Monday 7 November 2016

Martial Law

There are now ten times more Blobistas from the US than from Ireland. Heck-&-jimminy there are more readers from France <<Bonjour tous le monde!>>, so most of you won't realise how close we came to Armageddon here on Friday.  We were about 40 minutes away, that's how close. An Garda Siochána the protectors of the peace aka The Police were going to go on strike for 'restoration and increments' and to cut a better deal for new gardai so that they could afford to live in Dublin.  They were in talks with the Government until 2320 the night before: with shift work there could be some Gardai withdrawing their labour at midnight. It is uncleary against the law for the Gardai to go on strike. You cannot encourage the boys in blue to withdraw their labour but the law is a bit fuzzy on whether, on a point of principal, individuals in the force can down batons and radios. The Department of Justice (the employers) and the GRA and AGSI (the unions) wave at a trioka of legislation:
  • The Offences Against the State Act 1939
  • The Industrial Relations Act 1990
  • The Garda Síochána Act 2005
to say that a close reading of those statutes would make in difficult to go on strike legally. The quis custodiet ipsos custodes irony of the law's upholders breaking the law is lost on nobody.  In 1998, dissatisfied with the widening pay-gap between themselves and teachers but convinced that striking was illegal half the Gardai called in sick on 30th April. As a result of that, they joined other public servants in a relentless upward trend in their pay-scales. People on the public pay-roll were on annual increments and more of them were taken on. In 1998 there were 12,000 Gardai, in 2008 there were 15,700 a 30% increase. Something similar happened to the pay for each one. Now there are 13,000 Gardai and they want pay-restoration . . . to the peak levels not the rates for, say, a 20 year average.

The GRA and the AGSI met last Thursday and were told enough to make them call off their strike . . . until they had balloted their members. The government's intention to "declare martial law" was leaked but nobody could be induced to say that these words had been spoken at the in camera meetings.  As if having squaddies at every cross-roads would be the end of the world.  One issue seems likely to get resolved because of this set-to.  The gardai will now have access to the mechanisms for labour dispute resolution: The Labour Court LC, the Labour Relations Commission LRC, the Workplace Relations Commission WRC. the Equality Tribunal ET, the Employment Appeals Tribunal EAT, the Uncle Tom Cobbley Quango for Human Resources UTCQHR. That's part of the problem, the solution to industrial unrest has been to create a bewildering number of bureaucrats who change their letterhead and name-badges every couple of years.

But the Department of Justice, whose budget includes the Gardai, is in the ha'penny place with its suck on the public teat.  In 1998, 70,000 people were employed by the Department of Health; by 2008 that had risen to 111,000, a 58% increase.  It has sunk to 103,000 for 2015 but that is still nearly 50% up on the closing years of the last century.  If we're going to finger people / sectors for cuts let's look for the largest elephant in the room because they will, if only in absolute terms, have the most trimmable fat. Forget Martial Law, send drill-sergeants into schools and make everyone do push-ups and paint the stones in the play-ground white.  Every pound shed is a euro saved in life-time health-care costs.

Did I mention teachers? - whose pay-rates started to outstrip those of the Gardai in the 1990s - there are three teachers unions (can't we/they rationalise these things? is it like the labour relations people with why have one union boss on a six-figure salary when you can have three?) and one of them ASTI is effectively on strike from today, so that half the schools in the country are closed. We could send the squaddies [we'll have them leave their guns in the barracks - this isn't the USA] into the school to mind the kids while both parents work to support the mortgage. Oh no, the key sticking point on supervision is whether the supervisors have been Garda-vetted [for paedophilia etc.] and we know what a joke that is. Actually, let's have the squaddies leave the ammunition in the barracks and bring their guns into class for naming for parts:
This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
          Any of them using their finger.
That sounds much better than the rote learning which is disastrously encouraged by curriculum driven education.

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