Amongst the many duties performed by the Gardai on a regular basis are those of crowd control. Thankfully, as far as we are aware, there are no major events organised for this Friday which require such crowd control, as there may well be no Gardai available to perform these duties.
As presenter of RTÉ’s Liveline, you could say Joe Duffy is a veteran of crowd control. And given the strength of opinion on both sides of the fence over the proposed “withdrawal of labour” by Gardai this Friday, Joe’s crowd control skills were very much in play.
Here’s a quick sample of the passions which were aired this afternoon.
Let’s start with one listener, Mary Ryan, responding to the Minister for Social Protection’s claim that the public will “lose respect” for the Gardai if they go on strike.
“I will lose respect for them if they don’t go on strike. I think they are being pushed and pushed and pushed, just like the nurses and teachers. They have no option but to go on strike.”
Mary was a teacher and has previous experience of striking herself. As far as she’s concerned, the Gardai need to stand up for themselves.
Responding to Mary was another listener, Michael Noonan. (No, not that one.)
“It all boils down to money. So which one of the people calling in are willing to fork out an extra couple of hundred million euros in taxes for that one element?”
According to Mary, and another listener, Helen, whose son is a Garda, that argument is a misnomer, and a wider debate about tax justice in Ireland and proper payment of all public servants should take place in a broader context.
But according to Michael, the argument goes deeper than just finance. The Gardai, unlike other public sector workers with recognised unions, are prohibited by law from organising a strike in the way other unions do. Are they set to break that law?
“The fundamental thing is here, do you break the law or not? You are the guardians of the state. You put the fingers up to the state and you’re saying, ‘no we’re not going to recognise the law, we are going to break it’.”
But Mary Ryan was having none of that argument.
“Then the law has to be broken. The only way people got some rights in the past is by breaking laws.”
Quoting Thomas Jefferson, Mary said:
“If a law is unjust, then a man … is not only right to disobey, he is obliged to do so.”
As it stands, Gardai are set to engage in a “withdrawal of labour” this Friday, November 4th. It will be interesting to see whether public attitudes harden or soften over time on each side of this debate. One way or another, Liveline will be there to take the pulse of the nation.