A "hidden" Government agenda to "undermine the very concept of a public transport company" is at the heart of the escalating Bus Éireann crisis, it has been claimed, writes political correspondent Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin made the allegation during the latest leaders questions debate on Wednesday, saying he has "a real, deep sense" that the actions of Government and Transport Minister Shane Ross are being driven by this "ideology".
Speaking during a Dáil debate on the stand-off, Mr Martin said the reality is that the Bus Éireann crisis is leaving students, hospital patients, people in rural areas and other vulnerable citizens with no support from the State.
And despite claims to the contrary, he said the underlying reason for what is happening is that Government wants to "undermine" costly public transport services in order to replace them with more profitable private alternatives.
"One senses a hidden agenda that is determined to undermine the very concept of a public transport company. I have a real, deep sense of that.
"It is a view that accords with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's own personal ideology and philosophy.
"It is something I reject and I do not support it in any shape of or form because we do need a public transport company," he said, adding 110,000 regular customers are angry with the sixth day of stoppages caused by a "race to the bottom" series of wage cuts for 2,500 staff.
Responding on behalf of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who is at a European Peoples Party conference in Malta, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said there is no truth to Mr Martin's claims and noted a 10% increase in Government funding for Bus Éireann since 2015.
He said previously transport disputes have only been resolved by the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, and that as such Transport Minister Shane Ross is right not to directly involve himself in negotiations.
He rejected further claims the issue would be resolved far more quickly if it involved services vital to Dublin.