Commissioner makes hard tackle as dispute enters extra time

As the nightmare scenario nears, the Garda chief has taken a stand, writes Cormac O’Keefe

Until now, she has stood on the sidelines, waiting for the two sides to come to a resolution.

Now, as the dispute enters extra time, Nóirín O’Sullivan has intervened.

As revealed by the Irish Examiner yesterday, she issued an edict to members ordering them to turn up for duty this Friday, the first of four planned strike days.

In her letter to each garda, she “directed” them to make themselves available for duty from 7am on Friday to 7am on Saturday — and said local management would be in contact with them to “confirm compliance”.

Senior sources yesterday pointed out that she had wanted to give talks as much space as possible, but that a ‘red line’ stage had been reached.

“It was either do this or rely on 300 people,” said the source, referring to the number of senior gardaí of superintendent rank up. “The commissioner is in charge of providing a policing and security service. She had to do it, she didn’t have a choice.”

It is thought that the unanimous decision by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) executive on Monday to reject the latest Government offer, made after two days of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission, was the “clincher” in Ms O’Sullivan’s decision.

Her order came as the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) was considering the same proposal yesterday, which it later rejected.

At a scheduled meeting of senior gardaí — from superintendent rank up — at Westmanstown yesterday, the commissioner laid out her reasoning and her direction.

The senior officers were told to go back to their regions, divisions, and districts in the afternoon to communicate the message, along with an instruction to find out how many are going to work.

“They need to talk to them and find out will they turn up for work on the day and the officer will then provide a return to HQ on the numbers,” said one source.

The local officers are expected to provide that assessment early this morning.

Sources in both the GRA and AGSI were unsure last night about the impact of the commissioner’s intervention.

A GRA source pointed out that its members were making an individual choice regarding industrial action and were not acting on the instructions and advice of the GRA’s leaders.

“We cannot advise people to breach discipline — people are making up their own minds,” said the source.

An AGSI source said he was not sure it would have an impact. He said members detailed for duty were already in breach of discipline if they failed to turn up.

He said: “This could mean two discipline charges, not one: Disobeying a lawful order and absent without leave.

“Anyone who was going to show up will do so without a direction; anyone who is staying out will stay out regardless of the direction in my mind.”

A Garda HQ source last night said: “This is bigger than any of us, bigger than the associations or departments. This is about State security and protecting the public. If we don’t do this, the public is left unprotected. We do not have the luxury of abandoning our duty.”

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