Bus strike: ‘I am so angry. I’ve worked the last four nights and I want to go home’
Among thousands left stranded were Ireland fans travelling to World Cup qualifer
Claire O’Brien from Ballinlough, Cork with her son Conor attempting to travel to Dublin for the soccer international, at Kent Train Station, Cork during industrial action halting services. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Bus Éireann strike at Cork City bus station at Parnell Place, Cork. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Dr Philip Kavanagh had just finished a 12 hour night shift in the Emergency Department of Sligo University Hospital and was tired when he arrived at the local train station on Friday morning.
There were pickets in front of the bus station and cars honked regularly in support of the striking drivers, but Dr Kavanagh who was heading to his Dublin home, was seething when he discovered that trains had also been cancelled.
“I am so angry,” said the 35 year old. “I have worked for the last four nights in A&E and all I want is to go home to bed. I am so pissed off. I am a doctor and if I went on strike what then?”
Dr Kavanagh was among a continuous trickle of passengers, many of them in Ireland jerseys heading for World Cup qualifier with Wales, who were caught unawares by the lack of train services.
In the almost deserted train station car park a teenage girl sat on the ground beside her luggage and wept quietly. Two tourists from Portland, Oregon were stoic as they tried to find information about private bus timetables and reflected that transport disruption was commonplace now in the US.
Leonie Leonard, a student at IT Sligo was upset as she was making the long journey to Cork where her grandfather has been admitted to hospital and was supposed to get a train to Longford.
“My grandfather was rushed to hospital yesterday in Cork and I was supposed to meet my mother in Longford and drive down there,” she explained. “I knew there was a bus strike but though I could get a train at 9am. Now my mother is going to drive here to pick me up and I think it will take us about five hours to get to Cork.”
Pressed on her attitude to the striking drives she said: “To be fair I don’t know too much about it but they are entitled to go on strike. I can hear a lot of people beeping horns in support of them all morning.”
Dr Kavanagh said he too understood that people have a right to strike but “ not when other people depend on their services.
“I am really tired and I am annoyed and I wonder when people are on the picket line how they can negotiate. I think it’s too easy to go on strike.”
Shane Kelly (21) from Donegal town was heading to the Ireland game and was stunned to find trains were not running. “I am meeting up with friends – we have been planning this for months.
“It is a bit of a pain. I will have to bite the bullet now and drive to Dublin,” said the IT Sligo student.
Micki Murray from Strandhill another soccer fan heading to the Aviva stadium, was mostly annoyed with Irish Rail.
“We checked and they said there would be no disruption to services. I think we were misled.”
NBRU officials Damian Healy and Alastair Kee who were on the picket line at Sligo bus station said they would be happier to be working but felt they had no choice. Kee said they had not anticipated that train drivers would refuse to pass the picket but many workers were realising that “nobody is safe”.
In Cork, thousands of commuters were similarly left stranded as all bus services in the city were cancelled and train services were also lost when rail workers came out in solidarity.
About 350 members of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) and Siptu mounted pickets at bus depots at the main bus terminal at the City Parnell Place and the main bus depot at Capwell resulting in the cancellation of approximately 55 city commuter, provincial and expressway services.
‘Not a petty strike’
According to Stephen McKelvey of the NBRU, the only bus services operating out of Cork this morning were some 120 or so school transport services collecting primary and secondary school pupils mainly in rural areas with all city based services suspended.
“Who wants a strike - nobody does really. We thought these days were behind us but this is going for 18 months - we don’t want to be here but we are left with no other option.
“This is not a petty strike over €10 or €20 a week - this is a serious strike - people are losing €140 a between Sunday pay, shift pay bank holidays payments.”
Among those Cork commuters affected by the bus strike was hotel worker, Paddy Sinnott from Blackpool who was waiting to meet up with some work colleagues to share a taxi from the bus office at Parnell Place to the hotel at the airport.
