Wednesday, 15 December 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Sargent: Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Ba mhaith liom ar dtús mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leatsa agus leis an Ceann Comhairle as an deis a thabhairt dom faoin Standing Order 31 deireanach den mhílaois seo an cheist thábhachtach seo a ardú. Is ceist í atá cur isteach ar go leor daoine. Is mian liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Ó Caoláin, Yates, Olivia Mitchell, Stagg agus an tAire O'Rourke.
 D'ardaigh mé ceist an iarnróid de bharr an stailc a d'fhág 30,000 duine i bponc ar maidin. Tá mé anseo ar son na ndaoine sin agus ar son go leor daoine eile atá mí-shásta le staid an chórais iompair phoiblí sa tír seo. Tá mé ag caint ar son na ndaoine atá ag obair ann chomh maith leis na custaiméirí.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Kirk): Just to clarify the speaking arrangements, we are due to adjourn at 10.30 p.m. The normal procedure is that the Minister is allowed 20 minutes. The Deputy is not sharing his time with the Minister. She has speaking time in her own right. To recap on the arrangements, the Deputy is sharing time with?
Mr. Sargent: Dár ndóigh cuirim fáilte roimh an cinneadh a tógadh níos luaithe inniu chun an stailc a chur ar athló ach ní leigheas é sin. Tá go leor imní ar dhaoine. Dála an scéal, an féidir liom a chinniú go bhfuil an córas aistriúcháin ag obair? Ní chloisim é.
Mr. Sargent: Ní leigheas ar an scéal an cinneadh seo mar tá imní ar dhaoine fós roimh an Nollaig agus taréis na Nollag. Tá imní orthu nach mbeidh socrú ann ach le cúnamh Dé beidh socrú ann. Tá imní ar dhaoine freisin nach leor an  tseirbhís atá ar fáil pé scéal é is cuma stailc a bheith ann nó gan é a bheith ann. Creidim féin gur toradh é an stailc seo ar dhrochbhainistíocht in áiteanna. Ní maith liom é sin a rá. Is toradh é an stailc ar cheardchumainn mífhreagracha agus ní maith liom é sin a rá ach oiread. Is toradh é chomh maith ar rud ar a thug Joe Meagher, an Chief Executive ar Iarnród Éireann, “repercussion of sustained under-investment”. Baineann sin leis an Rialtas seo agus le Rialtais roimhe seo.
Léirigh an stailc rud amháin thar rud ar bith eile. Léirigh sé go bhfuil guth ag an mbainistíocht, ag na ceardchumainn, ag an Rialtas ach níl aon ghuth ag na custaiméirí. Má tá rud amháin le teacht as an díospóireacht seo tá súil agam go dtiocfaidh rud éigin cosúil le Public Transport Users' Group as. Tá fhios againn go bhfuil a leithéid agus Irish Parents' Council ann ó thaobh scoileanna de agus tá an Irish Consumers' Association ann ó thaobh trádála de agus eile. Ach go bhfios dom níl a leithéid de ghrúpa eagraithe ar nós Public Transport Users' Group. Léiríonn an stailc seo thar rud ar bith eile go bhfuil géarghá len a leithéid.
Bhí fearg uafásach ar dhaoine inniu ag fanacht le traenacha agus cén fáth? Aréir agus daoine ag dul abhaile, agus mise in a measc, chualamar fógra gan eolas ar ardán Stáisiún an Phiarsaigh, a dúirt linn éisteacht leis an raidio agus a bheith ar an airdeall, fanacht le scéal. D'éistíomar leis an nuacht ar maidin agus ní bhfuaireamar mórán eolais ach amháin go raibh rudaí trén a chéile. Ansin dúradh linn glaoch ar uimhir 1850. Dhein mise iarracht ón a seacht a chlog go dtí ceathrú taréis a hocht glaoch ar an uimhir sin agus bhí sé gafa an t-am ar fad. Idir an dá linn bhí scoláirí ann a chaill a gcuid scolaíochta. Bhí daoine ann a thóg an lá le dul ag siopadóireacht agus bhí orthu rudaí a athrú agus gan dul amach. Bhí oibrithe ann a bhí déanach nó nach raibh in ann dul ag obair ar chor ar bith. Bhí daoine a chaill go leor airgid de bharr nach raibh aon dul as acu ach taxi a fháil má bhí siad in ann taxi a fháil agus bhí daoine ag teacht thar an teorainn ó Bhéal Feirste ar cuairt. Ba dhrochshampla amach is amach a fuaireadar siúd de chóras iompair phoiblí na Poblachta.
