Public transport could grind to a halt in the face of "an epidemic of antisocial behaviour" in the coming weeks and months.
Bus and rail workers have voted unanimously to walk off the job in the face of escalating antisocial behaviour all over the country. At the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) biennial conference in Cork, workers reported that robberies, threats, assaults and racist abuse are happening on an almost daily basis.
One speaker recalled a fire extinguisher being hurled throw the window of a bus, while a recent incident in Cork city saw a driver shot with a pellet gun.
Another said that a colleague had been threatened at knifepoint and forced to drive a passenger to Drogheda, while others said they were aware of an incident near Enniscorthy where a female driver had a tooth knocked out during an assault after a passenger had missed their stop.
"Enough is enough," was the message from union members, who described the management reaction as "pathetic".
"The next time there is a serious attack, there should be a complete stoppage of the transport network - bus and rail - to hammer home the message that we won't take this anymore," said Stephen Nugent, a Dublin-based NBRU member.
Tom O'Connor, an NBRU union rep, called for mandatory prison sentences for those who attack frontline workers, such as gardaí, paramedics and transport staff.
"Why should we be driving buses or trains in areas where these attacks happen," he said.
An emergency motion was tabled - and passed unanimously - calling for workers to curtail services in problem areas as of October 14, ahead of the Halloween period. However, NBRU Secretary General Dermot O'Leary warned that the union cannot guarantee that the full timetable will be met in the interim, with workers insisting that they will not serve areas where they face regular issues.
The NBRU reported 2,488 incidents of antisocial behaviour on Irish Rail services between 2013 and 2018, with reports escalating in the last two years, including 789 in 2018.
Mr O'Leary said:
The stories are frightening: open drug use - some of the services have become drug corridors, physical assaults on revenue protection personnel, train hosts, train drivers; right across the system, no area is immune.
He added that new measures, like CCTV or a text alert system, "will not matter a jot" as they are reactionary, not preventative, reiterating the union's call for a dedicated Garda transport police unit.
Mr O'Leary said that the issue is prevalent across the country.
"We have had serious assaults on drivers in Kildare, Navan, Drogheda, Bus Arás, issues in Loughrea, Cavan, Monaghan, the shocking pellet gun attack on a Bus Eireann driver here in Cork last week illustrates quite clearly the issues faced by frontline transport workers, on an almost daily basis," he said.
"We have had more than our fill of being fobbed off on this issue. There are absolutely no, and we mean no guarantees that the timetabled services of our transport companies will be met in full over the intervening period. Each incident from this day on might very well trigger a reaction from transport workers.
The level of antisocial behaviour and downright thuggery across our public transport system has reached epidemic proportions. We simply cannot, will not, stand idly by and allow it to continue unchecked.
Examples of anti-social behaviour
- March 2019, "30 youths" held the door of a DART open, delaying the train for 40 minutes. The driver was "threatened and verbally abused"
- January 2019, a female bus driver was the subject of "an attempted robbery" on the 302 in Limerick. It was the third such incident in three weeks
- November 2018, NBRU officials reported a series of incidents, including a driver being headbutted on the Galway-Dublin Expressway service, the robbery of a coin dispenser in Ashbourne and "serious assaults" on drivers on buses in Busaras and Kilcullen
- February 2016, a customer reported "a group of men were drinking heavily, snorting cocaine off the table and they were loud, rude and obnoxious on board."
- January 2016, gardaí had to remove a female passenger who branded a Stanley knife at other passengers
- On unspecified dates, NBRU members reported a fire extinguisher being thrown through a bus window, a staff member sustaining a broken hand and a concussion from an attack in Bus Áras, and multiple incidents of staff being targeted and robbed when returning cash dispensers to depots