The Government has been accused of “presiding over the demise” of Bus Éireann as the country faces into a nationwide bus strike.
Transport Minister Shane Ross was attacked for “choosing to do nothing” to avert the Bus Éireann dispute, with Fianna Fáil calling on him to get his chequebook out to solve the escalating crisis.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced to again defend Mr Ross, after Fianna Fáil leader, Micheal Martin, claimed the transport minister “never once alerted anybody” to the crisis facing Bus Éireann.
Mr Ross was not present during Leaders Questions yesterday, when the spiralling losses at Bus Éireann — the company could go bust by May — were raised.
Mr Martin said the press release issued by Mr Ross’s department, on the day the estimates were announced, was full of “self-praise”. He said the stance taken by Mr Ross was not acceptable.
“He should have intervened much earlier. Did he once alert anybody that there was a crisis coming down the tracks that his predecessor, and the Government, knew about? “ Mr Martin asked.
“In essence, whether it likes it or not, whether it is transparent about it or not, or whether it will tell the truth or not, the Government is presiding over the demise of Bus Éireann as a public transport company.
"Many within Fine Gael probably agree with that, which is probably at the root of the inertia on the Government side.”
Mr Martin said 110,000 regular passengers face chaos next Monday, when services come to an indefinite halt. But he said 2,600 Bus Éireann staff face very worrying times.
“It seems to them that, in one fell swoop, an attempt is being made to dramatically, and fundamentally, alter the nature of the company and the terms and conditions of its workers, who perform a very valuable community and social service, in addition to its commercial activities,” he said.
Mr Kenny said the planned bus strike was a “matter of grave concern”, but assured the Dáil the Government was committed to a State transport company.
Defending Mr Ross, he said: “I do not agree with the Deputy, or accept his comment that the minister is on the margins, silently acquiescing in the demise of a State company.
"The minister is but one member of a Cabinet that acts with collective responsibility here. The Cabinet is fully committed to the retention of the State company,” he told the Dáil.
Mr Kenny said that some TDs have “repeatedly claimed” the Government and the minister should do something.
But he said State subvention had increased to €40m, and there was no danger to the free-travel scheme.
Labour’s Brendan Ryan said there had to be a shift in the mindset of transport industrial relations. He called for a stakeholder forum for all those in the public transport industry, to head off future disputes.
“The planned strike, due to go ahead because of cost-cutting measures being imposed by Bus Éireann management, without agreement, will have a massive impact on the travelling public.
"There is also a potential for the strike to spread, as Bus Éireann has shared depots with Dublin Bus and Irish Rail. All efforts need to be made to avert this planned action,” Mr Ryan said.
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