Irish Examiner reporters talk to people from Cork, Kerry, Waterford and Limerick on how the Bus Éireann strike is having an effect across their cities.
Elaine Loughlin, Political Reporter
The bus strike is set to continue even if the sides go into talks aimed at resolving the dispute later this week, unions at the company have said.
Siptu and the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) say they were willing to go into talks at the Workplace Relations Commission if they were called in later this week.
However, they said the action, which will mean no Bus Eireann services for a 12th day today, would continue while any discussions took place.
NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said his members on picket lines across the country had been adamant that this would be the case.
It comes after the NBRU confirmed it received a legal letter from Dublin Bus and Irish Rail stating it will pursue the union for the cost of losses associated with Friday’s wildcat strike.
Workers staged the walkout on Friday in solidarity with their colleagues in Bus Éireann, which is part of the CIE group.
Mr O’Leary said his union did not officially sanction any action. He said that the first intervention from the CIE group had been “a negative one” despite calls from workers to financially intervene to save to bus company in the short-term.
Bus Éireann workers have now lost two weeks pay as a result of the all-out strike, while the company is losing around €500,000 for every day that the dispute continues.
Students are set to be left without transport to school as the unions move to up their strike action.
Siptu sectoral organiser Willie Noone said the union had “no other choice” but to ballot school bus drivers, as there has been no breakthrough since the action began.
He said members would be balloted in the coming weeks and if they vote in favour of industrial action school buses would not be running when students return after the Easter break.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the dispute has now deteriorated into a “bitter strike” and blamed Transport Minister Shane Ross for contributing to this.
He called on the Government to demonstrate “good faith” on the question of investment in the future of public transport.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the failure of leadership on the part of the Transport Minister has contributed to the current crisis, but now that the WRC may set out a potential path forward, he and his colleagues need to step up to the mark and give any such talks the best possible chance of success,” Mr Martin said.
“In his intermittent media appearances during this dispute, the minister has hinted that he is aware of the wider issues facing the public transport sector and that the Government is open to looking at greater investment in the sector,” he said.
He said Mr Ross needs to give a “signal” that he understands the wider issues facing Bus Éireann and the public transport sector, and is prepared to invest in it. “The uncertainty and inconvenience facing passengers is simply unacceptable and the problem needs to be solved,” Mr Martin said.
A Bus Éireann spokeswoman last night said the status quo remains as no invitation had been issued to the WRC but said the company is available for time- limited talks on savings and changes to work practices.
“It is critical, for both the solvency of the business and to secure a viable future, that these changes are implemented. Management and the board want to see a resolution, but are responsible for ensuring that the business can survive,” the spokeswoman said.
Shops are closing early, staff hours are being cut and jobs are on the line as the bus strike drags on, Cork business leaders have warned.
And with anecdotal reports that retail trade in the city centre is down by between 30% and 50% since the strike started almost two weeks ago, Cork Business Association (CBA) repeated calls last night for Transport Minister Shane Ross to intervene.
“It’s having a serious effect right across the city, in coffee shops, barbers, pubs, restaurants, and retail 1right across the sectors,” CBA chief executive, Lawrence Owens said.
“Retail sales are down and footfall is down. The worrying thing about this is that retail trade was flat before the strike but this is just another dose of negativity on business.
“Our concern is that the longer this goes on, the more likely it is that we will lose customers — the longer people are out of a pattern of coming into town, the greater the danger that we will lose people permanently to suburban shopping centres.
“The two sides need to start talking to each other, sooner rather later.” Benny McCabe, who owns nine pubs across the city centre, said jobs are now on the line. “In our pubs which depend on a day-trade, we just haven’t had a day-trade.
It’s really beginning to bite now,” he said.
“We may have to consider changing our rosters, which means our people will end up on reduced hours.” He said the strike has had a wider societal impact, mainly affecting older and regular customers who depend on some of his pubs for social interaction.
He also criticised Minister Ross for his inaction, and said he was very disappointed with the country’s political leadership.
“This (the bus service) is a public service. It will always be loss making, it is a tacit understanding,” he said.
“I support the strike, but allowing management to walk away from talks is scurrilous behaviour.” Caroline O’Keeffe, who works in Nectar Coffee House on Parnell Place, opposite the city’s main bus station, said their trade has been badly hit by the strike.
“We used to have lots of people arriving at the bus station from rural areas, and coming in here for a coffee before going on, but we’ve seen none of that in the last week,” she said.
“We normally open 7.30am to 5.30pm but we’ve been closing early, around 4pm, since about day two of the strike.
“Mornings used to be very busy, especially Mondays, but we’ve seen just a fraction of the business.”
