Varadkar breaks ranks to warn gardaí off strike
Leo Varadkar has broken ranks with Cabinet colleagues to launch a blunt attack on striking gardaí.
The Social Protection Minister warned a strike will mean people "won't ever" look at the force in the same way.
The move will be seen as positioning himself as a hardliner on public sector pay and law and order in the Fine Gael leadership race.
Mr Varadkar's intervention is viewed as far stronger than previous statements from Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald or Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe. The minister has called on officers to reflect on the position they hold in society "before making a decision that can't be stepped back from".
He said that by potentially leaving "communities unprotected for one Friday or multiple Fridays over the coming weeks that the public won't see them in the same way as they did in the past".
Mr Varadkar's comments have only served to raise the ire of gardaí who are scheduled to withdraw their services on four Fridays next month.
John Jacob, General Secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Superintendents (AGSI), told the Irish Independent: "If the Government allow gardaí to go on strike, I feel the public will not look at Fine Gael in the same light again. It is within their gift to resolve this." Members of AGSI are due to begin their industrial action on Friday by refusing to log onto the Garda data system, known as Pulse.
Mr Varadkar made his initial comments on the way into yesterday morning's Cabinet, prompting the AGSI President Antoinette Cunningham to say that he "should be putting his energies into finding solutions and not pitching the public and the guards against each other".
However, Mr Varadkar later reiterated his view that gardaí are perceived as different from other public servants.
"They are uniformed officers. They swear to uphold the law. That really sets them apart from other public servants and civil servants," he said.
Government sources last night said Mr Varadkar's comments were "personal" and not representative of the position being put forward by the Department of Justice.
Justice officials held talks with the Garda Representatives Association (GRA), which represents rank-and-file officers, yesterday and are due to meet again with AGSI later this week.
The GRA said they would not be responding to Mr Varadkar's comments.
Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe urged gardaí and teachers planning industrial action to sign up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) as it is the only pay deal the Government "can afford to honour". "What the country cannot afford to do is go down the path of leapfrogging wage agreements," he added.
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said "most rational people" have an understanding of the contribution public servants have made to the economic recovery.
"I don't accept Leo's view in relation to that. But I do hope a strike doesn't happen," he added, while calling for a "full scale negotiation" on pay in the entire public sector.