Tá mise ag glaoch ar an mbainistíocht chun a fháil amach cén fáth nach raibh fógra ann roimh tráthnóna aréir. Dúirt siad nach bhfuair siad ach fógra 24 uair roimhe sin agus de ghnáth bíonn mí ag teastáil chun stailc a reachtáil. Agus bhí fógra ar an 29ú lá de mhí Dheireadh Fomhair, 1999 agus dúradar notice of strike had expired. Ansin ar an dtaobh eile den scéal chuir mé glaoch ar an National Bus and Railworkers' Union agus ar SIPTU a dúirt nach raibh aon expiry i gceist, nach raibh ann ach deferral of strike notice.
Tuigtear dom go bhfuil compromise nua le plé amárach agus guím gach rath air. Ach in ainm Dé is comhlacht beag í Iarnród Éireann i gcomparáid le comhlachtaí iarnróid i dtíortha eile. San Ísiltír mar shampla, áit a bhfuil i bhfad níos mó daoine ann agus comhlacht níos mó éiríonn leo rudaí a  reachtáil. Bíonn an traein in am. San Eilbhéis chomh maith fuaireas amach nuair a bhíos ann ní hamháin go raibh an traein in am ach bhí duine ag seasamh taobh thiar den ardán agus do bhuail sé cnaip díreach nuair a bhí an second hand san áit cheart agus d'imigh an traein. Bíonn taxi nó car rental ar fáil ag gach stáisiún san Ísiltír agus bíonn fonn ar dhaoine an traein a úsáid dá bharr. Bíonn integrated ticketing ann ní hamháin do thraein no do bhus ach do thraein agus do thaxi. Chomh maith leis sin, tá fhios ag aon duine a bhí ar chuairt ar an Ísiltír go mbíonn neart áiteanna ann chun rothar a pháirceáil go sábháilte agus bíonn fonn ar dhaoine dul chuig an traein ar rothar. Is sampla maith dúinn é sin. Mar sin, an bhfuil aon ionadh ar an Aire go bhfuil Iarnród Éireann mí-shásta agus go bhfuil daoine taobh istigh d'Iarnród Éireann míshásta leis an chineál scéil atá ann. Is léir dúinn mar phobal agus is cinnte gur léir do mhuintir Iarnróid Éireann go bhfuil infrastructúr acu, the permanent way mar a thugtar air, agus níl sé á úsáid. Ó am go chéile bíonn sé plódaithe ar ndóigh, ach go minic cuirtear amú an infrastructúr atá ann. Ar ndóigh bíonn an pobal ag tabhairt amach do na tiománaithe má bhíonn an traein plódaithe. Feiceann siad an tiománaí agus feisteas Iarnróid air nó uirthi agus tugann siad amach freisin do na bainisteoirí nuair a bhuaileann siad leo agus leis na máistrí stáisiún mar gheall ar mhoill agus mar sin de. Ní aon ionadh ormsa go bhfuil ísle brí agus easpa mhisnigh ar dhaoine atá ag obair in Iarnród Éireann. Tugtar faoi ndeara chomh maith nuair a bhíonn caint ar thraenacha ocht gcarráiste nach bhfuil ach traein amháin mar sin ag teacht ó mo bhaile dúchais féin. Baile Brigín, ar a hocht a chlog ar maidin agus traein amháin eile ag dul abhaile ó stáisiún an Phiarsaigh san iarnóin ag trí nóiméad déag taréis a cúig. Ní stopann an traein sin a thuilleadh ag stáisiún Sráid na Teamhrach mar go bhfuil an t-ardán ró ghearr. Is léir go bhfuil an-chuid fadhbanna ann agus dá bharr sin ísle brí i measc lucht Iarnróid Éireann chomh maith leis na custaiméirí. Is cinnte go dtuigimid go léir, tá súil agam, cén fáth go bhfuil an pobal ar buille. Is minic, agus bímse ag taisteal go minic mé féin ar na traenacha, a bhíonn siad déanach, is minic a bhíonn siad plódaithe agus is minic a chuirtear seirbhís ar ceal ar fad agus ní bhíonn fhios agat go dtí go mbíonn tú ann ag fanacht leis an traein.