She said it has resulted in reduced orders to suppliers which is, in turn, affecting their business.
Charlie Buckley, who runs the Ticketmaster outlet in Merchant’s Quay shopping centre, off St Patrick’s St, said the strike is “crippling” city centre business.
“We are all down between 50% and 60% of our turnover every day. Our shop is not going to open until 11am.
There is no point in us opening between 9am and 11am because you have nobody in town.
“There is nobody in the shopping centre. We have had to review our rosters because of the strikes,” he told Neil Prendeville on RedFM.
The chief executive of Waterford Chamber of Commerce, Nick Donnelly, has called on the Government to intervene in the Bus Éireann dispute, saying it was having a damaging effect on businesses and workers in Waterford city and the ssouth-eastarea in general.
Tourism interests, local retailers, other businesses, as well as workers are all suffering because of the strike, he added.
“The position of Waterford Chamber is that both sides to this dispute need to get back around the table and talk,” said Mr Donnelly.
“It is in everyone’s interests to do so and we cannot see why the Government would not intervene if it can bring some added value to the resolution of this dispute.”
Mr Donnelly said Waterford Chamber had been engaged with businesses in the city and noted, in particular, the effect the strike was having on tourism and the hospitality sector.
“Tourism is very important to this region and the strike is having a very serious impact,” he said.
“From a timing point of view, it is totally unhelpful. Many businesses are gearing up for the summer season and putting plans and investment in place so this type of action is not helpful either for business or those who travel around the south east region.
“This strike is hugely disruptive not just for retailers but for the hospitality sector and it is having an effect on hotels, cafes, pubs and restaurants.”
Mr Donnelly said the dispute was also preventing many daily commuters from getting to their places of work in the city.
“Not everyone in Waterford is driving and many rely on public transport, some of them travelling 20 or 30 miles to get to work. This dispute means that everyone is struggling, except the taxi companies who are seeing an uplift in their business.”
Majella O’ Sullivan
Business leaders in Kerry have urged both sides in the Bus Éireann dispute to return to the table and resume talks ahead of Easter, when the tourism season gears up.
Visitors to Kerry Airport stand to be impacted by the strike, with a knock-on effect for businesses.
The president of Tralee Chamber Alliance, John Drummey, said they were particularly concerned about regional commuters who use bus services from the town each day from Listowel, Killarney, and Dingle.
“There are three return routes from Listowel each day, five from Dingle, and it has obviously had a very negative impact for students at the institute of technology,” said Mr Drummey.
“With the Easter holidays coming up now on Friday, that’s when we’ll really start to see the negativity in relation to it.
“So far, the strike hasn’t had a devastating impact but at this stage we would be urging both sides to sit down and talk, and get back to work while they talk, so that the damage to business will be minimised.”
Kerry Airport stands to be severely impacted if the strike continues next week as tourists make their way to the south-west for Easter.
The Farrafore facility is served by Bus Éireann routes 40 and 271.
A spokesperson said: “A lot of visitors from the UK and Frankfurt Hahn rely solely on public transport, in particular a lot of German tourists on walking holidays.”
Áine O’Donoghue of Torc Travel in Killarney said the strike is also affecting clients flying out of Cork and Dublin, who didn’t want to leave their cars at the airport.
“People who are arriving home since the strike started are finding they’re stranded in Dublin and Cork and unable to use publ i c transport to get home,” she said.
Limerick Chamber of Commerce estimates that some city centre retailers have suffered a 25% fall in trade due to the ongoing bus dispute.
Chamber chief executive James Ring said worst affected are traditional businesses who would have an older customer base.
“Retailers can’t continue to take this kind of hit for very long.
It is crippling and the dispute needs to be remedied very fast,” Mr Ring said.
“People can’t get into town from the suburbs and outlying towns.
“Some shops located near city bus stops have lost a huge amount of their passing trade. Even people wanting to come into town in the morning are facing much longer journeys and this can put people, who have their own transport, off from coming into the city centre.”
Businesswoman Helen O’Donnell, who runs the restaurant in the Hunt Museum, said there has been a very noticeable drop in foreign tourists.
“People in business are very worried and this dispute should not have happened,” she said.
“As well as trading loss, people are having difficulty getting into work and it is putting an additional burden on them having to get taxis.
“In the museum we have seen a significant drop in tourists.
People coming to Shannon, instead of coming into Limerick for a day en route to other destinations are just not coming in.
“All traders in the city were down last week, but the big rugby
game at Thomond Park over the weekend brought us back up. So we were lucky with that. We have two people with disabilities and who have to travel by bus.
“They are now being forced to stay at home until the strike is over. Not alone can they not come into work, they can’t get out to socialise.”
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.