Friday 23 March 2018

'No plan yet' to deal with garda strike as Fitzgerald focuses on talks

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Leo Varadkar Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Leo Varadkar Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Anne-Marie Walsh, Ryan Nugent and Kevin Doyle

Contingency plans for a garda strike are not the priority ahead of fresh talks over pay restoration, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said.

The Justice Minister has insisted the State "will always look after its citizens" but backed away from giving any insight into what will happen if gardaí withdraw their services.

With the first strike due to take place early next month, Ms Fitzgerald said her focus was on finding "a pathway forward to pay restoration" that satisfied both the Garda Representative Authority and the Government.

She issued an invitation to the GRA to enter fresh negotiations yesterday and is scheduled to meet the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) today.

Read more: Garda strikes could leave just 210 to police entire country

However, AGSI said its meeting with the minister was planned before it announced it may embark on a campaign of industrial action last week.

AGSI also told the Irish Independent that there may be room for negotiation if the Government sets out a "road map" for pay increases to reflect what was taken from pay during the recession.

When asked about her contingency plans for the strikes planned by rank and file gardaí, the minister said: "I'm not going down the road and talking about alternatives. The goal is negotiation and the progress we can make at this point."

She declined to say whether the Army could be tasked with policing, insisting: "The guards are the civil authority in this country. I want to ensure that continues to be the case, so my focus right now is to discuss how we can make that happen."

She added: "Of course the State will always deal with whatever situation arises."

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has said that the Lansdowne Road deal that restores about €2,000 to each public servant is the only option. AGSI and the GRA want all of the pay cuts made during the recession to be immediately restored. However, if this were to happen for all public servants, it would cost more than the Budget allocation.

Between this year and 2018, €934m will be restored to employees and pensioners under emergency legislation. A further €1.4bn in financial emergency measures remains to be restored after the Lansdowne Road deal ends.

The bold stance by gardaí on pay restoration is already threatening the Lansdowne Road pact. There are signs of unrest among unions who signed up to it, including the militant Civil, Public and Services Union, about the rate at which pay rises are being awarded.

"If the Government has proposals on a pathway to restoration, it beholds it to bring those proposals to us," said AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham.

"The people within the organisation have become extremely restless. They are not prepared to wait another three or four years for this."

She said recent pay awards at the Luas and Dublin Bus had affected the mood.

"We do want to act in the best interests of all the people concerned and the best interest of the citizens and don't want to cause unnecessary disruption to the public, but if the Government does not step up to the plate those planned dates for industrial action will go ahead."

Gardaí are due to strike on November 4, 11, 18 and 25.

Irish Independent

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