Ó am go chéile, agus bhí mé féin ar an traein nuair a tharla sé seo, bíonn rud a thugtar “signal failure” air. Bíonn an taein lán, go minic bíonn sé plódaithe agus uaireannta stopann sé i lár áite agus ní bhíonn seans ag daoine rud ar bith a dhéanamh ach fanacht go foighneach. Is minic a bhíonn na carrchlósanna trén a chéile chomh maith. Aréir sna Sceirí bhí traein 6.25 déanach. Níor tháinig sé go dtí 6.45 agus bhí an áit trén a chéile. Bhí daoine ag fanacht le daoine eile chun síob a thabhairt dóibh má bhí siad in a gcomhnaí i bhfad ón stáisiún agus araile. Is cinnte nach bhfuil seo sásúil. Rud eile atá an-mhíshásúil ná an clár ama a bhíonn míchruinn. Deirtear sa chlár  ama go mbeidh tú i mBaile Átha Cliath ag am áirithe agus caithfidh mé a admháil nach raibh sé riamh cruinn chomh fada agus a bhain sé liomsa. Bhí sé i gcomhnaí beagáinín déanach agus deirtear gur leor é sin. Ach ní leor é má tá tú chun seirbhís a chur ar fáil do dhaoine. Is minic nach mbíonn an leithreas ag obair ar thraenacha Arrow mar shampla agus neart daoine ag tabhairt amach faoi sin – daoine le páistí ag taisteal leo mar shampla. Is minic a bhíonn easpa slí isteach is amach do dhaoine atá ag brath ar wheelchairs.
Mar sin tá go leor fadhbanna ag cur isteach ar Iarnród Éireann chomh maith le custaiméirí Iarnróid Éireann. Tá an stailc, dar liomsa, mar chuid de na fadhbanna ar fad atá taobh thiar de sin cé go bhfuil siad ag díriú ar na tiománaithe an uair seo. Má tá an pobal ar buile ní thuigim cén fáth nach bhfuil an fhoireann, nó an bhainistíocht nó an tAire ar buile. Agus má tá siad ar buile cad tá á dhéanamh acu faoi? Rachaidh an scéal seo in olcas. Bhí stailc ann inniu ach is cinnte má tá méadú ar an daonramh atá ag brath ar an Iarnród go mbeidh i bhfad níos mó fadhbanna amach anseo. Tá 10,000 duine in a gcomhnaí faoi láthair i mo bhaile féin. Taobh istigh de dheich mbliana eile beidh sé sin ardaithe go dtí 25,000 duine. Más amhlaidh a bheidh sé sin is cinnte go mbeidh i bhfad níos mó daoine ag brath ar an traein agus tá eagla ormsa go mbeidh stailceanna ann níos minice.
