On Tuesday, I asked Minister Noonan about concerns that a quarter of Ireland’s large national debt will have to be re-financed in a very tight timeframe in 2019/2020. Later that evening I spoke in a Topical Issues Debate on the Bus Éireann dispute and strongly called on Minister Ross to get involved to reach a fair settlement for the 2,600 workers and 100,000 commuters badly affected. In a Dáil Brexit debate, I called for a direct Irish presence in the EU/UK Brexit negotiations given the vital importance of the Common Travel Area to all of Ireland and of the East/West business, social and cultural connections with Britain.
The Minister’s performance on this issue has been appalling and very disappointing. He is clearly a party to what will happen to public transport in the future because he is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. He is the Minister. He seems to have forgotten that simple fact. He has been prepared to allow 100,000 people to wait morning after morning for this strike to be resolved and for 2,600 workers to have their pay and conditions slashed by 30% or more with threats to hundreds of jobs. He has sat there doing nothing like a hurler on the ditch or like a journalist observing things rather than taking action. He is a party to this; there is no question.
As President Trump might say, it is so ironic that the motion has been tabled by Fianna Fáil, given that it played a huge role in the race to the bottom in public transport, beginning with the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 which the Minister will remember. A number of us argued about the dangers we see today in an incredible and vicious assault on the drivers and other staff of Bus Éireann through cuts of more than 30%. Bus Éireann has pumped a lot of its money, €41 million, into the commercial operation because of the fact that PSO funding has been slashed by 60% since 2009. The Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil Government was totally responsible for this. It slashed PSO funding and refused to fund public transport. If we look across Europe, as the Minister knows, there are many brilliant public transport systems, from Spain to the Netherlands and across to eastern Europe, where up to 90% of the costs are subsidised by the state.
Tomorrow is International Workers’ Day and it is astonishing that a Government with Labour Ministers would have countenanced the privatisation of significant portions of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann networks. The stonewalling of the NBRU and SIPTU by Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and his colleagues has brought us to the awful situation where between 400,000 and 450,000 bus commuters will be left with no bus transport tomorrow and Saturday. Some 93% of workers with Dublin Bus and 95% of Bus Éireann staff felt they had no choice a few weeks ago but to vote for strike action. We have just had a news flash that the strike is going ahead, which is very disappointing. We welcomed that there was some engagement at the Labour Relations Commission.
In Dáil Éireann today, Deputy Tommy Broughan criticised the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohue, for abandoning seven months of negotiations with the National Bus and Railworker’s Union (NBRU) and SIPTU, leaving their members with no choice but to call industrial action on International Workers’ Day.