Air-traffic controllers warn of further flight stoppages
20,000 passengers hit by strike action
THOUSANDS of passengers face more chaos after striking air-traffic controllers brought the country's main airports to a standstill yesterday.
The worst may be yet to come after air-traffic controllers' union Impact warned further action would happen "sooner rather than later".
Flights will resume today after the four-hour action strike at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports yesterday resulted in up to 150 cancelled flights, affecting more than 20,000 passengers.
Air-traffic controllers are to decide their next step at a meeting in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, this morning after the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) suspended a further two employees yesterday.
Some 12 workers had already been suspended without pay on Tuesday after they refused to operate a new software programme which is under dispute.
However, it has been revealed the IAA turned down the opportunity to resolve the dispute through talks. Instead the decision was taken to suspend the workers rather than reach agreement on the disputed work practices at the Labour Court.
As pressure mounted on the Government to intervene yesterday, there were growing expectations that the Labour Court would be asked to step in.
But this action failed to materialise, despite statements in the Dail by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Transport Minister Noel Dempsey.
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary called on Mr Dempsey to "get up off your backside and tell these guys to go back to work".
Mr Dempsey was only prepared to say that the introduction of a 'no-strike clause' that would prevent air-traffic controllers from taking industrial action "will have to be looked at".
Impact assistant general secretary Michael Landers said more strikes were likely "sooner rather than later" but there would be no decision until today.
"Further stoppages can be prevented if suspensions are lifted," he said.
However, the IAA would not rule out the possibility of more suspensions last night.
Airlines were forced to ground up to 150 flights during the strike, which started at 2pm yesterday, affecting more than 20,000 passengers.
A total of 100 -- mainly transatlantic -- flights were delayed or cancelled.
Up to 7,000 passengers were affected when Aer Lingus cancelled 64 flights, while Ryanair said 6,000 customers were hit when it cancelled 48 flights.
Aer Arann cancelled five flights and said there were delays to 15 others.
As fears grew over the effect on the troubled economy, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said it was important the dispute be ended as quickly as possible.
He said mediators were available to assist a resolution at the Labour Court.
Fine Gael called on the union to "get real" and business groups ISME, Chambers Ireland and IBEC blamed the air traffic controllers for economic "sabotage".