17 days to avert national policing crisis

The Government has a full-scale policing crisis on its hands after mid-ranking gardaí decided to join frontline gardaí in taking strike action on the same four Fridays in November.

17 days to avert national policing crisis

In what senior officers describe as a “nightmare scenario”, the 151 delegates of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), representing 2,000 members, voted “overwhelmingly” to withdraw their labour on November 4, 11, 18, and 25.

It follows last month’s decision by the Garda Representative Association (GRA), representing 10,500 frontline members, to strike on those dates.

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has just 17 days to avert a national security crisis.

The AGSI has left the door open to preventing industrial action, and negotiators are meeting Department of Justice officials this week.

However, association president Antoinette Cunningham said they wanted “clear timelines and progress around garda restoration of pay issues and right to negotiate our own pay”.

The AGSI has sought a 16.5% pay rise.

Ms Fitzgerald said she was committed to giving gardaí power to negotiate pay, but rises “must be within the parameters of the very real constraints on public-sector pay”.

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Senior Garda sources said the AGSI vote created a “nightmare scenario”and left an embattled Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan powerless to intervene.

The AGSI decision, on top of the GRA vote, leaves just 210 superintendents and chief superintendents and 529 probationary gardaí on duty for the entire country. They could be supported by 450 students from Templemore and, if available, up to 789 Garda Reserve members for a possible total of 1,978.

However, probationers, students, and reservists require a sworn garda — in this case, limited numbers of senior officers — to accompany them at all times.

Ms O’Sullivan and her senior team now have a “worst-case” contingency plan to develop and will seek meetings with both the GRA and the AGSI in providing emergency cover.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan

The GRA took some heat out of this yesterday when they asked members of the Emergency Response Unit and five Regional Support Units to call in for duty on the four strike dates and for members of the Technical Bureau to stay on call to respond to major crimes.

It is not known if measures will be put in place to staff Traffic Corps and regular units in urban areas.

Ms Cunningham said it was up to the Garda Commissioner to approach them on supplying emergency cover.

Garda bosses may have little option but to request the Army to perform their aid to civil authority duty, where they can act under the direction of gardaí.

Senior officers are gravely concerned at the dangers posed by the likes of the Kinahan-Hutch feud, given a lid is being kept on further murders by constant armed patrolling and checkpoints.

Even with significant emergency cover, sources said likely consequences include mass station closures and inability to respond to many crimes.

The AGSI will start their dispute this Friday by stopping their use of the Garda Pulse computer system and administrative duties, which will “slow down internal work practices”.

Association president Antoinette Cunningham
Association president Antoinette Cunningham

Ms Cunningham said industrial action was the individual decision of individual members. She said the association was “well within [its] legal rights”.

Ms Fitzgerald yesterday described the AGSI’s decision as “disappointing” and pointed out that the members had not been balloted on such a move.

She said she was “absolutely committed” to giving Garda associations direct access to dispute resolution bodies, such as the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. She said there was a commitment to give them access to the Public Service Pay Commission and that the Garda Pay Review would report by year’s end.

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