“Considering”, mar a dúirt Mr. Meagher arís, “investment requirement of £840 million up to 2006 to bring infrastructure and rolling stock up to an acceptable level..”. Ní leor é sin agus is maslach an tsuim airgid é an t-ardú sin. Bliain i ndiaidh bliana bhí laghdú in real terms ar an méid airgid a tugadh do CIÉ i gcoitinne. Agus tá an scéal níos measa má tá an stailc seo os ár gcomhair amach. Tá an scéal níos measa ó thaobh an Phlean Náisiúnta de. Tá £3 bhilliún luaite mar airgead don chóras iompair phoiblí agus taobh leis sin tá £9 mbilliún luaite mar chaiteachas ar bhóithre. Tá gá le bóithre ach tá na bóithre i bhfad níos contúirtí mar shlí taistil ná mar atá an traein. Maraítear thart ar 400 duine ar an mbóthar gach bliain. Bíonn an-chuid fadhbanna maidir le truailliú agus tá conarthaí idirnáisiúnta sínte maidir faoi sin. Tá fadhbanna atá i mbéal an phobail ar nós Glen of the Downs ann nuair atá iarnród atá ag dul síos cósta Chill Mhantáin ag an am céanna gan an infheistíocht atá ag teastáil agus costas ospidéil ag éirí as timpistí ar an mbóthar chomh maith.
Deir an Plean Náisiúnta go mbeidh 90% den chaiteachas taobh amuigh de Bhaile Átha Cliath ag dul ar bhóithre. Nuair a chuireann tú é sin i gcomparáid leis an stailc a bhí ar siúl ar maidin is léir go bhfuil neamhaird á thabhairt ar  fhadhbanna an chóras taistil phoiblí. Cuireann se sin leis an míshásamh, leis an aighneas, leis an choimhlint agus leis an seans stailceanna a bheith ann.
Táimid ag caint mar gheall ar “Cinderella” service i gcoitinne. Ní thuigim cén fáth go bhfuilimid ag glacadh leis go mbeadh píosaí ó líne Bhéal Feirste atá á dtógaint amach á n-úsáid ar líne Ros Láir, ar líne an Teachta Ivan Yates. Second hand pieces of track and so forth atá n-úsáid ar líne Ros Láir. Is léir nach bhfuil ár ndóthain á dhéanamh againn ansin ach oiread.
Tríd is tríd is toradh é an díospóireacht seo ar an stailc a tháinig aniar aduaidh orainn mar phobal inniu. Is toradh é an stailc ar criminal neglect. Níl aon fhocal eile air. Criminal neglect ón Rialtas ó thaobh cúrsaí sóisialta de, daoine atá buailte mar nach bhfuil córas taistil ann, cúrsaí chomhshaoil, mar tá an traein i bhfad níos fearr ná an bóthar ó thaobh córas taistil de.
Mr. Sargent: Go raibh maith agat. Chomh maith le criminal neglect tá na bainisteoirí ann agus níl misneach ag an chuid is mó acu seachas a leithéid agus Michael O'Donnell atá ag déanamh sár-oibre ag labhairt amach mar gheall ar na fadhbanna.
Mr. Sargent: Seo an cineál stailce agus scéil a chuireann as do chomhlachtaí iasachta a thagann go dtí an tír seo agus a cheapann go bhfuil fadhbanna ann le ceardchumainn agus le bainisteoirí agus go bhfuil rudaí ag dul in olcas. Ní  maith an sampla é sin do áiteanna eile ach oiread. Is í an tAire atá i gceannas agus tá go leor le déanamh aici fós. Tá súil agam go dtuigeann sí níos fearr ná riamh faoi sin. Iarraim ar an Aire a mholadh dá comhleacaithe, na hAirí eile, dul ar thraenacha, fanacht ar ardáin, a bheith ann nuair atá sé plódaithe. Níl taithí ag Airí ar an ruaille buaille a bhíonn ar ardán stáisiún traenach na Teamhrach. Tá eolas ag an Aire ar an stáisiún sin mar gur thit an fear dall Tom O'Neill agus a mhadra den ardán sin.
