Transport Minister Shane Ross has ruled out privatising Bus Éireann which is in stark financial difficulty.
Mr Ross told the Cabinet that the State-funded bus service could be insolvent within 24 months if it cannot overhaul its finances. However, he said axing routes that are loss making has not yet been discussed.
Bus Éireann is expected to lose about €5.6m this year, after similar losses in 2015, much of which relates to its commercial Expressway routes.
The company is putting a restructuring plan in place.
At the same time Bus Éireann staff are seeking a 21% pay rise but the company has said it could not afford any wage increases at the Labour Court this week.
Dermot O’Leary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) said it is “bizarre, unprecedented, and a debacle” that Bus Éireann management did not come forward with proposals at the Labour Court.
Responding to questions from Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster in the Dáil, Mr Ross said he had updated ministers on the huge deficit but added that he did not speak about cutting routes.
“Nor was there any question of privatisation. I wish to reassure the deputy that there was no question of talking about privatisation yesterday,”he said.
Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy said there is “major anxiety” about what is happening with Bus Éireann. He said the minister had failed to act on the issue until this week despite being away of the financial woes since the summer.
“People are terrified that they will not have a bus service in the new year. Quite frankly, the minister has done nothing to alleviate those fears — in fact, he is stoking them even further.
“He has a significant role to play, given that he is the main shareholder in the company,” said Mr Troy.
However, Mr Ross said he has been briefed repeatedly on the issues faced by Bus Éireann, including the issue of the pay claim lodged by trade unions. He added that he has met the chair of the company twice in recent months, including this week,
“As shareholder, I do have a view that Bus Éireann’s financial challenges should be tackled decisively and effectively so that the company can be viable and serve its customer base on a sustainable basis,” he told the Dáil.
Although Bus Éireann claims much of the losses relate to its Expressway routes, Mr Ross confirmed in the Dáil that in 2017, public service obligation funding for public transport services that are not profitable will increase by 11%.
“In addition, I will be providing funding for more than 180 new buses comprising 110 buses for the Dublin region and more than 70 buses and coaches for the Bus Éireann fleet.”
Separately, Government has yet to decide where the €50m needed to fund the garda recommendations of the Labour Court will be taken from.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Pashcal Donohoe said: “I am engaging with the Tánaiste and the Department of Justice at the moment in relation to the funding of the Labour Court recommendation for An Garda Síochána.”
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