Irish police begin low-key protests over pay talks

DUBLIN Fri Feb 22, 2013 7:15pm GMT

Police arrive at College Green before U.S. President Barack Obama's arrival to address a crowd in Dublin May 23, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Police arrive at College Green before U.S. President Barack Obama's arrival to address a crowd in Dublin May 23, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish police began low-key, "work-to-rule" protests on Friday to oppose pay cuts being negotiated as part of a public sector agreement which the government wants to modify for budgetary savings.

The government started a new round of talks with unions last month to shrink a bloated pay bill by overhauling the so-called Croke Park agreement that has helped Dublin avoid the mass strikes seen in other struggling euro zone countries.

The two main trade unions representing Ireland's police service walked out of talks ahead of next week's deadline to strike a deal and on Friday began what they described as the latest step in their campaign.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said the protest would involve members refusing to use their personal mobile phones, laptops and vehicles on the job, and withdrawing consent to be available for non-public duty.

Irish public servants saw their wages cut by an average of 15 percent before the Croke Park agreement, named for a sports venue, was put in place almost three years ago. They had carried out similar work-to-rule protests before striking a deal with the government.

Ireland's other trade unions continue to negotiate with the government over how to generate one billion euros (852.5 million pounds) in savings across the sector and analysts say unions will likely sign up to a new deal to avoid unilateral cuts.

However union leaders were heckled by members of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) holding placards upon arriving at the talks on Thursday in a protest the country's justice minister said risked discrediting the police force.

"Yesterday was a bad day for the reputation of the Force when members of the GRA executive saw fit both to engage in protest action, and criticise and abuse other trade unions," Alan Shatter said in a statement.

"I am concerned that what took place yesterday could discredit the Force in the eyes of many people."

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Michael Roddy)