THE Garda Representative Association (GRA) executive will meet tomorrow to decide on the exact timing and nature of the industrial action ballot it will put before its 12,000 members.
Yesterday, GRA general sectary PJ Stone accepted he may soon be asking members of the force to break the law.
The ballot decision “is a very significant development. It puts us in the position where we could be regarded as breaking the law”.
However, the message from a sometimes fractious GRA news conference was that sometimes bad laws have to be “challenged”.
One journalist questioned to the five GRA executive members present, were they intent on “taking what some people might see as a martyrdom stance”?
Mr Stone dismissed this, stating that his feeling was that there was widespread support for his organisations’ actions. “When we walked up O’Connell Street as part of the 24/7 alliance, when people recognised us as teachers, guards and firemen, they clapped us.”
Whatever of public opinion, the move will meet stern opposition from the Government.
In response to the GRA executive’s decision, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said: “When a garda becomes a garda, they take an oath and the oath is to uphold the constitution and the law and obviously we can’t countenance people who break the law, whether they’re guards or not.
“We’d have to take the Attorney General’s advice in relation to any action that’s taking place by the GRA or anyone else in that respect to do with the guards.”
Under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, officers are prohibited from withdrawing their labour. Anyone found guilty of bringing about a strike face a €50,000 fine, five years in jail or both.
A GRA spokesman pointed out that members in police forces in other countries had the opportunity to negotiate on pay.
He added that if gardaí, who sign up for 30 years service, were to be expected to take wage cuts without agreement, they would soon find “themselves in a situation amounting to a form of professional slavery”.
Although tomorrow’s executive meeting will finalise the decision the GRA said they expect rank-and-file gardaí will be balloted in the next two weeks as to whether they are willing to withdraw their labour on future days of protest organised by ICTU.
One issue for the GRA is the number of young gardaí who are having difficulties paying mortgages. If a garda defaults on debts they must report this and submit to disciplinary procedures.
If the proposed wage cuts are introduced, the GRA fears large numbers of gardaí could default on mortgages and lose their employment as well as properties.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy declined to comment on the GRA move.
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