AS THE MINISTER for Transport, Paschal Donohoe cops quite a bit of flak when rail drivers go on strike and commuters are left stranded just as they were last October.
While further strikes were averted at the last-minute in November, the National Rail and Bus Union (NBRU) is threatening more walkouts over changes to the frequency of Dart services, while Luas drivers have four-days of strike action planned next month.
Two 48-hour strikes on 11/12 February and 18/19 February – both Thursdays and Fridays – are being planned. Talks to resolve the dispute broke down just over a week ago.
Siptu members at Luas have called for a pay increase of between between 8.5% and 53.8%. In some cases this would bring tram drivers into line with the what Irish Rail drivers are paid. But operator Transdev said no pay increase would be offered over the next five years, unless linked to inflation.
When Donohoe visited TheJournal.ie earlier this week, we asked him if Luas drivers should be paid as much as their Irish Rail counterparts – but he wasn’t getting into it:
This reluctance to express a view opened up a wider discussion on why Donohoe consistently takes what looks like a hands-off approach to industrial disputes.
Opposition spokespeople have been frequent critics with Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley describing the government as “hurlers on the ditch” last year.
But Donohoe has a different view, telling us: “I’ll tell you exactly why I shouldn’t get involved in it because we have the Workplace Relations Commission – the WRC – and the Labour Court that are put in place by government to deal with these matters.
So for any minister, or any government, to get involved in trying to arbitrate on a potential strike would be directly undermining state agencies that we have in place to do that work.
He insists that his job is to “set the framework and make the funding available” to deliver public transport.
But is the Fine Gael TD bothered by all the criticism? No, he insists in his usual happy tone:
It’s understandable on a day in which buses, trains or Luas-es aren’t running that the public and the media would look to me for what to say. That’s all understandable and goes with the job.
In fact, it’s hard to think there’s ever a time when Donohoe gets angry but does he have a darker side?
With such a constant state of happiness, it’s no wonder Donohoe is up for all sorts of bizarre photoshoots.
However he admits he wouldn’t do this one again:
As for his sports brief, we put Donohoe on the spot and asked which tournament he is looking forward to most this year: the European Championships or the Olympics?
“I’d struggle to pick one to tell the truth,” he insists, while planting himself firmly on the fence.
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