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‘Blue flu’ set to return as gardaí opt to refuse to work overtime in rosters row

Garda Ray O’Brien and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois last week. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Gardaí are planning a return of the “blue flu” over the next six weeks in protest at the ending of pandemic rosters. Garda policing operations around Dublin-based protests on budget day next month, and nationally during Halloween, look set to come under significant pressure as rank-and-file gardaí are set to refuse to work overtime every Tuesday through next month. The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has also decided to engage in a withdrawal of service – a strike in all but name – on November 10th. Furthermore, they have decided to ignore a directive from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris that pandemic rosters will end on November 6th and will instead simply continue to work those rosters after that date.

The graduated series of actions was agreed by GRA delegates at a special conference in Kilkenny city on Wednesday. GRA president Brendan O’Connor said Mr Harris’s “disrespect” of gardaí had led them to a “sad day for the Garda”, adding rank-and-file gardaí were now being forced into the series of actions through necessity and not by choice.

Garda management will be especially concerned about the refusal to work overtime during budget day, when significant protests were expected outside Dáil Éireann following the disturbances there last week when 13 protesters were arrested. Meanwhile, frontline policing resources around the country have always been significantly bolstered by the use of overtime during Halloween, when the emergency services often have their busiest day of the year.

The planned refusal of rank-and-file gardaí to work overtime on that date, October 31st, will add vulnerability to the Garda frontline service and, by extension, the protection of other emergency workers such as firefighters and paramedics.

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Aside from the planned refusal to work overtime on the five Tuesdays in October, the withdrawal of service on November 10th would be only the second so-called “blue flu” in the 100-year history of the Garda. That date is also the first day Garda members were due to begin working their pre-pandemic rosters.

While gardaí are not permitted to strike, and it is illegal for any Garda member to organise such an action, nothing can prevent members of the force, of their own volition, taking a sick day.

GRA accuses Garda Commissioner of ‘inviting conflict’ in rosters dispute ]

The actions come as the association, which represents about 11,000 rank-and-file gardaí in a near 14,000-strong force, is ramping up its opposition to being moved off special rosters introduced for the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Harris has insisted those arrangements – four days on, four off, in 12-hour shifts – will end on November 6th, when pre-pandemic rosters will begin again. That change will kick in on November 10th, at the expiry of the last four-day block under the expiring pandemic rosters.

Rank-and-file gardaí want to continue on the pandemic rosters because they involve longer shifts, which result in fewer working days each month and high unsocial hours allowances payable to them. However, Mr Harris has said those rosters were designed for a time of lockdown and were not suitable now that society has reopened after the pandemic. He also says the pandemic rosters, while lucrative for individual gardaí, are “costly” for the organisation. The additional costs, he said, results in 13,000 policing hours being lost nationally every month.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times