Dedicated police force for public transport not needed, says Ryan

Unions threaten strike action over anti-social behaviour on bus and rail services

Minister for Transport  Ryan indicated his support for this stance on Friday as he described the issue as a ‘real social, societal problem we have’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Transport Ryan indicated his support for this stance on Friday as he described the issue as a ‘real social, societal problem we have’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has said he does not see the need for a dedicated police force for public transport despite unions threatening strike action over anti-social behaviour on bus and rail services.

An Garda Síochána has historically argued that existing policing strategies and allocations are the correct way of addressing such issue and it is understood that position is unlikely to change despite the concerns of drivers.

Mr Ryan indicated his support for this stance on Friday as he described the issue as a “real social, societal problem we have”.

“The gardaí are the best advisers on this because they have the critical role in policing public order, and their recommendation is to double down and continue what’s already happening,” Mr Ryan said.

“Some people say whether you can have a separate police force, I don’t think that’s the way to go, I think it’s doubling down on what the Guards are recommending and what the Guards are doing with Irish Rail is the right way of addressing this issue.”

Members of the National Bus and Rail Drivers Union (NBRU) are to vote on industrial action over anti-social behaviour, which the union has warned has progressed to being “downright thuggery which has now gone well beyond a tipping point”.

Irish Rail staff this week told The Irish Times they have witnessed open drug taking, drug dealing, fighting and intimidatory behaviour virtually every day on train services.

A Department of Transport spokeswoman said recent interventions “were having an impact on antisocial behaviour”. She said in June and July a total of 2,852 fixed penalty notices were issued for fare evasion and that there has been “a noticeable increase in compliance and corresponding reduction in antisocial behaviour”.

Mr Ryan said a situation had to be avoided where staff and train users were afraid to use services.

“We do have to respond to that, we have to make sure that it is safe on a train, not just for the drivers and the station masters and all the other people involved, but for the customers, for the person,” he told reporters in Co Wicklow on Friday. “But the Guards are best to advise on this and their recommendation is that it would not make sense to have a separate police force – they’re well placed to help Irish Rail in it.”

Security budget

Mr Ryan said there had been “a significant increase” in the budget for security on the rail system, which had risen from about €3.2 million to €5.7 million in the last four years.

It has emerged that rail safety advisers nearly a decade ago urged the then government to introduce a system of sanctions in the event of misbehaviour on trains by people who hold free travel passes from the Department of Social Protection.

In a letter to senior management in the department in October 2012, the Rail Safety Advisory Council said it had become apparent from discussions with operators and staff “that a disproportionate amount of these incidents [of anti-social behaviour] involve working age holders of Department of Social Protection passes who seem to be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol”.

“An obstacle to the combatting of such behaviours is that the powers to confiscate passes contained in the department’s operational guidelines are purely temporary,” it said.

The council, which is appointed by the Minister for Transport and considers and makes recommendations on safety issues, proposed that a system of sanctions be applied in the event of misbehaviour by pass holders, including the suspension of the pass if required.

The department said in reply that the free pass scheme operated on a non-statutory basis and it was limited in the action it could take in the context of passes that were confiscated.

It said on Friday night that, at meetings with the council, no evidence had been provided of the claims that a disproportionate amount of anti-social behaviour on trains and trams involved people of working age who had a travel pass.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Friday said public transport workers deserved to be protected and that Government would engage with gardaí on how best to do so.

“We are always concerned about anti social behaviour, no matter where it manifests itself. But particularly on public transport, because we owe a lot to our public transport workers,” he said.

Mr Martin said the aim was to have more people use public transport in future.

“In the meantime, I would appeal to the public to be supportive of drivers and of staff on our trains and buses, and to those who may engage to desist in that anti-social behaviour.”