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Commissioner Drew Harris. Sasko Lazarov
Harris v GRA

Crisis talks to take place to solve GRA impasse before conference flashpoint at end of month

The GRA will hold a special delegate conference at the end of the month in which sources said nothing is off the table.

IT HAS BEEN a long road for gardaí as they gather pace towards an inevitable showdown with not just their commissioner but also with the Government’s plans to introduce a revised roster. 

The GRA announced on Wednesday that its members voted overwhelmingly to express no confidence in Drew Harris, with 98.7% of the 85% member turnout voting ‘no’ – a record return for the GRA.

There are crisis talks due at meetings planned next Wednesday and Thursday between the Garda Representative Association, the Commissioner Drew Harris and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. 

But it is the impending GRA special delegate conference due to be held on Wednesday week, in a hotel in Kilkenny, when all the representatives of the various garda divisions will gather. 

One source with knowledge of the atmosphere inside the GRA said: “That’ll be like opening the cage in the zoo. That’ll take some managing because the anger and militancy is gone to the point where there are gardaí willing to go the distance on it – that will make 2016 look like a reasonable approach.” 

The reference to 2016 is about the last time the gardaí were in dispute with the State – on that occasion over pay.  

Three ranks of An Garda Síochána were prepared to strike on four days during the month of November. The days of action were cancelled at the last-minute after the Labour Court intervened and drew up a list of recommendations, which were later accepted.

However, when it looked like the action would go ahead, then Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan warned it would “negatively impact on public confidence” in the force, and Minister Leo Varadkar said the strikes would “change their relationship with the public forever”.

The GRA blinked on that occasion and stood down the strike action at the eleventh hour. 

A tetchy week

It has been a tetchy week inside An Garda Síochána – while many people familiar with the organisation warned, across the media for several months, that there was a swelling of discontent in the ranks it was still a shock for some to see the landslide no confidence vote.   

The message from the Garda Representative Association read like a note left on a kitchen table explaining that irreconcilable differences have made the relationship impossible. 

On the day Ronan Slevin, the General Secretary of the GRA, said the vote shows that Government must now “listen to frontline rank and file gardaí”.

“This accounted for the largest return in the history of the GRA, and is a loud and clear message that we as an association have lost confidence in the direction that policing is being led in this country,” he said. 

“This result proves that the Commissioner has lost the confidence of an overwhelming majority of the garda force. 

“Government now needs to urgently intervene and make changes to help improve overall employee wellbeing and morale, and provide the public with the policing service that they deserve,” he said. 

IMG_5492 A garda watches as Commissioner Drew Harris speaks at the opening of a new garda station in Cork this week. Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

Commissioner Drew Harris arrived in the afternoon to the Association of Garda Superintendents meeting in Kildare on Wednesday and declared that the result was like a “kick in the teeth”.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) released a statement that said that its member’s never considered a no confidence vote. 

“The matter of confidence in the Garda Commissioner is not something that AGSI has ever discussed as it simply has not been an issue for our Association,” AGSI said.

As Harris walked into the Superintendents event, at the Kilashee Hotel near Naas, he was greeted with a standing ovation – it was akin to the knights around the table assuring the king of their full support.

McEntee arrived with a large number of advisors and stuck to the script that the GRA should enter negotiations.

Number One

The Commissioner is known as “Number One” in garda circles and while the industrial relations crisis is happening there is also a lot of competition for the post of Deputy Commissioner as the incumbent Ann Marie McMahon retires. 

The GRA vote is seen by garda sources as a referendum on Harris’ leadership – his tenure has been marked by an increase in lengthy suspensions of gardaí for alleged wrongdoing, an increase in administrative tasks and paperwork and the roster issue. 

Sources said gardaí for the most part are happy with the four-on-four-off roster which was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic to increase staffing capacity. 

That roster will end in November and they will go back to a six on four off rotation of 10 hour shifts.

While the Minister Helen McEntee, in her comments this week, identified the issue as the roster, sources said, the discontent is coming from a much more complex picture. 

This was confirmed in the comments by Slevin at the press conference when he said: “We have stated from the outset that the decision to ballot members was not prompted by a single issue but by an exhaustive list of concerns within the ranks of An Garda Síochána.”

Those administrative problems, the issue of a perceived overbearing discipline regime and now a less amenable roster to family life are all the issues taking it to the brink.

Sources have said such is the volume of admin required that gardaí are finding it impossible to meet deadlines and that is resulting in discipline measures such as fines and even potential sacking. 

The Journal has reported on the problem of resignations prompted by the internal atmosphere causing some elements of the force to look to life in the private sector. 

Regardless of the reasons the current dispute will require a skilled response to manage the ultimate impending flashpoint – not just from the Commissioner or the Minister for Justice but also from the top table inside the Garda Representative Association. 

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