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Looking back: Here's how things looked the last time the gardaí went on strike

In 1998, 5,000 gardaí went on strike in an unusual manner – they called in sick en masse.

GARDA FEMALE BAN GARDA Gardaí on duty in Dublin during a Blue Flu stoppage, June 1998 Source: Leon Farrell

COME NOVEMBER TIME, Ireland is facing a distinctly unpalatable prospect – four days without a police force.

On four dates that month, the 4th, 11th, 18th, and 25th (four Fridays), the Garda Representative Association (GRA) says that its membership, over 10,000 gardaí, will be unavailable for work as its pay dispute with the government comes to a head.

Leaving the legality or otherwise of such a strike aside, at present there don’t appear to be specific contingency plans in place for such action. Or at least, if there are plans, the gardaí and the Department of Justice are keeping quiet about them.

“The Garda Commissioner of course would take whatever measures are open to her to ensure that the best possible policing service remains in place whatever the circumstances,” a Department of Justice spokesperson told TheJournal.ie.

In that she will have the full support of the Government. However, the Department does not believe that it would be helpful to comment further at this stage on what specific measures this might entail.

Meanwhile, the gardaí themselves have said in a statement that “we do not discuss operational matters”, while a GRA spokesperson said “the GRA isn’t aware of any contingency plans”.

9/6/2016. Garda Siochana Modernisation Programmes Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan Source: RollingNews.ie

They are the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner.

Which is all a little disconcerting.

But if you want a real primer in what a Garda strike might entail, the RTÉ archive has this fascinating report from crime correspondent Paul Williams on Friday, 1 May 1998 – as the Blue Flu took hold with a vengeance.

Calling in sick

The Blue Flu referred to the fact that strictly speaking (as is still the case) gardaí were not legally allowed to strike.

So 5,000 members of the force expressed their dissatisfaction with their pay conditions by calling in sick en masse.

That amounted to about 68% of the force in Dublin and almost 100% in other areas of the country.

The Irish army was put on standby, while some Garda stations closed for the day and some court sittings were cancelled.

It was the first work stoppage in An Garda Síochána’s history.

Garda management did have a contingency plan at the time however, one they put into effect – all training and administrative work was suspended and every available Garda was put on operational duty.

That included sergeants, inspectors, probationary gardaí, and student gardaí who were bussed up from the Garda training college in Templemore.

As noted, those students had no power of arrest.

RTE All available gardaí were put on operational duty Source: RTÉ Archive

Soundbites

Much of the soundbites heard in the report bear an eerie resemblance to the current state of affairs.

Garda Headquarters said in a statement on the day that it “sympathised with members’ anger” but it was “disappointed with the level of support for the protest”.

“Contingency plans were made to allow for a situation with no Garda of rank showing up for work, so there’s a degree of flexibility,” a spokesman for the force said.

On the other side of the fence: “It’s a very black day for us. It’s a pity it had to come to this, but the government have dug in their heels, and I suppose we have dug in our heels as well,” a GRA representative told RTÉ.

In spite of this, the GRA said at the time that it was prepared to escalate its protests should its demands not be made.

Meanwhile, then Justice minister John O’Donoghue said that while he was “not opposed to third-party intervention in the dispute”, “all pay talks must be dealt with via the existing framework”.

Which all sounds very familiar. Except come November, the public will be looking at a full-scale Garda strike.

Read: Less than half of Defence Forces satisfied with military life

Read: Excavation to take place at site of alleged mass grave at Tuam

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