Ross: no cheque for bus firm, but there is hope
Transport Minister Shane Ross won't be opening his chequebook - and feels the threat of an all-out strike at Bus Éireann can be averted.
But Mr Ross refused to give a commitment that all services will remain in place due to the financial crisis at the company.
One of the largest unions at Bus Éireann has threatened a "large-scale and intense campaign of industrial action" if the company imposes cuts to workers' pay later this month.
Five unions at the troubled company meet today to discuss their strategy after being given an ultimatum of February 20.
Yesterday, Anti-Austerity Alliance deputy Mick Barry asked Mr Ross if he would give a pledge that the level of service would be maintained, which would mean keeping the same bus stops.
"I'm not going to give commitments in detail on individual routes," Mr Ross said. "What I'm saying is the pledge is there that there will not be a loss of connectivity."
He said he would not micromanage the solution.
He also said he would enter talks with Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar on funding for the free travel scheme.
But he insisted the taxpayer cannot fund the Expressway service, as this was a fundamental tenet of European law.
He claimed union demands to get him to intervene and attend talks were an attempt to get him to open his "chequebook".
Mr Ross said he did see "signs of hope" that the dispute can be resolved.
"I know this might seem strange, but I saw some signs of hope last week," he said. "Because among all the noise, we heard two clear messages."
He said the first was unions were willing to engage in talks with no preconditions.
"The second was the acting CEO confirming to this committee that nothing he has said or issued in recent weeks constitutes preconditions," he said.
Acting chief executive of Bus Éireann, Ray Hernan, told TDs failure to implement cuts later this month would be "reckless and irresponsible".
He insisted unions' refusal to discuss the measures he believes "must be taken" left management with no option but to proceed with "necessary changes".