Cad é an moladh a bheidh ag an Aire ar an rud a mhol mé i dtús báire maidir leis an Public Transport Users' Group, grúpa a bheadh ar an eolas maidir le rudaí mar seo agus a bheadh mar chuid den chiorcal cainte a bhíonn ar siúl idir bainistíocht agus na ceardchumainn agus an tAire.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Sargent as ucht deis a thabhairt dom labhairt ar seo. Molaim chomh maith an Leas-Cheann Comhairle a thug cead do na Teachtaí an cheist seo a phlé faoi Ordú Seasta 31.
I thank Deputy Sargent for the opportunity to speak on this important issue. The decision of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to allow this debate under Standing Order 31 was very welcome. The fact that the Standing Order 31 facility is far too seldom granted contributes to the irrelevance of this Assembly on occasions when major developing issues of the day cannot be discussed here. The decision of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle stands in sharp contrast to the disgraceful exclusion by the Government, Fine Gael and Labour parties of myself and the Green Party Deputies from participation in today's statements on the Helsinki summit.
Since the Order of Business, the rail strike has been deferred pending negotiations and that is a welcome development. It will be welcomed especially by the tens of thousands of commuters who were inconvenienced today. I urge everyone concerned to work for an outcome that will address the needs of train drivers and the travelling public. The drivers have a responsible, stressful and at times dangerous job to do, and they deserve full and generous remuneration for their work.
I pay tribute to all those working in our public transport system, something that is not often done. Too often bus drivers, train staff and other workers who are the public face of the transport system bear the brunt of justifiable annoyance at the shortcomings of the system. This is grossly unfair because these major problems are not the responsibility of public transport workers. Indeed, it is the workers in the system and their trade unions who have always pointed to the need to invest heavily in public transport, a position that was not always as broadly supported politi cally as it is now. We witnessed chaos on the railways today, but chaos is never far away on our grossly overcrowded trains and buses. Measures have been signalled in the national development plan for long overdue investment in our rail network, but they do not go far enough. We should be working not just towards upgrading the existing rail network but towards restoring the once extensive network that traversed the country. The destruction of much of that network in the 1950s and early 1960s, though not a phenomenon unique to this country at a time when oil was cheap and plentiful, was one of the biggest mistakes ever made by any Government. This fact has been acknowledged by those of differing opinions in the State over many years.
The familiar railway map of Ireland, reproduced at the back, interestingly enough, of the national development plan, will on the completion of that plan, if it remains unaltered, still have that huge gap from Derry to Sligo and from Portadown to Carrick-on-Shannon. I represent two of the counties in what I can only describe as that railway desert where not a single line passes through. It was most disappointing that the national development plan did not address this huge gap in our transport infrastructure. I remember well as a young boy making the almost daily train journey from my home town of Monaghan to the village of Glasslough in the north of the county. I have a vivid memory also of a special trip north by train in those early years. Forty years later many Monaghan people – just to instance that county – have never experienced the special thrill of rail travel. It has been mooted recently that the line to Kingscourt in County Cavan that currently serves the Gypsum plant there could be examined with a view to reopening it as a passenger service. The idea of developing that line into the further reaches of Cavan and Monaghan, and hopefully north, has great merit.
In Private Members' time we addressed the need for social partnership. To deliver the public transport requirements of our people we need a real partnership between the travelling public, transport workers, Córas Iompair Éireann and its component companies We must deplore and dispel any notion of privatisation, a cry often raised by those who do not have the real interests of commuters at heart but only the profit that might accrue from the most lucrative routes, while the comprehensive public services are eroded.
Another factor that contributes to transport chaos is the lack of real decentralisation. I have already made the point and this contribution is but an echo of it. How could we not have such chaos given the concentration of economic activity and population in the greater Dublin area? This matter must be addressed and decentralisation is clearly the answer.
