Under any other circumstances, those words from John O’Brien, former Detective Chief Inspector, might be regarded as hyperbole, but right across the board, all commentators agree that this Friday’s proposed strike by Gardai is without precedent and as a serious threat to the security of the Irish people.
Speaking to Sean O’Rourke this morning, John O’Brien was adamant. We simply cannot regard this Friday’s potential strike as “an ordinary industrial relations dispute.”
The effect this could have on the security of the State is stark. And as possible contingency plans in the event of the strike going ahead are being considered, John had some sobering words.
“I don’t think that there is any possibility of constructing a contingency plan by directive or otherwise that can replace 12,500 people. That is the stark reality facing us. It is like a nuclear strike. It is mutually assured destruction for everybody involved.”
John O’Brien feels there is still time left to resolve this dispute. He’s not giving up hope yet, particularly as there are signs of a possible Labour Court intervention. That said, he was clearly taken aback that the Garda Representative Association decided to reject proposals aimed at resolving the pay dispute without putting it to the members. This, he says, is “inexplicable”.
Sean then posed the question on most people’s minds, certainly those who feel there is an increasing inevitability about the near total absence of policing on the roads and streets of Ireland this Friday.
What is the ordinary citizen to do, in the event of being a victim of crime? What about Mrs Kelly, who discovers somebody trying to break into her home this Friday night?
“Mrs Kelly has got a big problem. If somebody is trying to bang in my back door on Friday night, then realistically, there is no possibility of somebody coming to my aid, other than what I can do myself. To say otherwise would be totally to misrepresent.”
John was 38 years in the Garda Síochana, during which time he was involved in industrial relations negotiations himself.
“The idea of going on strike is anathema to most Gardaí. They are extremely angry. They are angry because they feel they have been let down by Government.”
Gardaí are also angry, John says, because of the adverse findings of various reports and enquiries finding fault with Gardaí in recent years, although he recognises that this will not gain as much public sympathy.
Amid talk of possible protective cover from the Defence Forces, earlier in the programme, Sean also spoke to Gerry Rooney, Generally Secretary of the Army representative organisation, PDFORRA. But Gerry was realistic about what his members could do, both from a legal point of view, and from the simple point of view of training and readiness.
“Defence Forces, if they are ordered, will carry out the activities that the Government and the leadership of the Defence Forces decide. But from a practical point of view, it’s hard to see what role that is. Nobody has the power of arrest, stop and search that a Garda has. Exactly what they would be doing would be hard to discern.”
The Defence Forces do have training, Gerry recognises, in large crowd control, but in terms of local policing, and the practicalities of enforcing the law, stopping, searching, arresting, directing traffic, responding to individual acts of criminality, that is simply outside of their competence.
“Crowd control and not a whole lot more”, was Sean’s summary, an assessment Gerry Rooney agreed with.
John O’Brien also weighed in on this question. In relation to the possible involvement of the Army, he said, this takes place in the context of the ATCP framework, standing for Aid to Civil Power. But, as the name suggests, that power is dependent on a civil power existing in the first place.
And as we stand today, Tuesday, it looks to most people like that civil power will be absent, the consequences of which cannot be understated. It wasn’t easy listening, and this isn’t easy reading, but John O’Brien concluded the discussion with this bleak and categorical message.
“There is no possibility that the ordinary people of Ireland can be protected in the circumstances of a total withdrawal of policing.”
Keep your eyes and ears open for all RTÉ output on this unfolding story, whether radio, television or digital. But today’s discussion is well worth listening back to in full, and to do so, you can click here.