Miriam Lord: Ross reports . . . but not about Bus Éireann report

Minister’s Cabinet briefing may have run to tale of derring-do on the number 44 bus

Minister for Transport Shane Ross: There remains another transportation peak to be conquered. It’s called Bus Éireann

Minister for Transport Shane Ross: There remains another transportation peak to be conquered. It’s called Bus Éireann

 

A full two weeks to the day since he took the south side omnibus into town, the Minister for Transport was sufficiently recovered to tell his Cabinet colleagues about his big adventure.

It had been an exhilarating experience for Shane Ross; the New Year equivalent of a rollercoaster ride in Funderland without having to fork out for the thrill. (He has a bus pass).

On that wondrous morning of January 3rd, Lord Ross single-handedly climbed his way through the still piquant tang of standing room only and triumphantly planted his person on the upper deck of a post-rush hour charabanc. Bear Grylls must be quaking in his crampons.

The adrenalin rush immediately forced Ross on to Twitter to brag about his bravery. “Travelling to work today on a wonderful 44 bus!” he exclaimed. “Bus is warm. Leap card great. Flew thro Stepaside, Sandyford, Dundrum and Milltown. One less car on road! Mind you 44 was almost empty.”

The Cabinet’s daredevil anthropologist threw in a selfie to prove he wasn’t sending out fake news. There was a man sitting a few rows back who may or may not have been the Minister’s driver. He might even have been an actual member of the public, which would explain Ross’s slightly terrified expression.

So don’t start saying the Minister for Transport doesn’t know his brief. He’s all over it. Of course, he undertook his daring odyssey on a Dublin bus.

But there remains another transportation peak to be conquered. It’s called Bus Éireann. And Lord Ross, aka Winston Churchtown, is running shy of it at the moment. Or maybe that conclusion is simply fake news. Who knows these days?

Where Winston is concerned, the Taoiseach, for one, affects not to know. A fact that seemed to give him much pleasure yesterday when the Dáil resumed business after the Christmas break.

A car crash

There was much talk of Brexit, or Wrecksit in the Fianna Fáil leader’s opinion. Micheál Martin likened the British prime minister’s outline of how her government intends to proceed in the matter of the UK exiting the EU to “a car crash”.

There was talk of the fall of the Northern Ireland Assembly – “too little, too late”, sighed Gerry Adams as he delivered a speech on the issue at Leaders’ Questions.

And, where the leader of the Labour Party was concerned, there was talk of public service pay. Because Brendan Howlin can scarcely talk of anything else.

Mercifully, if only for a short time, there wasn’t a mention of Trump.

Then there was Shane Ross. In this Government, there is always Ross. He provides the light relief, if little else.

Mick Barry of AAA-PBP was keen to know the state of play with Bus Éireann’s Expressway services in the light of a consultants’ report that the operation be shut down with the recommended axing of 500 jobs and the closure of 10 bus depots.

The Cork TD asked the Taoiseach what depots Grant Thornton recommend for closure. (We know the report was done by Grant Thornton because the Irish Times had the lowdown on it last week and the bus workers and their unions know about it and Opposition spokespeople are hawking copies of it around the place).

Now, in light of his recent On the Buses expedition, it must be conceded that Winston Churchtown is very much on top of his transport brief.

The Taoiseach reassured the nation of this in his reply to Barry.“Minister Ross briefed the Cabinet this morning on this matter,” said Enda.

Expressway situation

However, he must have confined his contribution to his tale of derring-do on the number 44 – when boarding the Mar y Celeste wouldn’t have been as frightening. Because he couldn’t tell them anything about the Expressway situation.

“He has not seen the report, he has not received the report, therefore he couldn’t read the report,” declared the Taoiseach with almost a straight face.

Everyone else in the chamber laughed.

“Every journalist in the gallery has a copy of the report. What you’re saying is not credible,” said Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy.

“The Minister must have made a very revealing presentation,” smirked Micheál Martin.

“It was a short Cabinet meeting,” concluded Timmy Dooley.

“Well, he hasn’t received it,” shrugged Enda, with a little smile.

If the Taoiseach believes that does that mean it isn’t fake news?

Anyway, he added, Bus Éireann is not a policy problem, but a commercial one.

Which means Ross and the Government are determined to ignore it, and the rural people who stand to be badly discommoded if routes are cut.

Barry was nonplussed. “I find it quite incredible that The Irish Times can publish the Grant Thornton report on its front page, Taoiseach, not one or two days ago but six days ago, and your Minister for Transport, six days on, hasn’t read a copy of the report.”

“Oh, but he hasn’t received it,” shrugged Enda, again with a grin.

Troy suggested Ross should use some of his journalist contacts.

Barry, like everyone else, wasn’t buying the Taoiseach’s excuse about his Minister. “He can’t get his hands on it. He searched high and he searched low. He searched the highways and the byways for the Grant Thornton report. But the poor old Minister can’t get his hands on a copy of it. Who do you think you’re codding?

Every tree

Enda appeared to be enjoying himself. “I thought you was going to say up every tree..,” he began, trailing off with a muttered “...in South Dublin.”

The AAA-PBP TD told the Taoiseach to tell his Minister to “get out there and get his hands on the Grant Thornton report. It’s not that difficult.”

“I did say that the Minister briefed the Cabinet this morning” repeated Enda.

“On what?” demanded Troy.

Dooley supplied an answer: “On his dinner last night.”

After Leaders’ Questions, Troy tweeted a photograph of the report and offered to send it to the Minister.

Micheál Martin was astonished by Enda’s candid admission that Ross didn’t see the report. Gerry Adams had a different take. “I note, Taoiseach, how you very skilfully hung your Transport Minister out to dry earlier on during Leaders’ Questions, once again.”

“I don’t know how the report gets leaked to one of the national papers, that’s fair enough, but the Minister did say from his knowledge of what might be in the report that it seems to be focusing more on elements other than specific routes,” said Enda, who sounds more like Bertie Ahern every day.

“So it’s a case of, eh, it’s a case of I’m not sure whether, when the company involved, the firm involved, completing the report whether they still hold on to it or how it was leaked to a national paper, but anyway . . . ”