Check against delivery 

Topical Issues Debate 

Tuesday 25 October 2016 

- Deputy Jonathan O'Brien TD 

 

Opening remarks by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD  

 

I wish to thank the Deputy for raising this important matter.  

As the Deputy is aware, we are at a very sensitive stage at the moment in relation to these negotiations. For the present, I believe we have to concentrate on getting a satisfactory resolution to the talks which are going on. 

I can assure the House that every effort is being made to resolve the dispute in the only way it can be resolved – through negotiation. Intensive discussions are taking place and I know the House will understand that I am anxious not to say anything publicly which would make the resolution of the issues involved any more difficult. 

Everything that can be done is being done. The resolution of outstanding concerns lies in further engagement and I will continue to facilitate that.  

I do not want to mislead the House by pretending that there is some easy solution to hand. On the one hand, the Garda Associations feel a genuine sense of grievance about their pay and conditions – a grievance felt indeed by many public service workers and others as a result of the great sacrifices which had to be made because of the dire economic circumstances this country faced. While it is easy to understand and sympathise with this, what this Government cannot do is take measures which could only have the effect of endangering the progress which has been made in leaving those dark days of economic ruin behind us. 

We all have great admiration for the difficult job which members of An Garda Síochána do day in day out in protecting our community. But we cannot let that admiration and respect blind us to the consequences of trying to resolve this dispute outside general policy in relation to public service pay.  

So the challenge against that background is for discussions to continue to see can we reach agreement on measures which are possible within the confines of the Lansdowne Road Agreement, which are fair to the Gardaí, to other public sector workers, and to the wider community itself, which has to pay for these measures.  

As Deputies are aware, the agreements reached between the Department of Justice and the GRA and AGSI addressed in a very positive way the issues raised by them in the course of negotiations, which took place over a number of months. In particular, the agreement sought to address the concerns that they have articulated in relation to the pay of new recruits, the additional hours that Gardaí are required to work, their access to pay determination and dispute resolution bodies, and the completion of the Review of An Garda Síochána. The agreement included very significant benefits, including the restoration of the rent allowance worth over €4,000 or 17% annually to new recruits, and also in the case of the GRA, the lifting of the increment freeze that has been in place since 1 July. 

It is very disappointing that the associations rejected these terms and announced their intention to take industrial action. 

The reality of any negotiations is that both sides do not get everything they want but we must continue in the coming days to work with great intensity to map a way forward. 

While our focus is on achieving just that, work is going on in the background in relation to contingency planning and, indeed, I met with the Garda Commissioner to discuss issues relating to the dispute, including contingency.  

Clearly very significant challenges will be faced if there is a widespread withdrawal of labour by a substantial number of Gardaí.  

I believe that the Garda commitment to serve the community will inform those discussions. 

But for the present all sides must wholeheartedly focus on the discussions which are taking place in an effort to resolve this dispute. 

ENDS