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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith] There is a crisis in the company. I will not stand here and deny there is a deficit and a crisis. However, it is not a crisis like a volcanic eruption in Iceland or a storm hitting the west coast of Ireland. It is not a force of nature. It is a crisis created by this and previous Governments, and I will stand over that statement. The National Transport Authority, for which the Taoiseach's Cabinet has responsibility, has deliberately swamped the main bus routes between the cities, such as Dublin-Limerick, Dublin-Cork, Dublin-Galway etc., with private operators. It has over-licensed beyond capacity and beyond 100% of what is needed.

At the same time, this Government and the previous one have consistently cut the subsidy to Bus Éireann. The subsidy Bus Éireann gets as a public transport company is 12%. Guess how much public transport receives by way of subsidy in Belgium. In Belgium, a subsidy of 78% is allocated to run public transport. The figure for Holland is 49%. Ireland gives its public transport companies a lower subsidy than do most developed European countries. In addition, we subsidise a social function of the transport sector to allow for free travel. I have a letter here from the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, which clearly shows we give to the private operators a subsidy of 70% for that free travel and 40% to Bus Éireann. This is not a level playing field.

The crisis in Bus Éireann has been manufactured consistently and continually by this Government and the previous one. Then there is the extraordinary situation of a Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who is on a multiple of the wages of these people who work hard day in, day out, saying a national transport strike is nothing to do with him. He is the Minister with responsibility for transport but says he will not intervene in a national transport strike.

I have two questions for the Taoiseach. I ask him to explain that last position. How does his Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport not have anything to do with a national transport strike? Can the Taoiseach justify a cut of 30% to the wages of the people whose earnings I have just described?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny It is important to note that the trade unions and the management of Bus Éireann - both sides - have publicly acknowledged that there are efficiency issues in Bus Éireann. This is precisely why the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, is still available for talks to resolve the dispute. It will not be resolved on the streets. It will only be resolved around the table, where all strikes are resolved. This is exactly the opportunity to sort out the dispute which the Minister, Deputy Ross, has identified on so many occasions.

I understand Deputy Smith's legitimate comment about the drivers and those who work for Bus Éireann. Last year, the taxpayer provided €230 million to Bus Éireann across the public service obligation, PSO, scheme, the free travel scheme, the capital and the school transport funding programmes, and that is a significant amount of money which has been increasing over recent years. Funding for the public service obligation units has increased over the past two budgets, but subvention is provided only for the PSO services. It cannot, by law, be provided for a commercial service such as Expressway, and this is where the difficulty is. This is a dispute within Bus Éireann involving, among other matters, the commercial Expressway service. One union has announced it will ballot members in other companies which are not party to this dispute. I hope that does not happen because the opportunity remains for the unions and the management of Bus Éireann to get together. The Minister, Deputy Ross, is playing his part-----

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger What is he doing?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny -----by increasing PSO funding. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, is doing his by examining the funding of the free travel scheme.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Next year.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Where the Minister, Deputy Ross, can act and where it is appropriate to do so, he has done so.

Realistic negotiations between management and the unions are required to solve these internal issues, and that opportunity is available to them at the WRC. Very many people are inconvenienced by the dispute. It is causing much stress for people who have lost access to any public transport at all in many areas of the country. The point has been made that the resolution of and solution to the dispute is at the table of the WRC. Both sides have admitted that there are efficiency issues to be addressed. Both sides should have the courage to go back to the table again and attempt to resolve any differences in the consideration of these efficiencies. That is where the solution lies. Obviously, the Government is very interested to see that the strike should end and that people should be able again to avail of the services Bus Éireann provides, which is what the company does best. Those services need to be provided in such a way that the issue of the loss-making Expressway entity is dealt with. The WRC is the place to deal with the matter.

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