“I would usually have been able to get a bus in and another bus to the airport but getting a taxi is going to cost €20 and I can barely afford that,” he said.
Also left stranded was Renee Palma, originally from Sicily but living now in Cork city and trying to make her way to Charleville in North Cork where she was due to start work in her job as a credit controller at Kerry Group at 8.30am.
“I’ll have to ring in and tell them I am taking a day off but if the strike goes on I will have to check if there is somebody travelling from Cork that could give me a lift or maybe some of my colleagues at work might be able to offer me a room because a taxi to Charleville would be really expensive,” she said.
Kent Railway Station workers came out in solidarity with their bus worker colleagues resulting in the cancellation of all mainline intercity and commuter services out of Cork.
Among those affected was senior counsel, Michael McGrath, who was aware of the bus strike and had planned to catch a train instead to Dublin where he was due to appear in a High Court case at the Four Courts at 11am.
“I knew that there was going to be a bus strike so I decided to get a train,” he said.
“ I understood it was confined to buses and didn’t think it was going to affect trains but it’s very frustrating to be stranded like this.”
Also stranded were American friends, Nick Jones, Joseph, Gruenbaum and Benjamin Boggs from Kansas City Missouri who were planning to catch an early morning train from Cork in order to make their 1pm flight from Dublin to Newark in the US.
Nick said: “We came over to Ireland on vacation for St Patrick’s Day celebrations - we came down to Cork and loved it here but we have discovered 10 minutes that the trains aren’t running- we had seen the news yesterday about a bus strike but we didn’t know anything about the trains.
“Our flight to Newark is at 1pm so it’s going to be very tight but hopefully we will make it.”
NBRU president John Moloney, a bus worker, was outside Kent Station talking to around 50 or so NBRU and Siptu train drivers, and other railway staff who had decided to come out in solidarity with their bus worker colleagues.
“This is not a shared depot so there is no picket here by bus workers - it’s just that the rail workers see what is happening in Bus Éireann and the challenges Bus Éireann staff are facing now, it’s quite obvious that they are going to be next,” he said.
It was a similar story in Limerick where Michael and Pauline Treacy, from Cummer, Tuam, Co Galway, arrived at Colbert Station expecting to get a train home following an overnight break in the city. However, with no trains or buses running, an eery silence was all they found.
“We were told that some of the rail services were operating,” said Mr Treacy, looking visibly dejected.
“Last night we were watching the television and saw that there were no bus services. We got a taxi in here this morning, and here we are... It’s a disaster, a disaster.”
“Now we don’t know how to get back (home); we can’t get a bus, we can’t get a train; we can’t get anything.”
His wife Pauline, quipped: “There’s nothing out of here (Colbert Station) unless we walk to Galway.”
Ryan Maher, a University of Limerick student who works at weekends in his family’s hotel in Clifden, Co Galway, was counting himself lucky that he found alternative transport.
“I was incredibly fortunate that a friend of mine, who doesn’t usually go home on the weekends, happened to be driving home. By pure chance, she had space in her car. If it wasn’t for this, I would most likely have been stranded in Limerick,” he explained.
Expressing strong feelings about the transport strike, fellow student, Caoimhin Reilly said: “I have to go home every weekend for a variety of reasons - homesickness, work and to play football.
“Financially it’s cheaper for me to go home every weekend and for this to be taken away by the people in charge, who have never had to rely on public transport, is shameful. They have to consider that it’s my life they’re putting on hold.”
University College Dublin student Lucy Nyland pointed out that most students had little choice when it came to public transport
The running costs of a car were too high for most students, she said, adding that the lack of public transport “makes everything that little bit harder for young people living away from home for the first time”.
In Kerry, train personnel similarly refused to pass pickets in the shared Bus Éireann/Iarnród Éireann station and yard in Tralee.
Third level students planning to return to Kerry from colleges in Dublin, Maynooth and Cork were posting on social media seeking advice on how to get home. With exams and project deadlines looming, many complained of the timing of the strike.