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Transport (Córas Iompair Éireann and Subsidiary Companies Borrowings) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Continued)

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross] CIE, certainly two years ago, was rotten to the core. I do not know if it is unprecedented, but four auditors holding such strong reservations about it being a going concern should make us think twice about throwing €300 million in its direction and saying it is all right. In July because it hit a crisis the Minister, quite wrongly, said that yes, it was a basket case but it would be given another €36 million. Greatly to his credit, in October he said he would not give it the money because it was not up to scratch in terms of what it was doing.

We need an inquiry into the company. We need to know whether the €278 million it is now getting is really going to subventions. The accounts, which I have read, are very opaque and give little detail on the transfer of this money to particular routes. We need to know that the massive subvention is actually being spent on those routes that are not profitable and whether it should continue. We know very little about where these subventions go. We know that politicians are frightened of challenging them, which is understandable. We know that politicians are frightened of challenging public transport because they feel they are threatening a service that is serving the people in a necessary way. I am not opposed to subsidising services that are necessary. However, I am opposed to throwing money at a rotten company that has been found to be corrupt in the past three years unless we get an assurance that those practices are now over and that the cover-ups that were going on previously have now ended.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I have no problem with what Deputy Ross has said about the accountability of the board of CIE. In recent years many boards were abused through the cronyism of Fianna Fáil in putting its people on boards and there was little accountability of those boards. All boards should be accountable to committees of these Houses and there should be transparency in showing what happens to all money being put into the company. That is not a problem but it is a different argument from providing a public service in our communities and whether it should be run for profit. I believe Government has an obligation to provide that public service. To date the unions have co-operated to a point with the changes required with Dublin Bus's Network Direct project and they have tried to accommodate productivity increases on the cross-city routes. There were objections to many of those routes, particularly the No. 19 bus which went from my area in Inchicore over to Finglas, as Deputy Ellis mentioned, because of the effect they has on communities. The bus service is not there just to get people to and from work as if we human beings are just products of our labour. It also provides a service to get the elderly to go to shops, hospital, etc. It serves people with young children in prams getting from A to B and getting into town to do shopping. Public transport provides a very important social service. I will do all in my power to support such a service in our community.

  We also had a problem with the change to the No. 150 bus service. In the past three weeks Dublin Bus has again reduced the frequency, which has an impact on the level of service to the community. If a service becomes less regular, people tend not to use it as much. When the No. 150 bus came every ten minutes, I knew I could jump on it and get into town, to Crumlin hospital or up to the Ashleaf shopping centre. However, with a service every 20 minutes if that did not come, I could be waiting another 30 minutes for a bus. So the regularity of the service is very important. Any cutback in the service now will affect people's thinking in how they link in with their bus service around the city.

  I contacted some union members in Dublin Bus who wanted me to make a particular point. The reason this Bill is before the House is the reduction in subvention to CIE by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, and his flip-flop decision on emergency funding until hard-pressed staff subsidise public transport with cuts in their terms and conditions. With one of the lowest subvention levels in Europe, the loss of the rebate in excise duty on fuel and recently Dublin Bus being forced to pick up a €5 million tab for the introduction of the Leap card, the two public transport bus companies are in a no-win situation against multinational and indigenous for-profit private operators. The Minister has let his own personal feeling be known in many interviews most recently in the Sunday Independent on 2 December. He advocates privatisation and is doing it by stealth.

  Dublin commuters faced an average increase in Dublin Bus fares of 17% at the same time as staff members are being squeezed with draconian cuts in their terms and conditions by Dublin Bus management. The latest round of cost cutting is on top of €58 million in annualised cuts already given by staff since 2009. The current negotiations the Minister mentioned in his speech have severe impacts for the workers. They include cuts in conditions and pay so severe that it is proposed new drivers will start on contracts that would mean they work late only at weekends for a basic pay of €10.18 per hour, which is only €1.53 per hour above the minimum wage, this for a driver of a large public service vehicle in a safety-critical job. These buses carry hundreds of passengers every day and because of Government actions, the proposed pay for new entrants is less than a burger flipper in McDonalds.

  CIE has issued an ultimatum to staff that from 1 January no sick pay will be paid for the first three days of illness. Such conditions belong in 19th century Victorian workhouses, not in 21st century Dublin. What is proposed by Dublin Bus management is akin to industrial apartheid. This whole process is being given a legitimate air by the recent public consultation process announced by the National Transport Authority. This follows on from the same process in 2006. While this particular process predated the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 and the formation of the DTA - later to become the National Transport Authority - the union's primary concerns of employment sustainability and public transport provision remain at the top of its agenda in responding to issues such as the 2014 public bus service contracts.

  The focus of the 2006 discussions with the Department was twofold - the maintenance of the existing Dublin Bus fleet network and its ability to be competitive in a future market expansion. The unions were assured by the Department, during both the lead-in period and in the aftermath of the implementation of the legislation giving the DTA its remit to licence public transport operators, that its concerns were addressed by the inclusion in the legislation of the "direct award" clause with regard to the existing services and network of both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. The compensation element of the direct award under section 52 of the Act is consistent with and complies with Regulation (EC) No. 1370/2007.

  The unions were given to understand that the recent route changes within the network of both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann was conducted in co-operation with the NTA and underpinned by a report commissioned by the previous Minister. This report by Deloitte acknowledged that both companies' performance in terms of efficiency ranked among the highest in the EU and that the level of subsidy to both companies is among the lowest in the EU. The report found that the PSO funding received by Bus Éireann is 12% of total revenue. This compares with Connexxion in Holland which gets at 49% of revenue, Post Auto in Switzerland which gets 51% and TEC in Belgium which gets 78%.

  Any proposal that would effectively lead to a defragmentation of the networks would serve to contradict the principle of providing separate and distinct processes and procedures for public service obligation contracts and licences issued for commercial public bus services leading to a blurring of the line between a public transport imperative and one based on ideological grounds. In this regard the recent admission by the Minister that the Government was powerless to block slots owned by Aer Lingus at Heathrow being used for routes other than to Ireland is a salient reminder to those whose ideology blinds them to the potential repercussions of the loss of vital State infrastructure.

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