Anger amongst emergency personnel has gathered apace in recent weeks with nurses, gardai, prison officers and firefighters now warning that they will vehemently oppose pay cuts.
Gardai have indicated that they will restrict the “flow of goodwill” which has existed thus far, with members refusing to use their own personal cars, phones or laptops for official use. Members of the Garda Representative Association may picket Government-organised events and Gardai are also to withdraw from volunteering on days off for non-public duties, such as policing sporting events or concerts.
There are other options open to a force which feels under siege at present, one being restricting the driving of Garda vehicles to fully qualified Gardai and not availing of permission of local Chief Superintendents.
The moves are in response to proposed cuts of 1 billion euro in the public service pay bill and the GRA and Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors have withdrawn from talks aimed at securing an extension to the Croke Part agreement.
The reaction of the force is hardly surprising. It has emerged in recent days that the Government are seeking to reduce premium payments for Sunday work from double-time to time and a half and to abolish premium rates for working on Saturdays and evenings.
These are very significant changes to the work and conditions of Gardai and will have an enormous impact on their incomes and, as a consequence, their lifestyles. The basic wage for Gardai is not at the upper end of the scale and improvements to incomes were always dependent upon the additional premia which could be earned by working at what other professions consider to be unsocial hours.
To be asked to reduce premia by such a huge level was bound to anger and frustrate and, given that Gardai are prohibited from taking strike action, innovative methods were going to be needed to get the message across.
On the last occasion that the wrath of the Gardai was incurred by Government, the country was faced with a “blue flu”, which effectively saw huge numbers of the force call in sick simultaneously. It was the only option open to those who have no recourse to public protest in the same way as other sectors do.
Gardai, nurses, prison officers and firefighters are just the latest group of people who have reached the end of their tether. At the weekend the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter urged the Garda representative bodies to go back into the talks process, saying that nothing can be achieved by standing outside.
However, the situation for Gardai is significantly different to that of other professions. The rest of the country can exercise the right to protest by strike action or similar means. Gardai can not. They are utterly constrained, in the interest of the nation’s security, it must be said. Perhaps, given the inherent dangers which any Garda action will present to society, this Government will reconsider its decision and finally come to the realisation that there is a limit to people’s endurance.