Waiting game over unions' response as ESB management agrees to LRC talks
High-level moves are finally under way to avert a potentially crippling strike at the ESB this Christmas.
With just 10 days to go until a deadline on industrial action at the semi-state power company, a senior government minister intervened in the dispute for the first time.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte made a dramatic bid to get the parties into talks at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) to resolve the impasse "as early as possible".
It also emerged that the head of the LRC, Kieran Mulvey, immediately wrote to both sides offering his organisation's services to urgently bridge the gap.
Last night, ESB chief executive Pat O'Doherty welcomed the invitation from the LRC and confirmed that the ESB will attend the talks today.
In a statement Mr O'Doherty said that ESB remains committed to resolving the issues raised by the trade unions.
He said: "Electricity is an essential service affecting so many aspects of people's lives. We must all do everything we can to resolve the issues that have been raised in order to avoid any disruption.
"While I understand that staff have concerns about their pensions the best way to address these is through dialogue."
He added: "We owe it to our customers, to Irish businesses and the general public to ensure that we resolve these issues without the disastrous consequences of a strike."
However, the high-level intervention from Mr Rabbitte and the invitation from Mr Mulvey were met with a wall of silence last night from the ESB Group of Unions, who failed to respond to requests for comment.
However, if there is agreement to accept the invitation, union leaders and management will gather as early as today at the LRC, in a bid to avoid cuts to the country's electricity supply from December 16.
Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr Mulvey said the LRC was available for immediate talks.
Given that "local talks" have been ongoing since Monday, the first task facing Mr Mulvey and his team is to assess the distance between the sides, and whether the differences are bridgeable. Only hours previously, during Leaders' Questions, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn indicated that the time to engage the LRC had not yet arrived.
He said the ESB has a contingency plan if industrial action ultimately takes place.
But speaking last night, Mr Rabbitte called for talks at the LRC to begin.
He said: "After several days of discussions between ESB unions and management, no resolution of the dispute has yet emerged. I am now asking the parties to use the industrial relations machinery of the State to resolve the dispute and clear up any uncertainty as early as possible."