For over a week, the airwaves were fizzling. They talked to Joe, and they could be heard on every news bulletin. They wanted to flee the country using the cheap airfares ushered in through the bubble years, but their papers are not in order. Like a scene from the old Soviet bloc, the forces of the state were ensuring that their exit will be made as difficult as possible, with queues snaking back through Molesworth Street.
There is little doubt who is shipping blame for the recent chaos at the passport office in Dublin. The staff who are operating under the strictures of industrial action are in the stocks, accompanied by the leaders of their association, the Civil and Public Service Union (CPSU).
"Do you not think that people out there are sick, sore and tired of your political manoeuvres," Seán O'Rourke asked CPSU assistant secretary Eoin Ronayne on Wednesday's News at One. "What planet are you on?" O'Rourke enquired.
The answer, of course, is Planet Bertie, but union leaders are not the only ones still residing on that woebegone celestial mirage.
Outside the office, the huddled would-be refugees shivered through the wind and rain. One woman interviewed related that her daughter required a passport for a school trip to Pompeii that was costing €700. The woman took a taxi up from Gorey that cost her €160.
There was a man who chained himself to the railings who is unemployed. His holiday in Thailand, taking in his brother's wedding, cost him over €2,500. Similar tales abounded. Most of the ire was directed at those working in the office.
It seems nobody spotted the irony. As the country sails down the tubes, we hear of tribunal lawyers being paid an extra €1m due to a typing error; executives in Anglo Irish Bank and Nama receiving a hike in salaries; higher civil servants being protected from the worst of the paycuts; and the focus of the greatest anger last week was on a group of low-paid civil servants who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
The CPSU lost the PR war, but it was never going to win it. Anytime a public service union takes action, there is a backlash. Even the best-organised sectors, such as teachers, feel the chill response from the public when they down tools. It was inevitable that there would be little support for industrial action by low-paid civil servants.
Ultimately, there was no real alternative to the route taken by the public service unions in general, and the CPSU in particular.
In a ballot for action following last year's paycuts, three quarters of the members voted, with 83% of them, 10,168 members, advocating action. The members were livid. Earning as little as €23,000, they are ill equipped to take the total pay hits that amounted to 10% of wages.
One clerical worker in the passport office told RTÉ's Paddy O'Gorman that he had a mortgage of €1,440 per month, on take-home pay of €1,608.
"My mortgage is nearly all of my monthly wage. I'm 27. I shouldn't be asking my parents to support me," he said.
Irrespective of the paycuts, a question might reasonably be asked as to why somebody on a low wage committed himself to such a huge mortgage while still in his twenties. But that was life as we knew it on Planet Bertie.
The main problem faced by the leaders of the CPSU, and other unions, following December's budget was that members' anger was directed at them.
Through the bubble years, the union leaders lost their edge. Whatever they wanted, they got. There was no effort to manage expectations. They might have had philosophical issues with the low-tax model, but they took the money and settled in for the ride. The whole thing was being financed by the property bubble, but nobody was really paying too much attention.
When the morning after dawned grey, union leaders were, like their kindred spirits in government, incapable of reacting decisively. They quickly felt the wrath of members' anger and moved to redirect it.
One veteran of industrial relations saw little alternative for the unions but to go down the road of low-level action.
"They shaped the action to what they could deliver," he said. "Their members were hit very hard. They were going berserk but there was no stomach for a strike. Most of them simply couldn't have afforded it."
For the last 10 weeks, the strategy has largely been to close offices in the different clerical sectors of government for half a day. Social welfare offices have been subjected to the same treatment as the passport office. Tactically, the union has trodden more cautiously there. Only the very small minority of welfare recipients who are paid by cheque have had a delay, and that has been for just one day, two weeks ago. The main days for signing on in social welfare are Tuesday and Wednesday. Through the 10-week action, the union has largely avoided the half-day action on those days.
"So far the industrial action has had no real impact on people's pockets and hopefully it will stay that way," said Brid O'Brien of the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed.
Instead, the flashpoint occurred at the passport office. The handling of the PR brief was a disaster. There was no effort to focus disruption directly on government rather than through the public. No imagination was applied. For instance, why not issue passports but decline to take payment?
By Thursday afternoon, the queues had dissipated, but the action is far from over. Having finally got a reaction from government through the threat to dock pay, the CPSU may well pump up the volume.
What the whole affair demonstrated, once again, is the paucity of leadership in the country. Union leaders have acted cynically by using the public to get at their target.
The government bears greater culpability for the chaos. The extent of the paycuts may well have been necessary to right the listing public finances. Yet the reality is that those at the bottom of the heap have proportionately taken the greatest hit.
There has been no effort, even on the basis of pure optics, to ensure that the pain is being endured with some modicum of fairness across society. Last week's tame reaction among government ministers to the news that Anglo Irish executives were actually getting a payhike spoke volumes.
Having forfeited any moral authority, the government can't even show backbone in dealing with the situation it has created. Swift action could have been taken 10 weeks ago to counter the low-level industrial action. Matters could have been brought to a head and dealt with.
Instead, the government reverted to what has become the default policy in the last few years. Do nothing, keep the head down and hope that things will get better sometime soon.
Queues for passports were last week's symptom of the disease currently infecting the country. Low-paid civil servants are a soft target. Until and unless some proper leadership emerges, we may well be subjected to further outbreaks.
"It seems crazy that the union has threatened strike action if they are docked pay for not working. In the private sector if you don't work you don't get paid.
"Any employers would have to dock pay if their staff didn't work, though I suppose in the current heightened circumstances with critical pay talks going on you have to be careful not to spark a riot.
"While privatisation of the passport office would be difficult because of security issues, the government should be thinking along those lines regarding most services to the public.
"Also, if the unions are going to barter efficiencies for pay increases then these efficiencies have to be measured accurately. The civil service needs to move out of the 17th century in terms of how it measures productivity. They have been getting away with murder for years."
"This is a seminal issue for the government. If it concedes to the union then it is snookered. Look at Greece. There is a lot of uncertainty in the euro now but Ireland is not under the same pressure because it is felt we are getting to grips with the problem. But if that perception changes we will pay a lot more to borrow.
"This economy is still in serious difficulties and the government has to stand up. If people are paid for doing a job they don't do then there has to be some come back for the employer. Everybody has taken a lot of pain in the last 12 months. Public servants are not unique.I know what happened in the banks has made things more difficult and I can understand the frustration but two wrongs don't make a right."
"The way employees can act in the public service would not be tolerated in the private sector. If private sector workers refused to do work the employer would simply up sticks and move to eastern Europe or beyond.
"When the public is used as pawns in a dispute such as in the passport office, the unions cannot expect to get public support for their actions. The danger of such a dispute is that it will drive a wedge between the public and private sector.
"There is a perception now that has become a reality that senior civil servants and bankers are responsible for the recession and that the burden is not being shared equally.
"This perception needs to be urgently addressed and the Institute feels this is best done through the establishment of a national social accord."
It also important that any agreement that may emerge from the public service pay talks must put a value on job security and pension entitlements for public sector workers".