Mr. Yates: I will not take up my full time allocation because, while I was anxious for this matter to be debated this morning, the steam has gone out of the issue in so far as the strike has  been deferred. Trains will run normally tomorrow and an end to the dispute is in sight, but the heart of the matter is that someone somewhere must show leadership on this issue. We now have a formula within various elements of CIE, Irish Rail and Dublin Bus, which is that change proposed by management can be resisted by industrial action which will cripple commuters and the management will cave in. As someone who has fought as hard as any Member of this House for £2 billion to be spent on public transport, I believe that changes in the interests of efficiency and productivity are inevitable. If we are to have Luas, new routes, feeder buses, orbital buses and so on, there must be a positive attitude to change.
It is simply unacceptable for 30,000 commuters to be left high and dry in what I consider to be a lightning strike. I am not union bashing because these people are not members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. They are beyond the pale of partnership. The situation faced by commuters this morning was totally unjustified and disproportionate to the issues involved.
There is a solution to this and I hope a lump sum payment is made on a once-off basis. One does not need to be a genius to do that. However, the way in which workers are indifferent to commuters and are, essentially, blackmailing them to get their way must be resisted. Changes have been made by workers in aviation, telecommunications, the civil and public service, local authorities, health boards and the nursing profession. Genuine grievances deserve support in this House. However, we should not encourage resistance to change. We must fight for better pay and conditions for ordinary workers. However, changes based on the development of a better public transport system should be supported. If we undermine the management at every opportunity, they will question the point of trying to develop a new public transport service.
It will be like the taxi situation. Taxi drivers won all the battles but lost the war because members of the public voted with their feet. The public wants a public service and the customer is king. Luas will not necessarily be run by the same monopolist operators. Competition will be introduced to the bus sector and workers will realise that revenue from consumers pays their wages.
I have watched very carefully what has happened with the gate keepers on level crossings and DART drivers, for whom compensation has now been agreed, which I welcome. However, it has been agreed on the basis of existing drivers, whose access to training is no longer an issue. That was a very questionable ground for a dispute. I have also watched, with some dismay, the two and a half year stagnation on the Imp bus issue.
There is a huge problem with the culture of industrial relations. I do not absolve the management from blame. However, the expenditure of £2 billion must be conditional on an understanding that the culture of industrial relations in CIE and its related companies must change. A politi cal message must go out that, while there is relief when someone stops being intimidating, short-termism cannot be subscribed to in the long-term. A new culture must be established.
This is a vital public service and its workers cannot take wild cat action. There must be a cooling off procedure, so that people cannot be stranded and crippled in the way they were this morning. A settlement formula is inevitable. On the one o'clock news today there was a simple interview with a spokesman for the rail drivers, in which Seán O'Rourke exposed the fact that their position was untenable.
Times have changed. This is for the good of Irish Rail, in that there will be investment. Times must also change in relation to flexibility, demarcation and the other issues. I regret I have to say that. However, unless we are honest about the need to lance this boil, we will be only codding ourselves with sticking plaster solutions which will get usColour RGB 171,0,0 through tomorrow but not the next decade.
Ms O. Mitchell: I realise the word “deferred” was used. There was an element of the twilight zone about the whole affair because it came to us without warning, apparently out of nowhere. Nobody I know knew anything about it. We heard it was a demarcation dispute yesterday. We then heard it was a rostering dispute, and then that it was about different depots. Nobody seemed to know what it was about. We wondered at one point if CIE or the workers knew what it was about. We did not even know if it was an official strike. There was a sense of unreality about the whole thing. It was rushed into and the proper procedures were not gone through.
However, what was very real was that 30,000 commuters were left standing on platforms this morning. The public has had enough of strikes and threatened strikes. The transport situation throughout the country is bad enough without having the public's confidence in it undermined by internal disputes and strikes which, as my colleague said, are totally disproportionate to what was at issue – although we had no idea what was at issue.
