Dempsey U-turn on buses threatens to split Government
TRANSPORT Minister Noel Dempsey is facing a Government split over his plans to shelve the privatisation of Dublin Bus.
It is understood that his announcement has shocked the PDs, whose leader Mary Harney previously threatened to walk out of Government unless the Dublin Bus market was liberalised. According to PD sources, the party is still set on achieving this policy objective and will pursue this before any Government decision is taken.
Mr Dempsey has acknowledged the plan of the previous Fianna Fail-PD government to privatise 15pc of new routes and offer subsidies to private operators on non-profitable routes. But he said that this was ''a different government'' and ''these are changed circumstances'' because of the growing population of the city and the disruption that will take place due to the construction of the Metro.
A spokeswoman for Mr Dempsey said he had decided to concentrate on extracting maximum efficiencies from the Dublin Bus fleet. If this did not work, he would turn to the option of privatising more routes.
"What he's proposing to do is completely consistent with what's in the Programme for Government, so he doesn't see a conflict," she said.
She could not confirm whether Mr Dempsey consulted the PDs ahead of the move.
Fine Gael transport spokesman Fergus O'Dowd accused Mr Dempsey of bowing to vested interests in Dublin Bus and the transport unions.
"Increased competition on some Dublin bus routes would give a better service to commuters, but this U-turn by Minister Dempsey is a step back in the level of services available," he said.
The row over the privatisation of Dublin Bus routes meant the company did not get funding for new buses during the lifetime of much of the last Government. Dublin Bus has been promised 425 extra buses under the Transport 21 plan and has received 105 so far.
Labour transport spokesman Tommy Broughan welcomed Mr Dempsey's new policy as a major defeat for the PDs.
"Clearly, during the last two Governments, the PDs were driving a vicious privatisation agenda and successive transport ministers were dancing to the PD tune. The net result is that Dublin Bus was deliberately hamstrung in their efforts to provide a modern bus service for the region," he said.
Dublin Bus should now be allowed to purchase the expanded bus fleet it needed, he said.
"We still need a minimum of 350 extra buses, and until the big ticket items such as the Metro come on stream, the main road for public transport has to be buses."