Thursday 29 September 2016

Once bombastic Ross has made scant progress at Transport

Published 08/08/2016 | 02:30

Shane Ross: From bombastic opposition TD to dormouse minister in power. Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Ross: From bombastic opposition TD to dormouse minister in power. Photo: Tom Burke

Things were going to be different. Radically different.

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That was the promise Shane Ross gave in the wake of his ascension into Cabinet.

He would be the devil in the detail, causing hardship for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and ensuring power for the people.

The Dublin-Rathdown TD spoke openly about concerns that he and his fellow Independents might fall for the trappings of power and the chauffeurs and junkets that come with being in Government.

But he promised they would stay true to their argumentative roots.

So three months on, what has been achieved? Well, not much, on the surface at least.

Mr Ross has gone from being a bombastic Opposition TD pushing the limits of his remit on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to a dormouse minister who we rarely see or hear.

It's true that he has been something of a thorn in the side of Fine Gael ministers but to what end?

Blocking the Taoiseach from hand-picking Ireland's nominee as vice president of the European Central Bank stands out as a 'Ross victory' - although after a delay of several weeks Mr Kenny's chief economic adviser got the €270,000 job anyway.

Then there was the debacle over Mick Wallace's bill that would have allowed for abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

The Attorney General said it was unlawful but the Cabinet had to effectively pretend they never heard her decision because the Independent Alliance was threatening to collapse the fledging Government over the vote.

Two high-profile moral victories for Mr Ross - but neither relating to the Department of Transport.

Despite the decades of castigating the State's transport companies, it seems the unions have little or no fear of Mr Ross now that he's in Cabinet.

Arguably, they feared him more as a member of the PAC who always spoke his mind and wrote with plenty of hyperbole.

After entering office, a file landed on the minister's desk warning him that all those mandarins in CIE, Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and elsewhere were waiting for him.

It warned that the level of investment in infrastructure was at an historic low and needs to be bumped up by €300m a year to achieve a standstill position.

The briefing document added that there was "essentially no scope for infrastructure improvements vital to cater for future demand growth and support competitiveness and future economic development".

Today, the General Secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers' Union, Dermot O'Leary, is warning of an "appalling vista" that could leave 330,000 Dublin Bus commuters stranded.

He also highlights that a €500m deficit in the CIE Group pensions has the potential to cause an all-out transport strike, while the threat of industrial action at Irish Rail looms after talks with the company collapsed.

Of course, none of this will come as a surprise to Mr Ross, who has claimed that the semi-states have been in "permanent convalescence" for some time.

After becoming a minister, Mr Ross described the transport budget as "intimidating".

"The importance of roads and airports to the Irish economy is often underestimated. The situation in CIE remains fragile. Bad industrial relations are the curse of the sector. The consumer, the traveller and the taxpayer are the forgotten victims across the political spectrum," he wrote.

Three months later, not much has changed.

Irish Independent

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