Agsi leaders accused of calling strike without rank and file backing
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald has accused leaders of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) of calling a strike without the backing of the rank and file.
The Justice Minister launched the broadside after the organisation announced industrial action on November 4, 11, 18 and 25, the same days as the 10,000-plus officers in the Garda Representative Association have threatened walk-outs.
Ms Fitzgerald claimed Agsi members had voted to support pay reform under the Lansdowne Road Agreement seven weeks ago, before the leadership rejected it.
She said the unprecedented strike threat was disappointing, with justice chiefs threatened with having to police the country on the four Fridays with just a few hundred top-ranking officers and small units of armed officers.
" This is particularly the case as they (Agsi) have not balloted their members on the taking of this action," the Tanaiste said.
The first salvoes of industrial action in the campaign for better pay and union rights are planned for this Friday.
Agsi said its members will refuse to operate the force's official database Pulse on October 21 and 28 as part of its "sustained campaign of industrial action".
Ms Fitzgerald urged Agsi bosses to take up the offer of talks which was first extended last week.
"It would be most unfortunate if, rather than engaging further, action were to be contemplated that would not be in the best interests of our communities or of An Garda Siochana," the Tanaiste said.
It is illegal for gardai to formally strike or for representative bodies to order members to walk out.
Agsi carefully worded its decision to advise members industrial action is a matter for each individual officer and not a directive.
Ms Fitzgerald added: "My focus and that of the Government is on negotiation.
"I remain focused on finding a pathway to negotiate with Agsi in a way which is fair to their members, the taxpayer and other public sector workers. This must be within the parameters of the very real constraints on public sector pay."
Contingency plans have been drawn up in the Department of Justice if strike action goes ahead, but asking the Army to police the streets has been ruled out.
But Agsi said it has taken legal advice on their proposed action, agreed at a special delegate conference in Athlone, where it called for a 16.5% pay restoration claim following cuts in recent years.
It also wants to be allowed to negotiate further pay deals at state industrial relations agencies, the same as other public sector workers.
Agsi president Antoinette Cunningham said members "overwhelmingly" backed the strike action.
"We did not take this decision lightly, however we feel we have no choice but to show Government how serious we are about restoring pay for our members," she said.
"We also hope that senior Garda management will respect our decision to take this action."
Ms Cunningham claimed members have been inundated with messages of support from the public.
"We care about what the public think because we work to serve them," she added.
"We have been subjected to a campaign of media criticism by politicians whose time would be better served trying to solve these matters rather than splitting the gardai and the public they serve."