It is unforgivable for their grievances, whatever they were, to be visited on the public which often has to put up with a very bad and second rate service, even when the trains and buses are running. It is unforgivable for that to be visited on the public at this time of the year, with the introduction of further uncertainty into travel plans. People will lose all confidence in a policy which is based on getting people out of their cars and onto public transport if they cannot depend on the public transport system.
 It is completely unforgivable and unacceptable that, while this company has a protected monopoly and its sole purpose is to serve the public, the public are the very last people to be considered in these disputes. There have been strikes, lightning strikes and threatened strikes. This time last year, there was a threatened DART strike and there have been several more since then. The DART drivers refused to allow new drivers to be trained, which was a meaningless argument over nothing that threatened them in any way. The middle doors in the buses cannot be opened because of some industrial relations problems. Agreement cannot be reached to get 40 Imp buses, which are rotting somewhere—
Ms O. Mitchell: I am glad to hear that. However, for two years, a major public investment by the taxpayer was rotting because agreement could not be reached. I am not laying blame for this at anybody's door, but it smacks of a company in deep trouble and one in which industrial relations procedures are failing utterly. It is stuck in a 1970s mentality, when every other sector has moved on.
As my colleague said, workers, management and employers in every sector have had to face change. Even Members of this House must accept change. The world is changing. Every company faces competition and different market and employment conditions. The ability to survive and prosper is based on the ability to accept, face and embrace change. That is the only way CIE can go forward.
What is wrong with this company? It seems to be almost the only one which cannot face change and put the customer first occasionally. This attitude was understandable in the past because the years of under investment and neglect of that company, for which we all bear some responsibly, has demoralised the workforce.
Ms O. Mitchell: The Deputy was not even born at the time. I understand it has demoralised the workforce and management. However, we are now facing major, unprecedented investment in this company and these problems should not still be coming to the fore. If this is an indication of the attitude they are going to take to the public, social partnership and orderly industrial relations procedures, it does not bode well for the future and must give us all pause for thought.
I am not suggesting the Minister should interfere in strikes. Thank goodness the strike is deferred and I hope it will be sorted out. This debate is not about today's strike but the much deeper malaise in CIE which has to be addressed by the Minister. This company needs direction, leadership and investment. Even CIE can see change in the future but much of the problem is  that it does not know what those changes will be – whether they will entail privatisation, competition or both. The company must be given some certainty to change the ethos of management and workers and relations between the two, so that they have some sense of pride in and ownership of the company and a sense that they want to the deliver the kind of service for which the public is paying. We cannot unconditionally invest large sums of public moneys until these underlying problems are sorted out.
Mr. S. Ryan: As a former employee and trade union official in CIE it gives me no joy to speak in this debate on the industrial action taken today by train drivers. This dispute, whether one calls it official or unofficial, should not have happened and it was avoidable. It was unjust to inflict misery on up to 30,000 commuters trying to get to work or to do Christmas shopping. As a result of this strike, commuters from my constituency, from Dundalk, Drogheda, Maynooth and Sligo were left stranded and were obliged to use an insufficient bus service or take their cars on to an already gridlocked road network.
Disputes such as this provide ammunition to those who wish to restrict the right of important public sector employees to go on strike. As a trade unionist I will always uphold the right of workers to take the ultimate action. However, this right also entails responsibilities on employees and employers in essential public services. It takes two to tango and this dispute should have been resolved before it started.
I welcome the decision taken this afternoon by the train drivers to defer strike action. This sensible move will allow services to resume in the morning and should enable a real and meaningful dialogue to take place and a resolution to be found, following the intervention of the Labour Relations Commission tomorrow afternoon.
