Minister can't stop dispute but he can be glue holding disparate parties together
Published 07/09/2016 | 02:30
When he was appointed Transport Minister, Shane Ross couldn't contain his excitement - so much so that he broke with protocol and told the media before the Taoiseach was afforded the opportunity to formally announce his Cabinet.
However, there were no repercussions from Enda Kenny, who may well have had a wry smile as he watched his political foe's delight at receiving such an obvious hospital pass.
There was a time when Transport, Tourism and Sport was seen as the 'Department of Fun'. The type of portfolio that came with plenty of junkets and days out at the races.
Since taking office, Mr Ross has enjoyed a couple of trips to cheer on the boys in green at the European Championships in France.
And he made it to the Olympic Games in Brazil, albeit that he had to fly home without seeing Christ the Redeemer up close - in order to set up an inquiry into alleged ticket touting.
That placed Mr Ross in the eye of a storm that he could never have anticipated, and the criticism that flowed must be viewed in that light. Whether you judged his showdown with Pat Hickey in a hotel room in Rio as a good move or not, the minister felt he had to be seen to be doing something.
Obviously, he now thinks, with the benefit of hindsight, that it was the wrong option - having admitted on Friday night's 'Late Late Show' that Mr Hickey "ate me for breakfast".
From the minister's point of view, that issue has been parked for at least three months in the hands of retired judge Carroll Moran.
Other controversies that have plagued Mr Ross since moving from the chattering classes to the corridors of power have been of his own making. He grabbed headlines when the Independent Alliance forced the Taoiseach to abandon the age-old practice of Cabinet collegiality after Mick Wallace placed a bill relating to abortion before the Dáil.
The move stoked tensions with Fine Gael, given that the Programme for Government clearly stated all sides would support a citizens' assembly on the issue.
In recent days the Cabinet rowed again, this time over the Apple judgment, which was well-flagged, even if the €13bn figure in back-taxes that the tech giant was ordered to pay the State blind-sided everybody.
That took up a substantial part of Mr Ross's time last week: so much so that he pulled out of his inaugural meeting with representatives from Bus Éireann.
Again today, Mr Ross finds himself on the wrong side of the news. This time, the problem isn't of his making - but it was wholly predictable.
The Dublin Bus pay dispute has been stewing for months, long before the Government was formed.
Alongside it, there is a similar row involving drivers at Bus Éireann, while train drivers are at war with Irish Rail on two fronts.
Ten days after taking office on May 16, Mr Ross spent three and a half hours going through his public transport brief with officials who had also prepared a detailed document outlining the various financial woes facing the companies and the potential for strife.
He went on to meet a number of bodies including the Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the Dublin Airport Authority and the National Transport Authority.
Yet for some inexplicable reason, the minister didn't prioritise meeting Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail in the past four months, or the unions threatening to bring the country to a halt.
It's akin to the Justice Minister not meeting with the Garda Commissioner, or the Education Minister not having a face to face with the teaching unions.
As minister, his remit does not stretch to directly intervening in an industrial dispute - but Mr Ross should be the glue attempting to hold some very disparate parts together.