Minister for Transport Shane Ross will insist strongly again on Wednesday he will not intervene directly in the crisis at Bus Éireann which could bring significant parts of the public transport system to a halt next week.
In an address to the Oireachtas transport committee, Mr Ross is expected to reject assertions he is not doing enough to facilitate a resolution to the threatened strike at the company.
He will also dispute the suggestion that the crisis at the State-owned transport company stems from a policy failure of the Department of Transport.
Unions representing the 2,600 staff at Bus Éireann are to stage an indefinite all-out strike from next Monday in protest at the unilateral imposition by management of a controversial survival plan.
There are growing fears that the strike could spread to Dublin Bus and Iarnród Éireann.
A spokeswoman for the Independent Alliance said on Tuesday that Mr Ross had briefed the Cabinet and that his position had not changed. He would not be getting involved in the dispute at Bus Éireann.
One Minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr Ross had given a short briefing in which he acknowledged his position was a “tough” one.
However, Mr Ross told Cabinet colleagues there was still "a few days" in which the Workplace Relations Commission could become involved if the parties were willing.
Privately, however, many ministers believe Mr Ross’s position of non-involvement will not be tenable if the dispute escalates into a full-scale public transport strike.
“He doesn’t have to be directly involved. But there’s lots of things that he could be doing, that he’s not. Or at least if he is, he’s not telling us,” one Minister said.
Another Minister said: “There is a difference between not getting involved in the resolution of an industrial dispute and having no role at all.”
In his address to the Oireachtas committee, Mr Ross will say he has increased the amount of money made available for State-subsidised services operated by Bus Éireann and that he expects that there will be a “satisfactory” outcome to the a current examination of the funding of the free-travel scheme.
He will say the core issue to be addressed is “how to tackle the unsustainable losses on Expressway commercial services, which of course cannot be subsidised by the taxpayer”.
Mr Ross will say there have been calls for him “to intervene directly in internal matters” of the company.
“To do so would mean cutting across the role of not just the company but also trade unions in terms of agreeing work practices and terms and conditions,” he will say.
“I believe that the company and its employees are best placed to agree those types of issues and that external interference is unnecessary and unhelpful. Obviously I recognise that any such agreement will of course require flexibility and realism on both sides. “
Meanwhile the National Transport Authority (NTA) is to provide additional bus services on the Athlone to Westport route after Bus Éireann closes down its existing operation in the weeks ahead.
However, the NTA has said that, in other cases, there will be sufficient alternative public transport available to cater for demand and to provide connectivity after Bus Éireann withdraws from some services in the weeks ahead.
Bus Éireann will cease operating the X7 Dublin-Clonmel service on March 12th; the route 21, Athlone-Westport service on April 16th; and the route 33, Dublin-Derry service on May 28th.
Bus Éireann is also to reduce the frequency of services on its Dublin-Limerick and Dublin-Galway routes from March 12th.