Thursday 29 September 2016

Come visit Ireland's Ancient East - but not, alas, by bus

Published 15/04/2015 | 02:30

Paschal Donohoe
Paschal Donohoe

The two ministers looked thoughtful as they posed with a chap kitted out splendiferously in armour, shield and sword.

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"I might need to borrow that," reckoned Paschal Donohoe, studying the sturdy chain-mail.

"It'd be handy over the next few months alright," agreed Michael Ring.

Both of them were wearing their tourism caps (metaphorically rather than literally, although the plucky pair have previously donned Stetsons for the cameras) at the launch of Ireland's Ancient East, Fáilte Ireland's new master plan to woo overseas visitors to the East and South of the country.

But it's not all plain sailing - or smooth driving, perhaps - for Paschal, whose other chapeau resides in the Department of Transport.

While the Government is assiduously promoting Ireland as a grand friendly place to spend time (and more importantly, money), the country's bus drivers are threatening to escalate their planned work stoppage on May 1 to a full-scale one-day strike, ensuring that travel chaos will be the only thing which will arrive on schedule just in time for the bank holiday weekend.

It really isn't the sort of Fáilte which the Government has in mind for the scads of folk hatching plans for the long weekend when they had the temerity to assume that there would be public transport available to whisk them from A to B.

But now the prospect of visiting ancient Irish sites such as the Hill of Tara or Kilkenny Castle - or even just hopping on a 46A into An Lár for a spot of shopping on Grafton Street - could be made infinitely trickier by a bus strike. Céad Míle Fáilte and don't forget your hiking-boots.

However, despite his proximity to the sword-wielding chap in the battle-gear, Paschal chose not to strap on the chainmail and do a Braveheart on the situation by swinging at the rebellious bus unions who are up in arms over the proposed privatisation of 10pc of their routes.

Instead the minister made soothing noises, particularly in relation to the pensions of any drivers who may be affected by the changes.

"I know it's an area of concern," Paschal explained, "I want to reiterate that any measures that I would need to take, legislative or otherwise to maintain employees' pensions if they needed to transfer, I will take."

Nonetheless, it wasn't all carrot and no stick from Paschal. He pointed out (pointedly) that the number of people using buses had risen considerably as the recession begins to recede, highlighting that Dublin Bus had notched up four million extra passengers last year.

"I'm open to any kind of discussion or any initiative which would avert the day of action - because that day of action is happening in the context of Dublin Bus last year alone hiring an additional over 130 drivers," he said.

"These are companies that are doing well and have the capacity to do even better in the future.

And the minister also noted that the Government had poured money into the buses last year - but still the drivers from the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) are planning a protest march to Dáil Éireann as well as other demonstrations in major urban centres including Cork, Limerick and Galway.

"If this day goes ahead, it will cause disruption to commuters," he warned.

Poor Paschal. There he was at the RDS, stuck trying to smoke a peace-pipe with the bus unions, when he wanted to celebrate the ingenuity of Fáilte Ireland in coming up with a tourism wheeze to placate the counties whose noses had been put thoroughly out of joint by the roaring success of the Wild Atlantic Way as a tourist must-see.

"People said the Wild Atlantic Way wouldn't work, but last Tuesday there wasn't a bike to be got in Mayo, there were that many people all over the county," declared (of course) Michael Ring in his speech, which was supposed to be about the treasures of the East.

Mind you, if the bus strike goes ahead, there won't be a Dublin bike to be got in the capital on May 1 either.

Irish Independent

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