Thursday 22 March 2018

Nóirín’s last stand: gardaí warned they must do duty

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Picture: Gerry Mooney
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Picture: Gerry Mooney

Anne-Marie Walsh, Tom Brady and Kevin Doyle

The Garda Commissioner has put her authority on the line by telling thousands of members of the force to ignore plans for a strike and turn up for work.

Nóirín O'Sullivan warned gardaí that they risk irreparably damaging the authority of the force as she cancelled leave, and ordered them on duty.

But she risked a furious backlash from members of the force with the stark eleventh hour intervention.

Hopes of averting strike action now hinge on last-minute talks under way at the Labour Court today. The court, which is used as a last resort in disputes, may ask the association to suspend industrial action before it will issue a recommendation on the dispute.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner wrote to every member of the force after both the Garda Representative Authority (GRA) and Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) rejected pay deals from Government.

Sources said her next move may be to threaten disciplinary action against members of the force who fail to report for duty.

She will first assess reports that come back from local management on the numbers that are likely to show up for work, to see where the biggest gaps will be. This will determine the policing plan for Friday.

In a stark warning to about 12,500 officers, Ms O'Sullivan gave them 24 hours to confirm they will show up for work.

Garda management in each district will be asked to direct officers to their duties on each day of the threatened strike.

Read More: Turning to the Labour Court requires give as well as take

The letter ratchets up an already deeply divisive dispute over pay restoration and equal rates for newly graduated officers.

"I believe that in the event that the proposed course of action takes place, it may irreparably compromise our authority to police the State. In addition, it will negatively impact on public confidence in An Garda Síochána and jeopardise the respect in which An Garda Síochána and each member of the garda organisation is held," she said.

"I am confident of your support in these difficult circumstances and I remain confident that the professionalism, dedication and commitment of the members of An Garda Síochána will prevail in the face of these challenges."

The Commissioner's letter contained no indications about possible sanctions for officers who do not meet her demands for the 24 hours from 7am on Friday.

But Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald directly warned that officers who do not turn in will not be paid and could face sanctions.

"Breaches of discipline can arise if people fail to obey the directive from the Garda Commissioner," she said.

Read More: Striking officers will have pay docked and may be sued by public - Tánaiste

She refuted the idea that the move could heighten tensions ahead of today's Labour Court hearing, saying Ms O'Sullivan had "no choice" if she is to ensure a minimum number of gardaí are available on Friday.

But sources said that the latest developments have thrown individual gardaí into deep turmoil as they prepare for the first strike in the history of the State. There is some hope Friday's strike could be called off as the GRA will attend the Labour Court for the first time today.

Under normal procedures, parties before the court go to ballot their members on its recommendation following a hearing. They would only proceed to ballot for industrial action if the recommendation was rejected. The court may point out that issuing a recommendation would be pointless if the association plans to go on strike without allowing its members to respond.

Irish Independent

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