Garda strike: GRA reject latest deal

The Garda Representatives Association has "unanimously" rejected a last ditch Government attempt to prevent an unprecedented strike after claiming the continued focus on allowance hikes has failed to meet garda demands, writes Fiachra O Cionnaith, Political Correspondent Irish Examiner.

Members of the powerful group's executive committee, which represents rank-and-file officers, heavily criticised the proposal in a lengthy meeting on Monday night which senior officials described as "completely negative".

This, the garda group said, is because of the continued focus on rent and at-parade allowance increases instead of those for basic pay; the "half deferral" of the rent allowance rise until January 2018 for new entrants; and increased hours, among other concerns.

After two days of intense talks with the Garda Representatives Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, Department of Justice and Public Expenditure officials on Monday provided a detailed document outlining increased pay offers to the groups.

The proposed deal was centred on the restoration of the 4,000 rent allowance and the 15-minute at-parade allowance for officers, as this would allow garda income to be increased without technically breaching the Lansdowne Road agreement - thereby avoiding an avalanche of similar pay claims from public sector unions.

In order to allow the moves to take place, Government also sought to extend garda hours.

However, while the Workplace Relations Commission which is overseeing the talks requested the GRA and AGSI's senior officials to accept the deal and temporarily suspend Friday's imminent strike to allow for a full ballot of members, the GRA on Monday night rejected the plan.

As the GRA's pay negotiation team led by president Ciaran O Neill met with the Departments of Justice and Public Expenditure in Dublin throughout Monday morning and afternoon, the majority of the garda group's 32-strong executive committee travelled from across the country to Phibsboro in the capital for an update on the deal being offered.

Despite the update being planned for 4pm, the GRA's pay negotiation team did not leave the meeting with Government until just after 7pm at which point they briefed their executive committee colleagues on the proposed deal.

Speaking as he arrived in Phibsboro, GRA president Mr O Neill confirmed his group has "received the final position document from the departments" and that any decision to suspend Friday's planned strike "will be for the executive to decide".

The GRA's executive committee was fully briefed on the offer between 7.30pm and 8.15pm at which point an open discussion among all committee members took place on whether to accept or reject the deal.

Public Expenditure Minister and Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe said he was "disappointed" with the GRA position.

However, just before 10pm executive members confirmed the deal had been "unanimously rejected" as it "doesn't sort pay", will force already over-stretched gardai to work increased hours before rest days and means some increases will not happen until 2018.

One senior GRA member told the Irish Examiner gardai will "not be bought" by pay promises for 2017 and 2018, while another said via text from within the meeting that "it doesn't appear the department have met us halfway" and that the reaction has been "negative so far".

Addressing the 15 minute at-parade offer, he added:

"Working 15 minutes before each shift is basically extending our already long 10 hour shifts by way of overtime. It doesn't sort pay. We already work 60 hours, so six 10 hour days, before rest days. We would now be working 61.5 hours [if the deal was accepted]."

The situation will add further pressure on the separate AGSI, whose pay talks team also met with the Departments on Sunday and Monday morning.

The AGSI's national executive is due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the Government offer. However, it is highly likely to support any decision taken by the GRA, meaning Ireland will be without its 12,500 gardai for the following four Fridays.

Unless an unlikely u-turn occurs over the next 24 hours, Government will now begin implementing still unpublished contingency plans, which may include a skeleton force of army, reservists and senior officers manning Irish streets.

Separately, the Department of Education will meet with the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland on Tuesday in a bid to prevent hundreds of schools remaining shut after the mid-term break due to a related pay dispute.

In a statement on Monday night, Public Expenditure Minister and Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe said he was "disappointed" with the GRA position.

"The Government have proposed a substantial offer to the GRA.

"We are disappointed by this rejection, but remain committed to exploring every option, within the Lansdowne Road agreement, to resolve this matter."

KEYWORDS: gra, gardai, garda stike


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