Bus strike: ‘If somebody couldn’t get from Dundrum to Dalkey there’d be war’

A fortnight into the dispute, stranded Bus Éireann passengers say Dubliners don’t realise the importance of the service outside the city

Bus Éireann strike: “It has been a bit of an upheaval,” says Tara Cotter, mother of Lily, James, Olivia and Ella. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Bus Éireann strike: “It has been a bit of an upheaval,” says Tara Cotter, mother of Lily, James, Olivia and Ella. Photograph: Emma Jervis

 

David Williams has watched over the past fortnight as the effects of the Bus Éireann strike have rippled to the tip of the Mizen Peninsula, in Co Cork.

Most immediately for Williams and his wife, Mary Anne, their daughter, Isabella, finds it hard to make it home at weekends from Cork city, 125km away, where she studies art. But more importantly, he says, the dispute has left locals struggling to get to work and made it hard for pensioners to reach their GPs and pharmacies.

“The bus goes to Cork, but it’s also a link for people in Goleen going into Schull, where you have the nearest primary-care centre and the nearest pharmacy,” says Williams, a carpenter. “The bus is the primary mode of transport for people living in these peninsula areas. They cannot move anywhere without it.”

Williams says that people in Dublin, the city where he was born, are taking little interest in the strike as “they have a misguided view of the company’s service. For them Bus Éireann equates to nothing more than an intercity express service.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross: “He and the powers that be don’t seem to realise that Bus Éireann is the primary public-transport link for towns and villages all over Ireland.” Photograph: Alan Betson
Minister for Transport Shane Ross: “He and the powers that be don’t seem to realise that Bus Éireann is the primary public-transport link for towns and villages all over Ireland.” Photograph: Alan Betson
The way Shane Ross has responded to all of this is almost like Marie Antoinette: ‘Let them take Aircoach’

“And the way the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, has responded to all of this is almost akin to Marie Antoinette: ‘Let them take Aircoach.’ He and the powers that be don’t seem to realise that it’s the primary public-transport link for towns and villages all over Ireland, ” he says. “If this was in Dublin it would have been sorted ages ago.

“If somebody couldn’t get from Dundrum to Dalkey there would be war, but instead, because it’s down the country, all we are getting is inertia. It’s as if rural Ireland is just for John Hinde postcards and holidays.”

Strike’s grinding routine

For another west Cork couple the Easter holidays cannot come quickly enough, to end, at least temporarily, the grinding routine imposed by the strike.

JJ and Tara Cotter live in Baltimore with four of their five children. Their youngest, 10-year-old Lilly, is unaffected, as she’s at primary school. But it has been a different story for 17-year-old James, 16-year-old Olivia and 14-year-old Ella, who are students at Skibbereen Community School, 15km away. Until Bus Éireann’s drivers began their action they had been commuting by bus.

“All three would normally get the regular service from Baltimore at 8.20am,” Tara Cotter says. “It drops them at the school door in Skib at 8.50am, and they get it home in the evening. For the past two weeks my husband and myself have had to drive them in and collect them. Family and friends are helping out, because we are both working.

“I work at Aldi in Skibbereen. I’m trying to swap shifts so I can bring them or collect them. They would normally get up at 7.30am, but we’re having to get them up a lot earlier, and it has been a bit of an upheaval.”

She counts her blessings where she can. None of the children is in an exam year. Nor do they live on Sherkin Island, which sits off Baltimore, and from where they would first have to catch a boat to the village before trying to organise a lift.

We have paid €650 for a family school bus ticket for the three children, and we haven’t had that service

“Children can get stressed enough over exams, so this would only add to that – plus, of course, we have paid €650 for a family [bus] ticket for the three children to take them to school, and we haven’t had that service.

“Bus Éireann should organise some alternative for people who have prepaid tickets. There are a lot of families all over the country thrown out of whack over this.”

But she has sympathy for the strikers. “I don’t blame the bus drivers. They are holding fast on this. If somebody cut my wages by €140 a week I’d be kicking up a fuss, too. But unions and management need to get it sorted out soon.”

“I can’t be trekking back up to Cork”

The strike has also forced earlier starts for Fionuala Ronan. She now carpools with her sister, Sheila, so that they and Ronan’s daughter, Sadbh, can get from Bandon to work and college in Cork city.

The mother of three used to get the 8.15am bus to be at Bishopstown Library, in Wilton Shopping Centre, by 8.50am. Now she has to leave home at 7.30am.

Ronan says that her daughter has to come home with them each day, rather than staying on to study in the library at Cork Institute of Technology, “because I can’t be trekking back up to collect her after coming home”.

Bus Éireann dispute: striking drivers listen to Dermot O’Leary of the National Bus & Rail Union. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Bus Éireann dispute: striking drivers listen to Dermot O’Leary of the National Bus & Rail Union. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

But ultimately, Ronan says, it’s an inconvenience. Like Tara Cotter, she has sympathy for the Bus Éireann drivers. “I’d know them all from getting the bus for the last 14 years, and they are always courteous and very accommodating. They’ve rarely let us down.”