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Ray Dennison presented Police Association president Chris Cahill with a commemorative plaque representing support and solidarity between the Garda and the association in the wake of the March terror attacks in Christchurch.

Austerity hangover hits Irish cops

If you thought the results of the last Police pay round could have been better, spare a thought for the tough times faced by colleagues in Ireland who came within a whisker of taking industrial action.

Ray Dennison, from the Garda Representative Association (GRA), told delegates at this year’s Police Association conference a sobering story about the bad times following the 2008 global financial crisis that brought an abrupt end to Ireland’s boom years.

“We partied for years. Then the hangover started and lasted for seven or eight years,” he said.

Police faced a 10 per cent pay cut, a hike in personal income tax and the imposition of additional levies. Annual take-home pay fell by between 15,000 and 20,000 euros (NZ$26,000 to NZ$34,000).

Although constrained by legislation from taking industrial action, as are New Zealand police, members were nearly at breaking point, he said.

“They spontaneously called for days of action. This wasn't orchestrated from the top – it was brought by delegates from the floor – and if we hadn't gone with it, I think the GRA could have been swept away by our members. Such was the strength of feeling.”

At the last minute, the GRA was granted ad hoc access to the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court, to which all other public service workers already had access.

One day before the first scheduled “day of inaction”, a Labour Court recommendation was taken to the GRA executive. About 11pm, Mr Dennison said, a decision was taken by one vote to suspend the planned industrial action.

“I think if we had proceeded with even the first day of action, the GRA wouldn’t be in existence today. It was fine wire stuff.”

The court’s recommendation resulted in a substantial restoration of pay, and other compensations, and was accepted by members.

Current pay rounds are now similar to pre-2008 with settlements of 1.75 per cent to 2.5 per cent a year over three years, and legislation has been passed to give the GRA formal access to the Labour Court.

During the period of austerity, Mr Dennison said, constabulary numbers shrank by about 2000 and the provision of new equipment stalled.

"We were told we had to do more with less. One of our commissioners even tried to persuade the public that we were delivering ‘invisible policing’ – that we were there even though you might not see us. It’s no wonder that we went through four commissioners in as many years.”

Figures were massaged, he said.
For example, 100,000 breath-testing straws had been ordered yet 1.5 million breath tests had been conducted. Garda were being pressured to get results.

“Sometimes, checkpoints were set up on roads where one vehicle might pass every hour but officers were expected to come back with results. It really was invisible policing!”

The GRA represents 12,000 mostly unarmed members at the rank of garda (constable), with separate organisations for other ranks within the police force.

Mr Dennison attended the conference to represent the GRA and as a mark of respect after the Christchurch shootings, bringing expressions of support and solidarity to police in New Zealand. He also attended the Bravery Awards ceremony and said he was deeply moved by the occasion.

One of our commissioners even tried to persuade the public that we were delivering ‘invisible policing’ – that we were there even though you might not see us.