Yesterday, for the seventh day in a row, pickets prevented track laying taking place when they blocked the entrance to the site near Glounthaune.
The row centres on who has responsibility for laying the track. The company’s line inspection staff are furious that an outside contractor and Iarnród Éireann’s new works department were assigned the job.
Peadar Hegarty, chairman of Midleton Chamber of Commerce, yesterday urged Transport Minister Noel Dempsey and local TDs to do everything in their power to resolve the dispute. “To let a bunch of wildcat strikers hold up this project is unbelievable,” he said. Mr Hegarty said people throughout the whole east Cork region were eagerly awaiting the line’s reopening.
“This is the last thing we needed. People have been very patient with the various delays which the project has endured before. But it is ridiculous to have this holding up a huge strategic project that will benefit the whole area,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Iarnród Éireann said in an attempt to defuse the situation the company had been holding talks with the SIPTU and the NBRU (National Bus and Railworkers’ Union).
She said it was hoped the unions would be able to persuade their members to call off the unofficial action.
“The special train with all the rails is still in Kent Station, Cork, because we have been unable to deliver the rails to where we need them. We have ongoing communication with the two unions, even though this action doesn’t involve them. We are hoping the unions will appeal to the people involved to call it off.”
She said that all 13 workers had been taken off the Iarnród Éireann payroll.
Earlier this month, Iarnród Éireann went to the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) when line inspection staff claimed they should be allowed to lay the new track.
However, the LRC decided the work was the responsibility of the contractor and staff at Iarnród Éireann’s new works department.
A few weeks later, fearing that line inspection workers would try and stop the work, Iarnród Éireann officials again went to the LRC in order to get the ruling reaffirmed.
Despite this, 13 workers decided to ignore the LRC ruling and mounted a picket.
The picket is being maintained on a 24-hour basis.
Fears have also been expressed by Iarnród Éireann management that the unofficial dispute may spread. They are concerned that attempts might also be made to close the Cork-Cobh line, due for a key upgrade next month.