Minister under fire after securing special train for All-Ireland final
JUNIOR Transport Minister Alan Kelly secured a special train to take him and Tipperary supporters to Dublin for the All-Ireland senior hurling final.
While most Tipperary and Kilkenny fans travelling to the match had to be on 'dry' services, the special service used by Mr Kelly sold alcohol.
The Irish Independent has learned that Labour TD Mr Kelly put "considerable pressure" on Iarnrod Eireann for a train to bring more than 150 north Tipperary fans from his constituency to Dublin for game on September 4, which Kilkenny won 2-17 to 1-16.
It is understood that it is at least a decade since a special train ran on the Birdhill line, which serves the Co Tipperary towns of Nenagh and Roscrea. Mr Kelly lives in Nenagh.
A rail source said trains to bring Tipperary supporters to Dublin had previously used the Limerick/Thurles line because of demand and because they incur less staff costs than using the Nenagh route.
There was no equivalent service from Nenagh when Tipperary reached the All-Ireland finals in 2001, 2009 or 2010.
Despite repeated requests to Mr Kelly to comment on the matter, the junior minister with responsibility for public transport and commuter affairs did not respond last night.
The final decision to run the train was Iarnrod Eireann's. The company said the service to and from Dublin was "justified" as it was 90pc full. It made a "small" profit on the service.
Special trains also ran from Waterford for Kilkenny supporters -- and one from Limerick for Tipperary fans -- on the same day. However, no alcohol was sold onboard.
"No alcohol is permitted on board regular or special services on match days," a notice on Iarnrod Eireann's website states.
But Iarnrod Eireann spokesperson Barry Kenny said it was "not correct to say that alcohol had been banned on all GAA services".
Mr Kenny added: "Whilst most sports specials do operate without alcohol, we judge on a case-by-case basis whether alcohol should be sold.
"This is based on factors including the nature of the fixture -- for example, if a train was likely to have supporters of both counties on board -- and past experience on the service or route."
Mr Kenny also defended the firm's decision to run the special service. "We were delighted that supporters along the route chose to travel to the match with us, including Minister Kelly also," he said.
He said there was "no bar" on the train -- and that it had a "trolley service only" from where alcohol was served.
The Rail Users Group condemned the move by Mr Kelly, claiming he was pulling rank.
"The minister is looking after his own constituency and looking after himself," said the group's Mark Gleeson.
Mr Gleeson said the train had run empty from Limerick and parked in Birdhill overnight to save on having to get six gatekeepers to work early on Sunday.
He said although the group believed any extra services were welcome, the circumstances of this special train were "questionable".
It's understood staff had to be in place early at Birdhill, Nenagh, Roscrea and an extra person was needed at Ballybrophy to operate the signals to allow the train onto the mainline.
The rail source also said "considerable pressure" was put on Iarnrod Eireann to run the service.