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Use of teargas raised in ferry standoff last December (2004)

category national | worker & community struggles and protests | other press author Sunday November 27, 2005 00:10author by R. Isible Report this post to the editors

(c) Irish Independent -- Gerald Flynn

Irish Independent reports that a previous occupation of the MV Normandy led to the consideration of using teargas. Plainclothes security personnel are rumoured to have boarded the vessel prepared and equipped to use teargas. This report by Gerald Flynn paints the taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in a positive light and refrains from pointing out that the oul bollocks hasn't done anything except talk bollocks.

(c) Irish Independent, Nov 26 2005, Gerald Flynn -- Industrial Correspondent

SENIOR management at Irish Ferries considered the possibility of using tear gas on crew members.

The option was raised at a meeting as one of a range of extreme measures.

Personnel chief Alf McGrath said the use of tear gas was raised when its MV Normandy was taken over by ships' officers last December, but was not sanctioned.

He also said that its use on the Isle of Inishmore was ruled out for the moment.

Last night four crew members remained locked in the engine control room with no end to the standoff in sight.

It also emerged that security squads on at least two of its ships in Wales were disguised as ordinary passengers.

Many were carrying bags, raising fears that these contained tear gas, pepperdust usage or stun guns for use on board.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern trenchantly criticised the company last night. He said that its attitude was anathema to everything he had worked for over 20 years.

Irish Ferries were "trying to turn back the clock" and should even now reconsider their actions.

Mr McGrath claimed that the management had previously considered use of tear gas but had ruled it out.

author by R. Isiblepublication date Sun Nov 27, 2005 22:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

(c) Irish Independent, Sun November 27th 2005.

I stand by my Irish Ferries tear-gas story

Gerald Flynn, Industrial Correspondent

A CLAIM by the head of Human Resources with Irish Ferries, Alf McGrath, that I had written a false report in relation to consideration the company gave to the use of tear gas in a past dispute, led to an angry confrontation in the studios of RTE yesterday.

Mr McGrath, who had initially declined to appear on the Rodney Rice Saturday View lunchtime radio programme, subsequently telephoned the studio, after the company had issued a statement saying that "the suggestion that Irish Ferries would ever give any consideration to such action is one which the company abhors and is contrary to every standard of good and acceptable behaviour to which the company subscribes".

This followed my report in yesterday's Irish Independent that this had been an option considered, but eventually ruled out, in a previousdispute last December when one of their ships was taken over by ship's officers. I tried to telephone RTE but could not get through, and it was only a break-neck drive across the south city that enabled me to get into the studio and confront Mr McGrath on air and put it to him that it was he who had told me about the prior consideration of tear gas.

The saga started on Friday when I contacted the Irish Ferries head of media relations Don Hall and the office of the company's human resources director, Alf McGrath seeking permission for Bernard Purcell, our London Editor, who was in Pembroke, to be allowed on board to speak with crew members, managers, the security specialists and the imported agency workers from eastern Europe.

I was told by Mr Hall that the reporter "hadn't a chance" of getting on board.

Later Mr Hall noted: "I can't plonk myself in your office so why should your Bernard Purcell plonk himself on our ship."

I asked him if he could comment on whether the security personnel had teargas canisters in their bags and he replied: "I haven't a notion what they have in their bags. It could be tear gas or just dirty clothes. This is not a Rambo movie." Whatever they had with them, they were on board to prevent the ship being commandeered and to protect SIPTU members who are fearful that they will be turned on by other staff, he explained.

Shortly afterwards, Mr McGrath returned my call and told me that the security men had been hired through an unnamed Dublin firm. I inquired about the management options and if they would consider using tear gas to regain control of the engine-room and vessel.

Mr McGrath said that that option "was raised in the first dispute" but not implemented. This was last December when officers took control of a ferry during an official strike over outsourcing the jobs on the MV Normandy which serves the French routes, though the ship was not the Normandy.

