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Unacceptable holding pattern

'Excellent hearing and speaking skills are a requirement, and trainees undergo rigid physical and psychological testing. In addition they are generally assertive but calm under pressure, and they are able to follow and apply rules, yet be flexible when necessary. . ." So goes a list of qualifications required of an air traffic controller. "Follow and apply rules, yet be flexible when necessary. . ."?

It seems an unlikely description of the group of workers who slammed the door on the outside world yesterday, sending out a message that Ireland was closed for business and that its public sector couldn't care less.

Why were thousands of intending international air passengers inconvenienced and humiliated yesterday? Was it because highly paid Irish controllers feel so intimidated at the prospect of dealing with what they call "new technology" that they must engage the labour relations machinery of the country?

Or was it because the controllers are being asked to contribute to their own pensions? As things stand they must be a virtually unique band of workers whose employers pay them an additional 30pc in the form of pension contributions.

As usual, whenever Dublin Airport is brought to a standstill by a dispute, the excellent hearing and speaking skills on all sides tend to dry up and flexibility flies out the window. The Irish Aviation Authority says it cannot be expected to increase pay every time the system is upgraded.

The controllers' union trots out the old cliché "too little too late".

It all sounds so depressingly familiar and, in view of the dreadful state of the country, almost cause for despair.

Yet the recklessness of a small group with the power to inflict enormous damage on the economy and to the country's reputation is no more than we can expect after years of government cosseting of privileged groups within the public sector, nurturing unrealistic notions of entitlement while their brother and sister workers have to deal with the realities of life in the real world.

Ask the 196 bank workers who, on the same day, learned that they were to lose their jobs.

The sooner the Government introduces the "no strike" clause for key, highly rewarded workers, as suggested by the Transport Minister yesterday, the better.

Irish Independent