Cops compress their working lives. Ask George Hamilton. He is 51. At the end of next week he will vacate his position as Chief Constable of the PSNI.

He has served five years leading the police service and declined the three year extension on offer. 

Sir George, as recognised in the recent Honours List, will retire on full pension.

While the soon-to-depart Chief Constable was saying his farewells in recent days, many of the police officers under him were paying attention to a legal matter reaching a conclusion in Belfast's Court of Appeal.

PSNI members, like the RUC before them, routinely have to work beyond their scheduled hours.

Throughout The Troubles and in the two decades since, eruptions like those at Garvaghy Road and Holy Cross, as well as the routine tension during the marching season, ensure that overtime is part of a police officer's working life.

The Court decision - how it interpreted the significance of overtime - is on course to deliver five figure sums to thousands of PSNI members.

And that's not even half the extraordinary story.

Tens of thousands of other workers employed by the state might also be in line for a pay-out. 

And it doesn't stop there.

The anomaly identified in the court ruling could also open the door to a payout from their employers for tens of thousands of private sector workers.

And guess who is to thank or blame for this potentially enormous financial hurricane? You guessed it (Boris) - the EU!

Even before the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, the European Commission in Brussels and EU member states were developing a set of regulations that would guarantee a series of basic rights to workers in their place of employment. 

The arrangements were set out in what is called The Working Time Directive.

It was PSNI officers in Northern Ireland who rumbled that they might not be receiving their full entitlements as set out in the directive. 

They became suspicious that they had been denied their entitlements from as far back at 1998.

Their argument centred around the overtime they would be expected to routinely work on top of their normal, scheduled hours. 

They made the case that when it came to holidays, they should receive the level of pay they were used to (overtime element included), rather than have to survive during the holiday period on standard pay rate, without the overtime top up.

And the Belfast Court of Appeal, in its interpretation of the EU’s Working Time directive, backed the police officers. 

3,750 officers had signed up for what became a class action.

Antoinette McMillan of the NIPSA trade union then got on board, on behalf of civilian staff employed by the police.

The joint campaign was fronted by an energetic solicitor, John Mc Shane, of the MTB firm.

Once the Court of Appeal handed down its decision, the BBC’s Stephen Nolan got stuck into the story and began slicing and dicing it on his weekday morning Radio Ulster programme. 

Firemen were on the case, wondering about their entitlements.  

The word began to go around the many layers of Northern Ireland’s state sector workforce. 

Water Service personnel were joining the growing queue. There were reports of Belfast City Council being engaged in some level of discussion with its workers about a form of back-pay entitlements.

And then the growing storm took a political twist.

It would seem that during the Conservative-Lib Dem, Cameron/Clegg coalition, the British government became aware of a possible back-pay liability issue.

There is a suggestion that the then Work and Pensions Secretary, Vince Cable, successfully rushed through legislation which limits the back-pay element to a maximum of two years liability.

But even though some elements of the Northern Ireland administration (including civil servants) were aware of the action taken by the British government, there was no move to close down the state’s exposure in Northern Ireland.

By Friday morning’s Nolan programme, the "it’s all kicking off" presenter was in overdrive.

Private sector workers were arguing that they too must be entitled to back money. What about sales reps, who routinely earn significant amounts of commission to top up their basic salaries? Shouldn’t the commission factor be reflected in their holiday money? If the Appeal Court ruling remains solid, the sales reps would seem to be quids, many quids in.

And what about hospital staff - porters, nurses, junior doctors?  And the hospitality sector? And cleaners? They frequently work overtime as part of the normal working week. Surely they too will be entitled to back money for inadequate holiday pay.

Yesterday evening, after a number of days of 'who knew whatery’, Alliance party deputy leader Stephen Farry confirmed he made an important decision at a critical time.

He was the Northern Ireland Minister for Employment and Learning in 2014. While the British government was rushing through legislation to put a two year cap on back pay, he opted to not follow suit in Northern Ireland.

He had overall responsibility for public sector pay policy and he decided a two year cap might be "counter-productive": there could have been "potential equality implication" and there were indications that such a cap might be "potentially illegal."

It would seem that, given the resolute nature of his own conclusions, Stephen Farry did not deem it appropriate to formally bring the issues for consideration among fellow ministers around the Executive table.  

It's an extraordinary story. The estimated bill facing the PSNI is £40 million.

Earlier in the week we were given a tour of the PSNI’s new high-tech cyber crime facility.

It cost just over £4 million – 10% of the possible back money total. If the ruling holds and is applicable throughout the private and public sectors, the PSNI £40 million exposure may be small change.

It is possible that the Court of Appeal ruling may be challenged to a higher court - the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, in mothballed Stormont, the files are being discreetly checked in an effort to establish who knew what among the civil servants and the then government ministers when Vince Cable was attempting damage limitation at UK level. 

Surely this can’t be true.  Surely there will be a terse statement explaining how Under paragraph A, sub-section B the Court of Appeal ruling does not apply and the notion of a big pile of back money is a fairytale.

But the story has been running since Monday and to date it has gathered momentum rather than hit the buffers. 

South of the porous border, where the leading estate agents are now calling for the easing of lending restrictions to accommodate Paris and Manhattan property prices in Ringsend, this latest example of basket case Northern Ireland doesn’t even register.  

Surely it couldn't have any relevance whatsoever in the RoI . . .isn't it 100% certain that there is no such wide-open back door, south of the frontier?