Irish police sick with 'blue flu' in wage push

Copyright © 1998
Copyright © 1998 Reuters News Service

DUBLIN (May 1, 1998 10:19 a.m. EDT - Four-fifths of Ireland's police force called in sick Friday in its first ever action to demand better wages, bringing rookie police officers to the front lines in a hurry.

The army was put on standby as the "blue 'flu epidemic" spread, sparking 100 percent walkouts in rural areas and about a 90 percent stoppage in the capital.

Fresh-faced police students donned blue uniforms to back up senior-ranked officers who stayed on duty to try to limit the threat to security.

"Most of the rank and file have called in sick," P.J. Stone of the Garda Representative Association said.

The 24-hour work stoppage began at 6 a.m. and is expected to cause widespread disruption on a busy weekend for Ireland, with an influx of visitors expected to take advantage of the May Day holiday in Europe.

The action was called to seek pay raises for the 8,500-strong force, which is barred from striking. "We have no choice. This is driven by the grassroots," Stone said. He described a government offer of a 7 percent pay increase as "unacceptable" and said anything less than a 15 percent increase would be rejected.

Irish people had a mixed reaction to the walkout. Many people calling in to local radio stations to debate the strike said they were shocked at the action.

Extra police were called out to guard Europe's biggest zinc mine near Dublin, where large quantities of explosives are stored and used, Stone said. Banks, post offices and other businesses have been warned to be especially alert. Post offices alone were estimated to be handling about $29.5 million in pension payments Friday.