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Dublin: 9 °C Saturday 15 December, 2018

Opinion: Ireland has no real plan to deal with the law and order vacuum we're facing on Friday

The garda strike poses risks to ordinary citizens and businesses, as well as to Ireland’s reputation, writes Tom Clonan.

Tom Clonan Security specialist and columnist,

FRIDAY’S THREATENED ACTION by approximately 12,700 gardaí, sergeants and inspectors is unprecedented.  So far, media analysis of the proposed strike has focused on the industrial relations machinations between the AGSI, GRA and Department of Justice officials.  Much of the analysis and comment to date has also involved comparisons with the so-called ‘blue flu’ garda strike of May 1998.

However, Friday’s proposed action is very different from the blue flu in a number of key respects and represents a fundamental threat to the security of the State and its citizens.

To begin with, the blue flu involved less than half of all An Garda Siochána personnel.  Approximately 5,000 gardaí reported sick in May 1998 – leaving thousands of other gardaí, sergeants, inspectors and senior officers available for duty.  If Friday’s dispute goes ahead, roughly 98% of our entire policing service will be unavailable for duty.  This will leave a skeleton crew of a few hundred senior officers of Superintendent rank and above responsible for the security of the entire territorial area of the Republic of Ireland for a full 24 hours.

A number of armed units such as the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and Regional Support Units (RSU) have been exempted from the proposed action on Friday.  However, these units combined number a total of approximately 120 personnel.  Split over two 12 hour shifts on Friday, this would represent a total of around 60 armed personnel to cover the Dublin, Northern, Western, Southern, Eastern, South Eastern and South Western garda regions.  Such a force, so thinly spread, would be hard pushed to respond meaningfully to the threats posed by feuding drug gangs, dissident subversive groups or armed gangs that use the national motorway network to carry out serious crime in isolated rural communities.

File Photo The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has said it is disappointed by the lack of progress in talks to avert the threat of industrial action by gardai. Garda sergeants and inspectors today escalated their work to rule as part of a ca Source:

It has been suggested that a contingency plan might be drawn up to counter these threats, involving garda recruits from Templemore, reserve gardaí and Public Order Platoons (riot platoons) on standby from the Defence Forces.  Such an arrangement would not constitute a credible contingency plan and would fall very far short of the type of complex policing arrangements necessary for a first world country with a population of four million people.

There is no contingency plan

In the absence of uniformed gardaí on Friday, it is unlikely that the courts could function safely.  Neither would it be likely that serious offences such as homicide, sexual assault or rape could be investigated properly or in a timely and safe manner.  Aside from such concerns, there are a myriad of other policing tasks that would be compromised including traffic control and traffic management in the event of fatal road traffic accidents or other serious incidents.  Statistics tell us – sadly – that Friday nights are high risk times for all such incidents.

There is also the plethora of other routine garda tasks that will be voided if Friday’s action goes ahead.  Who will invigilate the barring orders that protect tens of thousands of vulnerable women and children from abusive and violent family members for example?  There are countless such scenarios that need to be contemplated in order to draw up a credible contingency plan.

In short, no contingency plan exists to deal with the vacuum in law and order that would exist if Friday’s action were to go ahead.  The Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald must do everything in their power to prevent such a scenario from evolving over the next two days.  Apart from the risks posed to ordinary citizens and businesses by the absence of any meaningful civil power, there would be huge reputational damage to the Republic if the strike goes ahead.  This could become a major international news story that would go global.  With images of army troops on standby to police potential public order disturbances, Ireland would become the world’s first developed nation to resort to de-facto martial law in order to preserve law and order on our streets.

Anti-social elements will make use of Friday

For a country that has endured so much austerity and that has achieved so much by way of recovery, such an international story would do a great deal of harm to Ireland’s corporate image abroad.

Another way in which Friday’s threatened dispute differs from the blue flu of 1998 is in terms of its timing in the context of contemporary social media and other networking tools.  In May 1998, the blue flu was an eleventh hour intervention on the part of gardaí – a last minute action with little or no notice.

Friday’s intervention – which occurs on the 55th anniversary of the foundation of the GRA at the Macushla Ballroom in Dublin – has been flagged for weeks in advance. The state’s stakeholders, including garda management, the Department of Justice and prominent members of the Cabinet, have been relatively mute about their contingency planning – no details are available at this late stage.  However, other stakeholders, including  the ‘ordinary’ criminal fraternity, dissident subversive groups, feuding armed drugs gangs and anti-social elements will have had weeks to prepare in detail for Friday’s gap in policing.  The potential for certain anti-social and criminal elements to mobilise social media to create serious public order incidents has been clearly demonstrated in other jurisdictions – as was the case with the London riots of 2011.

An information campaign would work

Therefore, unlike 1998 and the blue flu episode, Friday’s threatened 24-hour action represents a period of very high risk and uncertainty for the institutions of the State, its businesses and the lives of ordinary citizens.

Irish people are law abiding and decent citizens.  I’m hoping that there are no serious incidents in the event of a disruption to policing on Friday.  However, the government does not have the luxury to be at best optimistic or at worst reckless with public safety this Friday.  At the very least, in the coming days the government ought to engage in a very vigorous information campaign across radio, TV, print and digital platforms to reassure the public and let them know what to do in the event of being the victim of a road traffic accident or a crime.

In the absence of a credible contingency plan, at the very least, such an information campaign would advise certain businesses as to whether or not they should remain open this weekend and whether or not citizens should venture out and about in our city centres with no policing or civil power available to maintain basic law and order.

Read more from Tom:

Thanks to Brexit, the fragile peace in Ireland is under threat 

What’s missing in the gangland crisis? The political will to solve it?


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About the author:

Tom Clonan  / Security specialist and columnist,

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