Shane Phelan: Stock up on candles, threat is serious
THE public has a genuine right to be worried about the prospect of a pre-Christmas blackout.
Leading the charge for the ESB group of unions is Brendan Ogle, formerly of the Irish Locomotive Drivers' Association.
Back in the summer of 2000 he led a three-month-long dispute which crippled some of the country's main rail routes.
Mr Ogle came across as stubborn and unwilling to compromise during that row, which saw him at odds with management and other unions over new work practices.
Fast forward 13 years and Mr Ogle is now sabre-rattling at the ESB. However, unlike many union bosses, he has demonstrated in the past that he is more than capable of following through on his rhetoric.
Mr Ogle openly acknowledges that staff at the ESB are well paid, with average salaries of around €65,000.
He made a much-publicised speech about how staff there were "privileged and very lucky" and benefited from plenty of "gravy" during the boom.
But he is now arguing that the same staff have suffered enough, with pay cuts of between 15pc and 25pc over the past two years and a massive deficit in their pension scheme.
This is compounded by a quirk which means many ESB staff are unable to claim the state pension.
Mr Ogle's comments yesterday had echoes of the uncompromising attitude he displayed at the turn of the century.
He was quite bullish when asked if power outages were inevitable in the event of strike action.
"If people drive buses and they go on strike, it affects buses. If people generate and transmit electricity and they go on strike, it affects electricity. So 'yes' is the answer to that," he told the Irish Independent.
And it appears that he doesn't care one jot what the public or the media think.
"History would tell us that anyone taking industrial action in Ireland in any industry needs to be prepared for a backlash.
"First of all, they get hammered by the media, who don't report these things objectively anyway.
"And second of all, I am 46 years old. I have never seen a popular strike. This isn't about that. This is about defending people's pensions."
The signs are that unless there is some dramatic intervention by ESB management this week, the public had better get their Christmas shopping done early and start stocking up on candles.
It could be a very cold and dark holiday season.