Transport Minister Shane Ross is refusing to get involved in any talks between unions and Bus Éireann because he claims they only want his cheque book.
Mr Ross has come under intense pressure to intervene in the escalating dispute. An all-out and indefinite bus strike is looming after talks at the Workplace Relations Commission collapsed this week.
Mr Ross brushed off as “nonsense” the accusation that he has been engaging in “classic Pontius Pilate behaviour” and hiding behind an “industrial relations fig leaf”.
Bus Éireann claims the company will be insolvent by May if it doesn’t find €30m in cuts. However, unions have remained firm that they will not accept any reductions to workers’ pay.
Responding to criticism in the Dáil on Wednesday from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who claimed the transport minister is “refusing to engage” in the dispute, Mr Ross said: “Micheál Martin is entitled to say what he likes. It’s nonsense. I’ve taken the position all along that it’s not up to me.
“It would be wrong for a minister to become involved in an industrial dispute and I intend to stay out of the industrial dispute as long as it goes on. What I’d like to see and I’m urging is that both parties get together.”
Unions representing bus workers have called on Mr Ross to take up a seat at the negotiation table.
He reiterated the claim that it is an “industrial dispute” as the massive losses are related to Bus Éireann’s commercial Expressway routes.
The firm has revealed that it lost over €9m last year and is planning to axe three Expressway routes as part of proposals to keep the company afloat.
Mr Ross said: “All parties want me to be in the room because they want me to produce the cheque book. I’m not going to do that. That’s the only reason they want me there.
“It’s not my business to be involved in an industrial dispute. I’ve made that absolutely clear. After the industrial dispute is over I’m very happy to talk to all parties about policy matters and will certainly do so. It’s got to be settled first between the parties involved.”
Mr Ross said he hopes the dispute will not end in an all-out strike which would bring services across the country to a halt.
“It would be awful for the taxpayer and for the travelling public, and indeed for the workforce as well. I’m very concerned that there shouldn’t be one, of course I am,” he said.
Meanwhile, Department of Transport secretary general Graham Doyle yesterday came under pressure to explain the Bus Éireann crisis after admitting its State funds have been repeatedly cut in recent years.
Responding to questions from Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane at the Public Accounts Committee, Mr Doyle said “there has been a significant cut in subvention” for Bus Éireann since 2010.
Mr Doyle said that while the State gave the firm €45m in 2010, this fell to €43m in 2011; €36m in 2012; €34m in 2013; €34m in 2014; and just under this figure in 2015. But he said the rate rose in 2016 and again this year.
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