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said last night that the ruling would now be considered by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers.
In the meantime, the decision was being examined and Ireland's response to the ruling would be submitted to the committee, she added.
It is understood the decision will not become binding until it has been rubber-stamped by the ministers. However, it would be unusual for ministers to overturn a Social Rights Committee ruling.
President of the European Confederation of Police Anna Nellberg Dennis said the conclusions were a victory not only for the Irish police but had an important impact upon police forces across Europe.
The ruling comes just a week after Frances Fitzgerald was appointed Minister for Justice following the resignation of former Justice Minister Alan Shatter. Mr Shatter resigned after the publication of the Guerin Report.
An independent Garda Authority will be established by the end of the year and a new Garda Commissioner will be recruited.