The basic facts are these: Irish Ferries, which runs ships between Britain and Ireland, wants rid of 543 of its workers. It wants to replace them with cheaper workers, mainly from eastern Europe, and for pretty obvious reasons, the existing workers, and those concerned with the import of cheap labour from overseas, do not think it is such a great idea. The security guards were smuggled on board the ships to make sure that the handover to the new, cheaper crew went smoothly.
This conflict is rather more than a little local difficulty. Questions have been asked in the Irish parliament and a national day of protest is planned. There are dire warnings from trade unions that the dispute could ruin almost 20 years of good industrial relations. There are growing fears that the dispute could have implications for the shipping industry across Europe, perhaps even for land-based industry too. And there is more at stake than 543 jobs: this may spell the end for that most traditional, and romantic, of British workers - the ordinary merchant seaman.
One of the officers holed up in the engine control room of the 34,000-tonne Isle of Inishmore is 46-year-old marine engineering officer John Curry. He went into the engine room to protect the ship from supposed attack; he has stayed in protest at what was actually going on. "This is not just about us and our jobs," says the father of four, speaking to the Guardian from the engine room on a mobile phone. "It's much wider than that. If this company is allowed to get rid of its workers in one fell swoop, then what's going to stop other countries across Europe doing the same?"
Typed up at the Cyber Cafe - Southsea near Portsmouth. Not to be confused with Southsea which is not near Portsmouth. Because the one is pronounced Sow'see with both syllables carrying the same weight and the other is SOWZzy with the first syllable in the lead. See? No confusion whatsoever between the two should exist. (But thank god the taxi driver checked.)
Visitors from these shores to California have my permission to pronounce tortilla as if it rhymed with Godzilla, and I shall smile politely and not make comment. Offer expires on January 1, 2006.