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Monday 22 September 2014

Rail strike is a 'slap in the face' for the taxpayer

New Transport Minister Paschal Donohue refuses to compromise with rail workers as stoppages loom

Published 10/08/2014 | 02:30

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Paschal Donohue, Minister for Transport

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe is refusing to back down to threats from Irish Rail workers to derail the GAA's All-Ireland final weekends.

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Four days of stoppages are planned over the coming weeks in protest at Irish Rail management's decision to implement cost cutting measures.

But Mr Donohoe is not in the mood for talking, and instead launched a blistering attack on Irish Rail workers, saying their action is "hugely damaging".

In his first major interview since taking office, Mr Donohoe said the four strike days are a "slap in the face" to taxpayers who fund the company.

He told the Sunday Independent: "Let be clear on this. This is a strike that should not go ahead. These are measures that have to be implemented."

Mr Donohoe stressed that he must do right by the taxpayer and the customers who use Irish Rail.

"I think it would be a huge slap in the face to people who depend on rail services to get to two of the iconic sporting days in Ireland

"I would point out the huge amount of disruption that organising strikes on days coinciding with the All Ireland finals will cause.

"These measures are absolutely vital to the maintenance of services the company provides and the viability of Irish Rail into the future," he added.

Earlier this month, the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) announced four days of strikes, beginning with a 48-hour work stoppage on August 24.

This will be followed by two 24-hour work stoppages on September 7 and September 21, the dates for the All-Ireland hurling and football finals.

Mr Donohoe laid the blame for the pending disruption squarely at the door of the workers and their unions.

He said the company is viable only because it receives €290m a year from the taxpayer, and called on the workers to back down from strike action.

He also highlighted the €147m of accumulated losses at Irish Rail since 2008.

Mr Donohoe was adamant that payroll savings of €16.9m need to be made at Irish Rail, as they have been in other parts of CIE.

"I will always be guided by what is the right thing for the country overall. I recognise the interests of the workers, but I am driven by what is the right thing for the ordinary taxpayer, what is best for the common good."

In his most direct warning to the workers, the Dublin Central TD said he is not prepared to negotiate with Irish Rail workers on wage cuts that have already been implemented by other transport workers.

"I am not going to do that," he said.

Meanwhile, when asked about the issues that have rocked the embattled Coalition in recent months, Mr Donohoe said it was necessary for former Justice Minister Alan Shatter to resign because of his handling of the various Garda scandals.

Mr Donohoe said the move to replace Mr Shatter with Frances Fitzgerald was the correct one.

"I believe it was the right thing that a new Minister for Justice be appointed. People must have faith and confidence in how justice is administered in this country. Putting in a new minister like Frances Fitzgerald was a necessary thing for the Taoiseach and the Government to do."

Mr Donohoe said public confidence in Mr Shatter had been lost because of his handling of the penalty points saga and his treatment of Garda Maurice McCabe and John Wilson.

He said: "People had begun to ask questions.

"You look at the penalty point issue and the other issue in relation to the investigation of cases - they cut to the core of the faith people had in how they were dealt with. People were very worried this was happening.

"The measures committed to now by the Government are crucial to tackling the lack of faith over that period, I want to acknowledge that.

"I believe it was necessary a new minister be put in place to ensure that those measures happen."

Mr Donohoe said he had a huge respect for Mr Shatter, and claimed the former minister had a right as a citizen to take the High Court action he is taking which seeks to quash some of the findings of the Guerin Report, which sparked his resignation.

Mr Donohoe, himself a first time TD, also disagreed with views expressed by former minister Pat Rabbitte, who said in a recent interview that inexperienced Dail deputies should not have a place at the Cabinet table.

"I have a different view. Ireland is one of the youngest countries in the world with a very young workforce in place. It is very important to have a political system that reflects the country we are. That is what has happened here ," he said.

"The way in which the country and the Taoiseach evaluate me should make no reference to my age."

As the minister with responsibility for road safety, Mr Donohoe said he is very concerned about the rise in road deaths compared to the same period last year.

"So far, 113 have lost their lives, which is up on last year," he said.

Sunday Independent

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