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Gardaí will be legally entitled to rest breaks under new legislation

Gardaí who had worked eight hour shifts, without any breaks, while on witness protection duty brought the challenge against the ban.

Image: Leah Farrell

THE CABINET HAS approved the drafting of a new law removing the blanket exclusion of members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces from EU directives concerning their working hours.

The proposed changes comes after the High Court was told a challenge taken by two gardaí against members of the force’s exclusion, as contained in the 1997 Working Time Act, from EU’s Working Time Directive could be struck out.

The directive, brought in for health and safety reasons, recognises the need for rest periods during working hours as a basic right of workers in the EU. Specifically where working day is more than six hours long every worker is entitled to rest breaks.

Two Limerick city based garda John Gaine and Padraig Harrington who had worked eight hour shifts, without any breaks, while on witness protection duty between October 2010 and January 2011 brought the challenge against the ban.

The case was due to be heard in October did not proceed after the High Court was told the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor said in a letter to the lawyers acting for the two gardaí that she was bringing a bill to cabinet applying the terms of the Working Time Directive to gardaí.

‘No rest meal or break’

 This afternoon, when the matter was mentioned before the High Court, Justice Paul Gilligan was told the case could be struck out.

Afterwards, solicitor for the two gardaí Elizabeth Hughes of Hughes Murphy Solicitors welcomed the resolution of the action.

The Minister had recently informed her clients the cabinet has approved the heads of a new bill believed to remove the blanket exclusion of gardaí and members of the Defence Forces from the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 but subject to derogations permissible by law under the European Working Time directive.

In their action, the two gardaí said they were not afforded either a rest break or a meal break, nor were they paid overtime payments for the times they should have been allowed such breaks when on witness protection duty.

‘Entitled to protection’

The two gardaí claimed their “blanket exclusion” from the Working Time Directive meant the 1997 Act failed to comply with the EU directive. The directive had not been properly transposed into Irish law. which was in breach of EU law, they claimed.

They said they were entitled to the protections afforded by the directive, which had been denied to them causing them loss and inconvenience.

In their proceedings against the Garda Commissioner, Ireland and the Attorney General, they sought declarations including the section of the 1997 Act excluding gardaí from the scope of was in breach of both the EU Working Time Directive and the Garda Siochana code.

‘Laws to be introduced’

They also sought declarations that the section of the 1997 Act excluding them is void and being required to work eight hour shifts without a breach was in breach of the directive.

They further sought damages. The defendants had initially opposed the action.

However it did not proceed after the High Court when Minister O’Connor, after obtaining a clarification from the Courts of Justice of the European Union, said legislation to amend the legislation would be introduced to bring Irish law into line with the rulings of the EU court.

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Aodhan O Faolain

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