LATEST: Taoiseach appeals to management and unions at Bus Éireann to resolve dispute

Update 1.55pm:The Taoiseach has appealed to management and unions at Bus Éireann to sit down and resolve the dispute.

Customers are facing no services with the prospect of an all-out strike following the collapse of talks yesterday at the workplace relations commission.

Enda Kenny has insisted in the Dáil that even if Bus Éireann expressway services are cut, the National Transport Authority will step in to 'ensure connectivity'.

But he says this dispute can only be resolved in one way:

“That's why I would exhort unions and management to sit down again and take the issue that is the nub of this problem, which is the commercial end of Bus Éireann expressway that is not viable, and work out a solution in the interests of everyone - the travelling public, the drivers and the company itself.

“That opportunity is there today again.”

Update - 12.35pm: The National Transport Authority (NTA) has claimed that competition on intercity and motorway routes is not solely to blame for the threat of Bus Eireann going bust.

The NTA also said that if the company cancels loss-making services - as threatened on the Dublin to Derry, Dublin to Clonmel and Athlone to Westport routes - it will step in and ensure local demands are met.

An all-out strike is now looming at Bus Eireann as management insist €12m payroll savings must be found or it will be insolvent by May.

"The notion that there is saturation on the intercity corridors served by Expressway services, and that the NTA grants licences to operators at the drop of a hat, also does not stand up to scrutiny," chief executive Anne Graham said.

"In fact since 2011, we have rejected almost as many applications for licences on these key routes, as we have granted."

The Oireachtas Transport Committee was also told that 875,000 pensioners and others are directly eligible for free travel passes and when companions and husbands and wives are taken into account there are potentially 1.4 million people in the scheme.

The Government last year rejected appeals by Bus Eireann's controlling company CIE to boost the amount of money paid to cover the scheme.

Tim Duggan, assistant secretary of the Department of Social Protection, told the committee: "Given the many competing demands for funding in Budget 2017, the Government was unable to increase the level of funding for the free travel scheme."

CIE will get €61m this year for carrying people for free but the breakdown of how that money is paid to Bus Eireann, Dublin Bus and Irish Rail was not detailed at the hearing.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said on Tuesday that rumours that the free travel scheme was under threat were false.

Meanwhile, the NTA told the committee that Bus Eireann's commercial services like Expressway only account for about a fifth of all the company's passengers.

The agency also insisted that it was prepared to step in to cover routes that close down and cited the example of Bus Eireann's Waterford to Dublin service via Enniscorthy which was cancelled in 2015.

Ms Graham said existing local services were extended and new services put on the roads to serve towns along the route, including Clonroche and Bunclody and that "the service level has improved in a number of the towns".

Mick Barry, Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TD, also claimed Bus Eireann workers were facing €7,000 pay cuts in the company's cost-cutting plan.

The NTA also insisted it could not force private bus companies which have licences to run city-to-city motorway services to carry pensioners and others with state bus passes.

Ms Graham said it is a commercial decision as they will not get 100% of the fare.

"They have to make a decision in relation to their own business," she said.

"If you were to ensure that they were all using the free travel scheme there's compensation that would be required in relation to that.

"It's up to them to make that decision about their passengers and the type of passengers they want."

Retail Excellence, which represents 1,650 high street stores and traders, called on Transport Minister Shane Ross to take a lead role in the financial crisis.

The lobby group's spokeswoman Lorraine Higgins said businesses could see losses of 60% if shoppers and staff cannot travel.

"The matter is a national embarrassment and with continued threats of industrial unrest this could very well lead to many of our international retailers rethinking their investment strategy for Ireland which would be very damaging to Ireland Inc," she said.

UPDATE 10.30am: No rural areas will be left behind if services to Bus Eireann are cut, according to the National Transport Authority.

They are appearing before the Oireachtas Transport Committee this morning.

It comes amid reports that three routes will be cut in order to improve the financial situation at Bus Eireann.

But the NTA's CEO Anne Graham says if that happens, they will examine the towns left behind to provide alternative services.

Earlier:Transport Minister Shane Ross has called on all sides in the Bus Eireann dispute to take time to reflect on the issues at hand.

It follows the collapse of yesterday's talks at the Workplace Relations Commission which the Minister has described as a "disappointing" development.

Later this morning the CEO of the National Transport Authority will brief the Government's joint transport committee on the current financial situation at Bus Eireann.

Unions have warned of immediate strike action if the company attempts to push ahead with €12m in payroll cuts by May.

Siptu's Willie Noone says the ball is in the Minister's court.

Mr Noone said: "We would hope that the Minister for Transport would sit up and grasp the seriousness of what's ocurring and intervene, and put in a process that would ensure that a strike wouldn't have to occur.

"If he doesn't, we believe that Bus Eireann will go ahead and give an implementation date, and when they do, well, chaos is going to then prevail."

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