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POLICE in the Republic were accused of holding their country to ransom as they staged what was in effect an illegal strike over pay yesterday.

Well over half the 11,000-strong force reported sick and off-duty in the latest of a planned series of 24-hour so-called Blue Flu" industrial protests.

The stoppage involved up to 80 per cent of the 8,000-member Garda Representative Association, the trade union for rank-and-file officers.

In a gesture of solidarity, members of the force's Sergeants and Inspectors Association refused to work overtime to fill in for absent colleagues.

The ransom charge was made by angry Justice Minister John O'Donoghue, who said the pay row was "not "going to be resolved on the streets".

Another member of the Irish cabinet, Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy, said the demand for a 15 per cent rise would wreck the economy.

Negotiations over the claim ended when the Government made a final offer of 5.5 per cent.

The Garda Representative Association said it had no option but to stage the "Blue 'Flu" demonstration, believing it overcame a ban on industrial action by police.

Acting General Secretary P.J. Stone said: "I don't think that any independent or fair-minded person would say that pounds 19,175 for a police officer is a fair wage.

"I am prepared to do anything to advance the process. There is a major problem in getting Garda pay right at this particular time. But if we get it right now then we won't be difficult to deal with in the future.

"We have to be treated in respect of the changes that have taken place over a period of 20 years that we have not been compensated for."

Stone's comments come as offical figures show that police are the best paid public servants in the country. As an average of all ranks of the Gardai, members earn pounds 552 a week, excluding overtime. Civil servants earn an average of only pounds 380 a week.

Further Blue Flu actions are planned, as well as special protests focusing on events such as the Irish Derby and next month's first-ever staging in Ireland of the start of the prestigious Tour de France cycle race.

Police chiefs meanwhile laid on a contingency plan involving cadet officers, and said there would be a "proper police service"".
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Author:Parkin, Chris
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 14, 1998

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