He added that he understood that "they haven't any", referring to the security men in Pembroke and "I don't think we'd sanction it," adding that "these guys are not violent".

He then claimed that last year spare parts had been damaged and repackaged and that was another reason for a large security presence. The police were not notified to see if they could get evidence following this alleged vandalism, he explained.

Mr McGrath is a former trade union official and personnel manager of many years' experience. He is used to preparing for tense stand-offs, especially in a company like Irish Ferries where employment relations are tense and less than cordial.

After these details were published in yesterday's Irish Independent, other media followed up the issue. The company issued a clarifying statement that it had never given consideration or sanction to "the use of tear gas or any similar substance by security personnel presently stationed on board its vessels Isle of Inishmore and Ulysses".

This may well be the case but what Mr McGrath had said was that it had been raised as an option during last year's dispute when crew took control of one of its ships. The fact that it was now being firmly ruled out will be a comfort to the staff, their families and the wider industrial relations community.

Yesterday on RTE, Rodney Rice told listeners that the company had declined to come on the programme. Following discussion on the implications and likely reaction to the use of tear gas as an extreme option, Mr McGrath phoned the studio at RTE and complained about my story.

I tried to phone the studio while listening to Mr McGrath's criticisms but was unable to get through. I decided that, as it was 1.33pm, I might make it on-air in a fast drive. I rushed to the radio centre and I ran down the stairs to studio 7. I told the producer that I was the journalist being criticised on the programme and she invited me to go into the on-air studio.

Later she joked that I might have been attacking the studio with tear gas, for all she knew, as I was not on the programme list.

The ever-calm Rodney Rice welcomed me at 1.42pm and said that the man who wrote the article about the tear gas option was with him. As I sat somewhat out of breath he suggested that I was angry; in fact, I was just breathless and anxious to make clear what Mr McGrath had said to me a day earlier.

Reading from my notebook, I quoted some ofhis comments to me and Iexplained the context of our conversation.

Mr McGrath later said that he did not wish to talk with me on air again accusing me of gross inaccuracies and suggesting he would be taking other avenues which is media-speak for having a chat with a lawyer.

The discussion later included SIPTU marine secretary Paul Smyth and one of the men locked in the Isle of Inishmore engine room, Gary Jones, both on the phone.

The entire episode reflects the bitterness of this dispute which may prove historic.

Port workers said last night they may try to turn the MV Normandy away from Rosslare port today when it arrives from France.

author by regpublication date Mon Nov 28, 2005 02:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors


author by regpublication date Mon Nov 28, 2005 03:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Officers and engineers responded as they would to a terrorist or pirate threat - by taking control of the engine room to prevent another party gaining control of the vessel. Mr Finnegan agreed the extraordinary situation was what would normally be found in a Star Trek or Steven Seagal film, saying, "It's exactly like that. It's totally in breach of all industrial relations.

from the engine room of the Isle of Inishmore ferry, the workers said they were determined to carry on their protest until management agreed to adhere to the recommendations of the Labour Court.
One of the workers, Gary Jones, said: “We are in good spirits and we all feel very determined. We will stay here for as long as it takes. We have nothing else to lose.

author by regpublication date Tue Dec 06, 2005 09:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The company who's security personal forced itself onto Irish Ferries last week is a part of RIsk Management International

The company is Freight Management International

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:
As an aside, is the Minister aware that the so-called security company the management of Irish Ferries brought on board its vessels is a sub-group of Risk Management International, a company formed by former members of our Defence Forces? Real questions arise regarding the conduct of the security firm in question, many of whose members received their training as members of the Defence Forces. Should questions not arise about other Government contracts involving public moneys the company has at various locations? Surely its role is not one of bringing heavy-handedness to bear on the rights of ordinary Irish workers, as is the case in this instance. This is a serious matter and one which has a great deal of address among the wider public.

They seem to be _the_ TERRA! company for Ireland's ex-defense to go to get paid better... and has huge amounts of government contracts, did the special olympics and have the freight security contract.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: asks a good question...

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