I'm not a 'sugar daddy' for transport industry, says Shane Ross

I'm not a 'sugar daddy' for transport industry, says Shane Ross

Transport Minister Shane Ross has warned he will not intervene in the Dublin bus strike, saying he is not a "sugar daddy" and cannot be expected to "ride in on a white horse and shining armour with a cheque book", writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Reporter.

The Cabinet member made the claim as he was heavily criticised by opposition TDs for "sitting on the fence" and failing to help end the capital's escalating commuter crisis.

Speaking at a meeting with the cross-party Dáil transport committee, Mr Ross accepted that the strike - which is now in its third week and will see Dublin bus services grind to a halt again on Friday and Saturday - is causing havoc to Ireland's largest city.

However, despite repeated calls for him to intervene in the stand-off, the Independent Alliance TD stressed he has no intention of getting involved as the issue needs to be resolved by unions and management themselves.

"I know you say I should open the cheque book, but I'm not going to," Mr Ross told Anti-Austerity Alliance-People before Profit TD Mick Barry as he was grilled over the situation.

"I don't want to see the management coming to me and assuming the cheque book will be opened. The Government position is clear, this has to be resolved between the two parties [unions and management].

"I don't understand why they don't get around the table.

"I'm not going to ride in on a white horse and shining armour, saying I have a cheque book," he said, adding later he is not a "sugar daddy" for the industry.

The comments provoked anger from Opposition TDs at the transport committee meeting, with AAA-PBP TD Mick Barry accusing Mr Ross of failing commuters who are stuck in the middle of the crisis.

The Cork North Central TD said Mr Ross must "get off the fence" and accept that "real talks" are dependent on him "opening the cheque book", pointing out Government is not unconnected to the issue as Dublin Bus has seen its State funding levels dwindle from €86m in 2008 to just €58m now.

"High fares but also low pay has subsidised that," he warned, adding that on a recent European list of funding levels for bus services in major cities Dublin finished "ninth on the list, out of nine".

Mr Barry, who was joined in his criticism by Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster and the Social Democrats' Catherine Murphy, said if Dublin Bus funding was to reach the average city spend on that list there would need to be a €200m investment in the service, while it would need €90m just to pull level with the eight highest city on the list.

Mr Barry said the Minister cannot just be thinking about "small scale investment" and must "have a row at Cabinet if necessary" to ensure State bus subventions are increased.

However, while accepting subvention levels need to be increased, Minister Ross said this is a different matter that is focused on service improvements and not necessarily workers' pay.

Commuters in the capital are bracing themselves for a third Dublin Bus work stoppage in a fortnight on Friday and Saturday due to a growing pay row between drivers' unions and management.

Further strikes are scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday, and October, 1, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 18, 19, 24, 26 and 29.

Dublin bus drivers are seeking 15% pay increases as they are being asked to work longer hours despite not receiving a pay rise since 2008 and have taken pay cuts to help the firm.

Mr Ross has been reluctant to become involved in the escalating crisis since the first work stoppages took place at the start of this month.

While this position is officially based on his desire for the unions and management to resolve the matters themselves, it also comes at a time when Bus Éireann and Irish Rail workers are also seeking pay rises.

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