The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has lodged a formal complaint alleging it was excluded from final negotiations on the proposed new public service agreement "Building Momentum".

While awaiting the outcome of that complaint, the AGSI will not be balloting on "Building Momentum" in line with other public service unions, who are expected to ratify it on 23 February.

The Association claims that negotiations on the successor to the Public Service Stability Agreement were conducted by a small group of key representatives, and that the resulting deal was effectively presented as a "fait accompli" to the association.

The AGSI's complaint to the Oversight Body at the Workplace Relations Commission says that it was not consulted in the final stages of the negotiations - and that this was a breach of a previous agreement reached in 2016 with the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The Association's General Secretary Antoinette Cunningham said it was "simply unacceptable" to them that gardaí had no role in the pay negotiations that led to the agreement.

Ms Cunningham told RTÉ's News at One that the AGSI has requested the Oversight Committee of the Workplace Relations Commission to "assist us in resolving this" by establishing a process where gardaí can negotiate and have a proper say on pay issues.

She said the issue was "one of principle not money" but said the AGSI is opposed to a small elite group of people determining the pay of gardaí.

She said while members of the force were involved in preliminary discussions on the agreement, they did not play any part in the final document that was produced.

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In an earlier statement, Ms Cunningham cited the 2016 agreement, which acknowledged the longstanding position of AGSI that its access to pay determination arrangements had been "insufficient to allow it to articulate the case for the pay and conditions of members".

It also referred to a finding by the European Committee of Social Rights that Ireland was in breach of the European Social Charter on grounds of restricted access of police representative associations into pay agreement discussions.

The 2016 agreement went on to state: "...the Parties affirm that as a matter of principle, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors is to have direct access to future pay determination mechanisms and to participate on an equal basis with other public sector representative bodies."

"In particular, it is affirmed that the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors will have the same opportunity as other public servants to provide its views on the establishment of the proposed Commission on Public Service Pay and the same access as other public servants to the proposed Commission for the purposes of pay determination and will be able to negotiate the pay and conditions of their members on an equal footing with other unions and associations representing public service employees."

"The AGSI were left with no option but to make the complaint as previous undertakings given in relation to how Gardai would negotiate their pay have been broken," Ms Cunningham said.

She stressed that the complaint related to the single issue of the right to negotiate Garda pay on behalf of members, and not to money or the pay award in Building Momentum.

"It would not be acceptable in any other industry or service that the workers would not have an entitlement to negotiate around their own pay," she added.

Ms Cunningham said the AGSI had entered the "Building Momentum" negotiations in good faith "and on the understanding that our right to directly advocate for our members with parity of esteem would prevail".

"Negotiations, it would appear, were conducted by a small, key group of people, which did not include any representatives from An Garda Síochána and effectively a deal was done behind closed doors and presented as a Fait accompli to the AGSI," Ms Cunningham added.

Ms Cunningham said the AGSI has now sought the assistance of the Oversight Body at the WRC in a bid to resolve the matter.

Defence Forces join AGSI in claiming exclusion

The Defence Forces officers' representative body RACO echoed the AGSI complaint that the "Building Momentum" proposals had been presented to them as a "fait accompli" after they - and other unions not affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions - had been excluded from the substantive negotiations.

RACO General Secretary Conor King said that yet again, the prohibition on members of the Defence Forces taking industrial action had been exploited.

He said this was further justification for a separate pay review body that recognised the unique nature of military service with no right to strike or to affiliate to Congress.

He said that having been excluded from the final talks, RACO could not proceed to ballot members on the Building Momentum proposals as they had been unable to secure final clarification of outstanding issues.

RACO said it had been trying to engage with management including the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (which oversees public service pay) and Defence Forces management seeking clarification of issues affecting members, which it said had not been dealt with in the pay negotiations "from which we were excluded, despite firm assurances from both Ministers that we would have a strong voice".

RACO said that after being excluded from talks for over a week, they had received written assurances that they would be treated fairly - but that the deal had been concluded without their input.

"On 10 December 2020 having been excluded from talks for over a week, RACO received written assurances from the Minister for PER that DF associations would be treated fairly.

"That night, the agreement was concluded with no DF representative association input or consultation, and released to the media the following morning before the non ICTU affiliates were even notified of its contents," it told members.

In a statement this afternoon, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said: "Our position as a Department is that AGSI, were, alongside other unions, significantly involved in the negotiation process leading to Building Momentum. The processing of any referral to the Oversight Body is a matter for that body.