The significant disruption experienced by passengers yesterday is set to continue over the weekend with no breakthrough in the dispute expected.
Buses operating across Expressway, regional and city services didn’t run yesterday and many train routes also came to a halt or were significantly curtailed as train drivers in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Sligo refused to pass picket lines.
Barry Kenny of Irish Rail said some disruption across the rail network is expected again today but there would be “an improved service” on yesterday.
Transport Minister Shane Ross — who has maintained that it is up to management and unions to resolve the industrial dispute — is now coming under increasing pressure to intervene. But he again refused to get involved last night claiming his “intervention wouldn’t help”.
The dispute, which has now resulted in an indefinite halt to bus services, is centred around €30m of cuts — including €12m from payroll — which Bus Éireann says they must implement if they are to avoid insolvency.
However, unions have objected to measures which would mean a reduction of allowances and payments. Despite numerous rounds of talks, both sides were unable to reach a resolution.
Both Siptu and the National Bus and Rail Union last night said a number of steps would have to be taken to end the strike including a sectoral employment order to protect bus drivers’ terms and conditions of employment in both the public and private sectors.
Siptu sector organiser Willie Noone said: “It would mean that any competition between Bus Éireann and private operators would be based on the quality and efficiency of the service provided and not on driving down workers’ pay and conditions.”
Mr Noone added that funding is another key issue, especially in relation to Public Service Obligation routes and the free travel pass scheme.
“The State funding, known as subvention, for Bus Éireann was cut by 35% between 2009 and 2015, from €50m to €33.7m. This funding must be increased so that Bus Éireann can continue to provide essential public transport services.”
He said unions want to engage in meaningful negotiations but these talks would have to include the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport.
Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Robert Troy said it was “deeply disappointing” that tens of thousands of passengers have been left without their bus service at short notice.
“People have been unable to travel to work, attend hospital appointments or travel to college. This strike action is causing severe hardship for people and all indications are that it will escalate in the hours ahead.”
He accused Mr Ross of being “completely absent” and said the minister has been aware of the huge difficulties facing Bus Éireann for many months.
“The lack of contingency planning by Minister Ross for a strike at Bus Éireann is shocking.”
Solidarity-PBP TD Mick Barry, who joined some of the Bus Éireann pickets in Cork yesterday, said the funding crisis at Bus Éireann can only be seriously addressed by “proper State financing” of public transport.
'We’ll stay here for as long as it takes'
Busáras in Dublin, the capital’s central station for Bus Éireann intercity and regional bus services, was eerily quiet yesterday.
Glum-faced Bus Éireann staff stood outside in small clusters, holding placards and flags.
Also standing nearby were two young women who had travelled from Blanchardstown to catch a bus to Newry. The two looked confused about what to do next.
One said: “We had arranged to be picked up at the bus station in Newry and taken to our friend’s house. We just feel so disorganised now.”
Student nurses Tobias Lindbichler and Florian Rohringer were on their way home to Salzburg in Austria after completing clinical placements organised by Dublin City University. It will be another year before both are fully fledged nurses.
They will complete their studies in Salzburg but are not keen on returning to Ireland to work. The Austrian health service is better managed, they said, but their immediate concern was getting home.
“We did not know about the bus strike, but fortunately, our flight is not until 4pm so we have plenty of time to get there,” said Tobias. The two then went around the corner where they boarded the 747 airport bus, operated by Dublin Bus.
A Bus Éireann representative said it was mostly foreign tourists who turned up at the station, unaware there was an all-out strike: “Busáras is very quiet today. Irish people appear to be quite aware that the strike is happening. Most of the queries we are getting are how long it will last. To date, there is no information we can give them on that.”
The representative then turned to help two British tourists — Danny and Kath Evans from Worcester — who wanted to get a bus to the airport after spending an enjoyable week sightseeing in Dublin. It was their first visit to Ireland, they said, but not their last - it is a lovely place with lots of friendly people.
