Rail strike: Ministers in flight of fancy

THE dispute between the country’s rail unions and Irish Rail shows no sign whatsoever of being moved towards a settlement: the unions — four of them — have started their one-day strike programmes, and warned that they are thinking about action that will close the network during the Christmas and new year holidays. And there’s talk of walk-outs hitting bus services early in the new year.

It looks depressingly like a contest in which neither side has the space in which to make the give-and-take concessions needed for a satisfactory resolution. Rail users, meanwhile, look on from the sidelines, changing their plans — if they can — and looking for alternatives on increasingly busy roads. They might, not unreasonably, turn to the Government, which owns Irish Rail.

This, in fact, is what the unions did a couple of months ago, when Siptu urged transport minister Shane Ross to intervene. “Our members . . . are calling upon him to use the
current window of opportunity to work towards preventing another round of avoidable travel chaos” said a spokesman

Call they did, but answer came there none from Mr Ross, who took the view that the Government could not act once industrial action was under way. That window of opportunity being left unused, we’re now seeing Irish Rail damaged, the public inconvenienced, and rail workers losing pay.

What, it’s once again reasonable to ask, have government ministers been doing to help both sides get Irish Rail back on the road to recovery? Independent Alliance ministers, Mr Ross among them, have been devising a plan to put Ireland on the international map as a peacemaker between North Korea and the United States, thus saving the world from a nuclear catastrophe. This is not Fake News; we have checked. Training and Skills minister John Halligan has written to North Korea’s London embassy, saying that he and some ministerial colleagues, Mr Ross among them, would like, if at all possible, to meet Kim Jong-un early next year in January or February to see if they could assist in ending the dispute between North Korea and the rest of the planet.

Now, there are around the world more than a few high tension zones in which Irish governments would be well placed, given this country’s history and experience, to help with successful mediation. Ireland’s Alliance ministers also have an advantage in that because they do not represent a traditional political group lumbered with a cohesive ideology, they can come up with fresh and imaginative propositions. But their North Korean stunt is, clearly, a fresh and imaginative leap into a fantasy world, one in which Kim Jong-un doesn’t need to be told where Ireland is and worries frequently about the view we take of the world. Like Stalin, he will ask: how many divisions do they have.

Leo Varadkar must have word with Mr Ross and his mates; they are in need of advice. Try something less ambitious, such as the Israel-Palestine problem, or the simmering China-Japan dispute over eight uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Or much, much better still, get Irish Rail sorted out.


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