Calls were made on Thursday night for a moratorium on Bus Éireann's decision to end three Expressway services, starting with the Dublin to Clonmel route which is scheduled to cease on March 12th.
There was anger at a Save Our Bus meeting in Clonmel organised by the National Bus and Railworkers’ Union (NBRU) over the decision to close down the service, known as X7, which runs 112 times a week between the town and Dublin, stopping along the way, including at Kilkenny and Callan.
More than 100 people attended the meeting, including a significant number of bus drivers. Concerns were expressed about the impact the closure will have on people travelling for work and college as well as those travelling for other reasons such as medical appointments or visiting family members.
NBRU general-secretary Dermot O’Leary said “a moratorium is the first thing that needs to happen” in relation to the proposed closure.
Other routes slated for shutdown by Bus Éireann, which has taken to decision to stem losses at the company, are the Dublin to Westport and Dublin to Derry services.
There was severe criticism of the National Transport Authority (NTA) from a number of speakers at the meeting, as well as criticism of Minister for Transport Shane Ross's repeated insistence that he will not intervene in industrial relations between Bus Éireann and its staff.
“We need action, not words,” Independent TD Mattie McGrath said. “We need to get rid of the NTA.”
Other politicians present included Independent TDs for Tipperary Séamus Healy and Michael Lowry, Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill and Sinn Féin TD for Carlow-Kilkenny Kathleen Funchion, as well as several county councillors.
NBRU president John Moloney called for dialogue between Bus Éireann and the union to prevent the indefinite strike due to start on Monday.
“That is all we’re looking for here, just to sit down in an organised fashion and have a bit of dialogue and a bit of common sense and sort out this problem. . . They say the economy is growing, we don’t see it down here. People are going to require extra public services, it is not a time to cut public services.”
Some speakers mentioned the money pumped into “the banks” by the Government in recent years, calling for funding to be diverted towards public transport, while bus-driver’s son Dermot O’Donovan said the Minister should be trying to promote bus and train travel.
“Get people out of the cars and into the buses and keep the fares low. Minister Ross has to give an explanation,” he said.
Bus driver Mark Fitzgerald said the bus service has been in decline for several years. "There's a big windscreen at the front of the bus and through that windscreen we've watched the demise of rural Ireland since 2009."
Echoing Mr O’Leary’s prediction of “contagion” from other unions if the strike goes ahead from Monday, Mr Fitzgerald said “we have sister unions chomping at the bit” and said people are “pissed off” by cuts to the service.
He referred to sections of the community such as elderly people, students and people who need to travel for medical appointments, who use the bus. “I won’t apologise for going out to fight for senior citizens.”
Until now, the X7 service has run eight times a day in each direction, with the first service from Clonmel station moving off at 2.35am and the last at 6.35pm.
From Dublin, the opening service to Clonmel leaves the airport at 6.45am and the last leaves Busáras at 10.30pm, with the rest all taking in Busáras on their way.
The regular fare is currently just over €9 for a single journey, when bought online.
Private operator JJ Kavanagh and Sons has been running a service from Clonmel to Dublin for several years and the company now has seven departure times from the Co Tipperary town every week day, starting at 1.30am each day and concluding with a 5pm service.