Siptu member Martin Darby said they had received more positive than negative comments from the public.
“We tried to help anyone who turned up at Busáras to get to where they were going. I think this strike has the potential to last a long time and it could spread,” he said.
“It is early days yet. Now that we are out, we are determined to fight for jobs that provide us with a decent standard of living.”
Similarly, there were no trains or Bus Éireann buses operating out of Limerick, causing chaos for commuters. Around 70 bus and rail workers, fighting proposed pay cuts, picketed outside the bus and rail depot at Colbert Station.
One of the workers on the picket line was Pat Hanrahan, a driver with CIÉ/Bus Éireann for 35 years.
“When the gardaí went on strike for a few hours (the Government) gave them a big pile of money, but they are kicking us ordinary bus workers in the teeth on the ground,” he said. “They are treating us like dirt, so we will not put up and tolerate this. We will fight to the end and we will stay out here for as long as it takes to protect what we have got.”
A US family of three from Illinois, Chicago, who were on the first leg of a dream trip to Ireland, found themselves stranded at Colbert Station, where they had planned to get on a train to Cork before kissing the Blarney Stone.
Retired Chicago firefighter Glen Busch (ok), 47, said he and his wife Amy and daughter Kaitlyn had earlier landed off a plane at Shannon Airport at 6am, before travelling by taxi to Limerick only to find the Cork train empty and sitting on the platform at Colbert Station.
“We’ve been planning this trip for ten years. This is our first (family) vacation after my retirement,” chuckled Mr Bush, still managing to see the funny side: “I checked to make sure, because strikes do happen, but everything was good to go when we left yesterday in Chicago...and by the time we landed in Shannon, suddenly the buses are on strike, and the trains (too) in solidarity. We had a reservation on a noon train to get us to Cork, and then from Cork (get another train) again to Dublin tomorrow.”
A reporter for RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke radio programme stepped in, offering the American family a lift to the Rebel County.
Dermot Healy, local NBRU spokesman, said Irish Rail workers “refused” to cross the Limerick picket line, in solidarity with bus workers. “I don’t know how that’s going to continue on into the day. The anger amongst the workers here is absolutely palpable.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful, in this day and age, that we should be forced down this particular route; given pay increases awarded recently to TDs and ministers... and here we are on the picket line fighting pay cuts,” he said.
Tom Keane and his late father Gerry — who worked on the buses in Limerick for 40 years — have given 70 years’ service to CIÉ and then Bus Éireann. Tom said: “We’ve given everything to this company. I’ve never ever, as long as I’ve been here, seen morale as low. I’ve never seen my colleagues so angry.
“Like everybody else during the recession, we took the (financial) pain; we didn’t get a wage increase in eight years. Now that we have come through that (management) want to slash our wages even more to keep the company open.”Mr Keane added: “I’m hurt. We feel we have to make a stand for our rights.”
Likewise, weekend rail services in Kerry were disrupted yesterday after train personnel refused to pass pickets in the Bus Éireann/Iarnrod Éireann station and yard in Tralee.
Their refusal meant morning services from Killarney to Dublin were cancelled — a cause of great concern to the local hotel industry.
Hotelier Joe Scally, who owns the Hayfield Family Collection of hotels in Cork and Killarney, said the strike had already upset a conference of 500 teachers at the Malton Hotel in Killarney, the Victorian-era hotel and conference centre alongside the town’s rail and bus stations.
“It’s very disruptive, especially to the tourist trade outside of Dublin. It’s the last thing we want. We are coming out of recession and we have a lot of bills to pay.”
He said the “uncertainty” affects tourists directly and is worrying the hotel and tourist industry in Killarney. “It’s a confidence killer and places like Killarney are badly affected. Tourists need certainty. We need certainty.”
Meanwhile, Kerry third-level students returning from Dublin, Maynooth and Cork for the weekend were posting on social media seeking advice on how to get home. With exams and project deadline looming, many complained of the timing of the strike.