For a number of years there have been protracted negotiations between Irish Rail management and unions on a viability agreement or, as the trade unions describe it, process talks. The positive aspect is that this national agreement is reaching a conclusion which will be in the long-term interests of the company, its staff and the travelling public. When implemented, this agreement will deal with the contentious issues which have been allowed to fester over the years in the company. I hope it will provide drivers with a five-day week, incorporating Sunday working. Viable contracts in the depots throughout the country will provide working hours varying from a minimum of 43 hours per week to a maximum of 48 hours per week, and an acceptable salary for train drivers. Train drivers have traditionally endured a low basic rate of pay and the only way they could earn a decent living was by working overtime. It is not unusual for them to work up to 60 hours per week.
In light of recent progressive developments in employment law, including the working time Act, which will soon apply to the transport sector,  these practises must be reformed. It is undesirable that skilled professional staff such as train drivers should have to work up to 60 hours per week to earn a decent wage. I am pleased that, as part of the national negotiations between management and unions, these important issues have been addressed.
Mr. S. Ryan: I hope the unions and management have learned from today's fiasco. Over the years I have given a specific commitment to public transport and to securing additional financial and structural resources for the improvement of the road and rail networks. It is important that all of the parties in Irish Rail and CIE come together to agree and implement industrial relations procedures because, at the end of the day, the people will not thank us if we are not prepared to provide an efficient and effective public transport service.
We have heard much of the proposals in the national plan. However, people are still travelling in over-crowded trains and the infrastructure is still not in place. The Minister must ensure that the necessary resources are implemented so that we attract people to public transport services.
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): I understood every word said by Deputy Sargent – my understanding of Irish is perfect but my speaking is not. It was good to listen to the Deputy and to Deputies Yates, Mitchell, Séan Ryan and Caoimhghin Ó Cáolain. I commend Deputy Yates for the clear manner in which he outlined the position. This strike should not have happened. I listened carefully to Barry Kenny of Iarnród Éireann this morning. He is a bright young man and he knows what he has to do and say. However, I thought of people gathering in rural stations, such as the people from Athlone who come up on the commuter train – young women with children and babies who work in the Civil Service. I thought of the disappointment of the children being brought for a traditional Christmas day out in Dublin. Those speaking about the matter did not seem to understand this. Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and Bus Átha Cliath do not exist in name only, they exist for people to use their services. Taxpayers pay the salaries of those who work on trains and buses. All the speakers said the strike should not have taken place, which is true. I am glad the matter has been referred to the Labour Relations Commission. I hope a successful formula will be worked out.
There is a deeper malaise at the heart of this unofficial strike action – one party says it is unofficial while another says it is official. The threat of strike action in the week before Christmas, without regard for those who use the  services, is unacceptable. There is now concern that the planned £2.2 billion expenditure will not be matched by a change in work practices which is obviously needed in the three relevant companies. I know many of those who work on bus and train services and they are fine people. One wonders about the madness of some of the actions taken by a minority. I thank all who worked so hard in negotiations, such as the President of SIPTU, Des Geraghty, Noel Dowling and others, who tried to bring some reason to the debate. I also thank Kieran Mulvey and his team at the Labour Relations Commission who do trojan work.
Questions were asked about how changes can be brought about and the need for competition. The review of the 1932 Act will be completed by the end of February. This will help to chart the way forward. Competition in rail services is not the way forward because no company wants to compete. Our rail track has a different gauge from most European countries. The good routes are cherry-picked and the rest abandoned, and I do not agree with that. There has been massive under-financing by Governments of all hues – I exempt Deputy Sargent who has not been in Government.
We serve the public and if we fail to do that we will be booted out of our jobs. Public transport exists to serve the public. Those who work on trains and buses must receive proper wages. As Deputy Seán Ryan said, many of the issues are coming together. I hope the package will be accepted. Everyone had an input and it has encompassed many unresolved matters. It is my wish that we will never have to debate industrial relations in CIE again. I thank the Deputies for their interest in the matter. It was an interesting and powerful debate. We wish the talks well and I hope there will be a speedy resolution to the matter.
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