Rail chief defends €20,000 fishing event held in North
An Irish Rail chief has said he is "pretty sure" management could have found a river in the Republic instead of Northern Ireland to hold a controversial €20,000 angling event.
Chairperson designate Frank Allen admitted he knew nothing of the trip sponsored by the cash-strapped semi-State company in Enniskillen before it took place.
But, speaking at a Dáil committee, he defended the company's decision to give such events its financial backing despite being close to insolvency. He said it was an opportunity for executives to network with their counterparts at other European railways. The company's spending came under fire as workers gear up for a series of 24-hour strikes from next Wednesday to get the same pay rise as Luas and Dublin Bus drivers.
Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on transport, Robert Troy, asked Mr Allen to justify the fact that the company, which had to defer maintenance of its tracks because of limited resources, was prepared to spend tens of thousands of euro on the trip for senior executives. "Do I think that we could have found a river someplace closer to one of our railway lines in the Republic of Ireland?" Mr Allen said. "I don't know anything about angling, but I'm pretty sure that it should have been possible to find a river somewhere."
Mr Allen said he got an anonymous letter in the post about the sponsored event. The rail boss rejected claims previously made by Transport Minister Shane Ross while a journalist when he applauded a cut in Irish Rail's State subsidy and claimed it was a "swamp of waste and skulduggery".
Mr Allen said he chaired the audit committee and reviewed detailed reports, including those on procurement, and never had any concern. In relation to next week's strike, he urged the parties to go back to talks.
He said management understood employees' expectations for pay rises and had tabled proposals on how that could happen while taking account of the company's' grave financial circumstances. "I still hope that a solution can be found through further engagement," he said.
In relation to reports that chief executive David Franks pulled the rug on a 2.5pc pay offer at the last minute at talks, he said he would expect him to be involved in the negotiations.
Mr Allen said journey times would lose their reliability and consistency if there was "continued underinvestment" in infrastructure. He said there were temporary speed restrictions on sections of the network to "ensure that there is no compromise to safety". He also said he was "very confident" that the company would get an extra €103m subsidy next year as recommended by a Rail Review.
Meanwhile, Dublin Bus chair Ultan Courtney said it was not the kind of company that went on corporate junkets.
Along with Mr Allen and the chairman designate of Bus Éireann, Aidan Murphy, he accepted there was a low portion of women on their boards when it was put to them that just six of 27 directors are women. Mr Allen said this needed to change.