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Andrew Lynch: Arrogance of Blair Horan and his people matched only by stupidity

The phoney war is well and truly over. The chaotic scenes outside the passport office in Molesworth Street may be bad enough in themselves, but they are just a taster of what's coming if the Government and the unions can't pull back from the abyss.

With similar action being threatened by firefighters, hospital staff and even gardai, we are on the brink of the biggest public service strike for decades -- one that could destroy what's left of our international reputation.


No matter how sympathetic you are to the plight of low-paid public servants, the passports dispute confirms that the union leaders are their own worst enemies. At a time when they need all the support they can get, the Civil & Public Services Union (CPSU) have scored a spectacular own goal by choosing to target holidaymakers, business travellers and even children going on school trips.

The phrase "lions led by donkeys" has rarely seemed more appropriate -- and in this case, the head donkey is leading his members down a very dangerous road indeed.

Blair Horan, a former ESB lab technician from Athlone, heads up a union that's riven with small but noisy groups of militants.

His boyish appearance should not obscure the fact that he is very much a hardliner himself. Despite being on a salary of €120,000, he presents himself as a champion of the downtrodden -- and when he threatens an all-out strike in the event of passport office staff not being paid, you can be quite sure he means it.

The latest pay talks have been going on for over a week now, but it's hard to see much progress being made when Horan and his colleagues have adopted such a wildly unrealistic starting position.

They insist that they can accept nothing less than a reversal of the pay cuts announced by Brian Lenihan in last December's Budget, something that even other union leaders have admitted will only happen in their dreams. The terms of reference for the talks have been made sufficiently vague to keep them going as long as possible, but the moment of truth is fast approaching -- and, unless Horan is willing to join the real world soon, that means we are looking at a long, hot summer of industrial guerrilla warfare.

Brian Cowen has made it clear that the country cannot afford a deal at any price.

While the Taoiseach is instinctively in favour of social partnership and hates confrontation, he must realise that public opinion would be on his side in any Government-union struggle.

Privately, most TDs will tell you they are amazed by the strength of the anti-union sentiment they are hearing from their constituents.

So far, the arrogance of Horan and his acolytes has been matched only by their stupidity. Instead of hitting the Government where it hurts by taking imaginative measures such as refusing to co-operate with today's reshuffle, they have pulled the kind of petty strokes which means that 20,000 social welfare recipients will not get their money on time this week.

When even the leader of the Labour Party tells you to cop yourself on and get back to work, as Eamon Gilmore did this morning, you must realise that this is one battle you're destined to lose.