Ross refuses to directly intervene in Bus Éireann dispute
Taoiseach backs Minister for Transport, who denies not doing enough to solve crisis at company
Minister for Transport Shane Ross has again insisted he will not become involved directly in the dispute at Bus Éireann. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Transport Shane Ross has again insisted he will not get directly involved in the ongoing dispute at Bus Éireann.
During a sitting of the Oireachtas transport committee on Wednesday, Mr Ross rejected any suggestion that he was not doing enough to settle the crisis at the company, which has warned it is facing insolvency.
He said he had been “extraordinarily active” on the issue of Bus Éireann but would not be been intervening in an industrial relations dispute.
Staff at the State-owned bus company are scheduled to stage an indefinite all-out strike from Monday in protest at moves by management to introduce a survival plan without agreement.
Mr Ross told the committee he had increased funding for State-subsidised routes operated by Bus Éireann.
He also indicated that a “satisfactory” outcome would emerge from a review of funding for the free travel scheme which was currently underway.
Mr Ross urged unions and management to go back into negotiations without preconditions.
He said it would be “ absolutely wrong” for him to get involved in a matter that was with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
“What I don’t see from people calling for my intervention is what my intervention will do,” he said. “I see it as a distraction and it would be a signal that I will come to this industrial relations battle with money to offer...I don’t have money to offer.”
‘Industrial relations matter’
Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil on Wednesday that he supported Mr Ross’ approach to the dispute and insisted it was “an industrial relations matter”.
He called on management and the company’s unions to go to the WRC to find a way to avoid the strike, which is expected to start on Monday.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said tens of thousands of people would be affected by the strike if it went ahead on Monday and it would take buses off regional routes.
Mr Howlin acknowledged that “the involvement of a Minister does not always bring matters to a conclusion” but said it can help to “move matters in the proper direction”.
“We now have a Minister for Transport who simply will not engage. Apparently he is waiting for a solution to fall from the sky. That won’t happen.”
Mr Kenny acknowledged there was no solution dropping out of the sky, but he said the Minister strongly supported management and unions going to the WRC to “work out a solution for the nub of the issue” which was a daily loss of income for the company.
Mr Ross replied: “If you don’t have confidence, then you should be asking me to stay out of the dispute...Let’s have a few suggestions from you about why I should intervene and what I should do.”
Mr Ross strongly rejected any suggestion that he favoured Bus Éireann adopting a very low cost employment model and said “privatisation is not part of the agenda”.
Mr Ross said that while he had responsibilities as the shareholder of Bus Éireann, it was the role of the company’s management to manage.
He said the core issue at Bus Éireann that had to be resolved was “how to tackle the unsustainable losses on Expressway commercial services, which of course cannot be subsidised by the taxpayer”.