REPRESENTATIVE Ronan O’Grady is the GRA Central Executive Committee member for Mayo. Stationed in Newport, he is pictured here outside Westport Garda Station. Pic: Neill O’Neill
THERE has been much talk of late about the planned withdrawal of labour by members of An Garda Síochána on four Fridays in November, which would amount to an unprecedented work stoppage by the rank and file members of Ireland’s national police force.
Members of the Government and even the opposition have been quick to condemn the threat by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) to down tools, with the Minister for Justice stopping short of declaring that their proposed action could potentially lead to anarchy on the streets of Ireland.
While high level negotiations continue with no sign of white smoke yet, and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) due to meet later this month with the prospect of industrial action also firmly on their agenda, there is ongoing debate as to whether maintaining law and order in Ireland on those Fridays in November could yet fall to the members of the defence forces.
Ronan O’Grady is the GRA Central Executive Committee member for Mayo, stationed in Newport, and said that from a local and national perspective, all the GRA members want [as do the AGSI members] is a roadmap to pay restoration. Of the 9,875 GRA members that were balloted on the proposal to take industrial action, 6,505 votes were counted and a total of 6,069 (95.3 percent) voted in favour with just 300 (4.7 percent) voting against. There were 136 spoiled votes.
An overwhelming number of rank and file gardaí are GRA members, only a handful in any county are not, and there are approximately 250 GRA members in Mayo.
Restore not rise
“It is about restoration of pay, not pay increases, nobody is looking for a pay rise, we simply want what we had as there was a cut of between 14 and 21 percent since 2008 depending on where you were on the pay scale. We have been left out of union talks, we are not involved in national pay deals and are the only civil servants doing a 40 hour week,” said O’Grady.
“We signed up to the Haddington Road Agreement and fulfilled our side of the bargain, 30 extra hours a year, a delay in increments, but there was supposed to be a review of all this and it is already two years late. Now they want us to do 15 hours free again under Landsdowne [Road Agreement] but we didn’t sign up to that.”
New recruits to An Garda Síochána begin on a salary of €23,000 and receive no rent allowance (€4,000 per year) according to O’Grady, who says: “Some are expected to be able to live and work in more expensive places like Dublin, or far from home, on those wages, and be a front line of defence for people and property day and night. They cannot afford to rent, they cannot afford to live on those wages, but they are expected to be able to do their job professionally. People’s backs are to the walls or else they wouldn’t be doing this. I have heard of members sleeping in cars as they work far from home and cannot afford accommodation. They work, sleep in the car and go back in to work the following day. They can’t afford to relocate on their wages. How can we expect people to work in these conditions? We have recruits walking away from the force over their pay and conditions. We are not trying to undermine the policing system, but respect needs to be shown.”
He describes the plan as an ‘honest action’, saying members will not be paid for the days they do not show up. He adds that if the Government come to the GRA in the meantime with ‘something real’, the stoppage can ‘possibly’ be averted.
“The offer they came with was derisory, more kicking the can down the road. We don’t want to withdraw services. Increments are frozen, there are lots of hardship cases, people who cannot get mortgages, can’t save for weddings as they can’t afford it, that has an impact on their lives socially, emotionally, in every way. I don’t know how a garda on €23,000 can live in Dublin and yet we ask them to put their necks on the line. With the cuts in manpower they are doing more work for less pay.”
On the four Friday’s in November, GRA members will simply not show up for work. They can be disciplined if this action goes ahead, but given their resolve and united front, that seems unlikely. O’Grady accepts that the proposal is somewhat unprecedented.
“There will be withdrawal of services, we won’t show up, but we won’t be picketing. The conference (GRA) has unanimously decided to withdraw our service. We can be disciplined, there is provision for that in the rules, but we are only asking for what we had in 2008. There is a presumption that AGSI members will be working that day, and if people feel that this is leaving it short on numbers, they must understand that this will be similar numbers to what is working most days locally at present.
“We are stretched in Mayo, you could have instances where there is one car covering Ashleigh Falls to Keem Bay, that is Leenane to Achill, two gardaí in a car, that is regular. People then wonder why it takes so long for us to get to a call. There are 32 members of the garda rank in the Westport District, including, Louisburgh, Newport and Achill. There are about 21 gardaí in Belmullet covering the Barony of Erris. Castlebar and Ballina are no different. It is stretched everywhere. We have three new recruits in Mayo, there was five but two were sent to Dundalk.”
Ronan says that GRA members are concerned about the impact of their planned service withdrawal, but adds: “It is just a pity that the Government is not concerned about us.”
While the finer details of the proposed actions are not yet known, provision for the work stoppage is being made in Garda HQ and the GRA will have an executive meeting later this month, where their next steps will be discussed. O’Grady says he hopes for ‘meaningful progress in the meantime’.
“There needs to be a tangible increase towards the full restoration of pay,” he concluded.