Conflict and communication are tools of the trade

EDITORIAL: The particular challenge facing any public sector trade union or staff association is that they are necessarily in constant conflict with government; either asking for something that the powerful do not wish to give, or rejecting an imposition from the elite. That is why unity and solidarity are key elements; because workers’ collectives have a requirement to speak with one voice – otherwise the powerful can exploit divisions.

The Garda organisation has been in the eye of the storm for several years now; and it is about to become ultimately transparent as senior managers are to present themselves before a Tribunal of Inquiry that has the potential to be downright Shakespearean – and the media are geared up for a frenzy. The pillars of State; the government, police force and the media itself are all to be subject to scrutiny. But will this be the final act in a play that has already seen the resignation of a Minister for Justice and Equality, the ‘retirement’ of a Garda Commissioner, the sidelining of a Secretary General and the dismissal of a Confidential Recipient? And now a former Garda Press Officer and the first female Garda Commissioner are assigned leading roles in the forthcoming ‘only show in town’.

Policing is changing rapidly; reports suggesting unlimited reforms are piling up much faster than they can possibly be implemented. New oversight bodies are jockeying for position and new powers and overall, a process of modernisation and renewal is underway. How can anyone reasonably expect to make significant headway when this hullaballoo has sped up the leadership contest within the party of government and we have to await which of our political masters will have the levers of power to see normal service resumed.

The members of this Association do not operate in isolation from the management of the organisation, and many will be acutely aware of the impact of reputational damage to An Garda Síochána. If there is comfort to be taken, it is that the everyday policing requirements continue with significant successes and retains the confidence of the people.

When an organisation is in the eye of the storm, all of those in command and those with oversight control have distractions that are more urgent than longer-term goals and strategies. To add to this mix there is now an interdepartmental working group established to consider how to implement our access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court that formed part of the solution to last year’s pay dispute. Such groups are commonly comprised of officials and civil servants but we retain considerable input in both our submissions and our moral authority.

Looming also is the Public Service Pay Commission [PSPC] module that will examine the value of the garda pensions as part of the unwinding of the levies imposed on our wages. Furthermore, there are considerable measures to be taken to pursue the civil rights and protections afforded to trade unions but denied to garda staff associations.

It is time to keep an eye on the bigger picture. Policing is changing; and as those on the frontline have the most significant input into the evolving nature, because without the mobilised consent of the workforce any imposed change will remain as superficial. The Garda organisation needs to listen to its key stakeholders; and those are the men and women who risk their lives daily to protect the public while earning their wage.

We have shown what can be achieved with the solidarity and unity of purpose; we now are the first grouping of workers to be necessarily granted ad hoc access to the mechanisms of State previously denied us – and by the end of this year that access will be on a statutory basis. This is not insignificant in itself, but with a similar strength there is an opportunity to establish this Association as a voice of reason in a world turned upside down. 

“The challenges to be faced in the forthcoming year by the Garda Representative Association will be considerable and the consequences will frame the agenda for the decade to come. The battle for appropriate civil rights and fair conditions and opportunities can be won;
we are stronger together.”

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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