Transport Minister Shane Ross has been accused of engaging in “classic Pontius Pilate behaviour by hiding behind the industrial relations fig leaf” in the Bus Éireann crisis.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced to defend Mr Ross in the Dáil after he was criticised for a lack of involvement in the escalating dispute.
An all-out strike is looming after talks between Bus Éireann and unions collapsed, with both sides blaming one another.
Bus Éireann management says the company is now “carefully considering and finalising several options” to address the financial solvency of the company.
It warned it could be insolvent by May if it does not reduce its pay bill by €12m, and that it needs to save €30m in total.
The company last night said staff will be informed of measures in the coming days.
Unions representing bus workers say they will begin an indefinite strike, bringing a halt to the country’s bus service, if previously proposed cuts to pay are introduced.
During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused Mr Ross of “refusing to engage” in the crisis.
He said: “The minister is engaging in classic Pontius Pilate behaviour by hiding behind the industrial relations fig leaf and refusing to engage.
“He is privately comfortable with the undermining of this public transport company and the all-out assault on the terms and conditions of its workers. I accept that efficiencies and reforms are needed. I agree with that, but I do not agree with a race to the bottom, which is what is actually going on. I do not agree with the undermining of an important State bus company.”
Mr Martin accused the previous Fine Gael-Labour coalition of “sitting on its hands over a two-year period”, leaving the firm now facing insolvency.
“Even though various plans went to the Department of Transport, Tourism, and Sport and the National Transport Authority, nothing happened because nobody wanted to deal with these issues in the run-up to the 2016 general election,” he said.
Mr Kenny said the “problem” is on the Expressway service, which is a commercial service that is not subsidised.
Mr Kenny said it was “very disappointing” that the talks had broken down and added that “potentially, there is a catastrophic position for hundreds of thousands of passengers”.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams claimed there was no point in Mr Ross “asking others to sit down when he refuses to sit down”.
“This race to the bottom is completely unacceptable,” said Mr Adams.
“You say rural Ireland is top priority for the Government but there is no evidence for that.”
Mr Martin also suggested the issue would have been given greater priority if it were a Dublin issue and pointed out that the Luas and Dublin Bus disputes had been resolved.
Mr Kenny “reminded” him the Government recently published a co-ordinated approach to rural development. “Part of it deals with rural transport and services for people,” he said.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved