Rank and file gardaí are to be balloted for strike over planned pay cuts despite being banned from taking industrial action, it was announced today.
The Garda Representative Association accepted it could be seen to be breaking the law.
PJ Stone, GRA general secretary, said they had not taken legal advice before embarking on the move.
“This (ballot) is a very significant development. It puts us in the position where we could be regarded as breaking the law,” Mr Stone said.
Talks on €1.3bn cuts to the public sector pay bill dramatically collapsed on Friday, with the Government vowing to press ahead with wage reductions.
Mr Stone said members would be asked in the ballot whether they would join a possible mass public-sector walk out over the planned cuts to pay and pensions.
But under the Garda Siochana Act 2005 officers are prohibited from withdrawing their labour.
Anyone found guilty of bringing about a strike could be hit with a €50,000 fine, five years in jail or both.
“If it is the decision of somebody that we are breaking the law, then the law has been broken and we will have to be punished,” Mr Stone said.
The GRA chief said along with other frontline emergency workers, gardaí felt valueless and worthless because they are not being given credit for the work they do.
He said members in police forces in other countries had the opportunity to negotiate on pay.
“We have not become rich people as a result of our pay,” Mr Stone said.
“And we are also very hurt, and very disillusioned and very disappointed that not once during this whole debate on public sector pay, nobody has stood up and said look, we must respect the position of public servants.”
The last mass protest by gardaí was in 1998 when they avoided the ban on strike action by collectively phoning in sick on the same day.
The ’Blue Flu’ campaign was also taken over a pay dispute.
Mr Stone denied the reputation of the force was being put at risk and said emergency cover would be worked out should the vote back a walk-out.
“It (a strike) will be a matter they (officers) will decide in the privacy of their own homes,” the GRA chief said.
“They will be given the opportunity to make up their minds fully aware of the consequences, reaction and the decision that they will make but we feel at this stage that we are left with no alternatives.”