OFFICIALS at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) will today make a fresh bid to broker a deal between the parties involved in the ongoing bitter rail dispute.
Trade unions SIPTU and the National Bus and Railworkers' Union (NBRU) will come face-to-face with Irish Rail management just days after pay cuts were imposed on workers.
Among the issues due to be discussed is a second wave of strike action planned for next weekend - a move that will cause travel chaos for tens of thousands of GAA fans set to attend the All Ireland hurling final in Croke Park.
The Herald understands that LRC officials contacted unions and company management yesterday after receiving a request by Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe.
With just days until the next strike action, unions are expected to be asked to call off the strike and engage in formal talks next week.
But union sources insisted that this will only happen if Irish Rail agrees to postpone the pay cuts which took effect on Sunday.
While sources involved in today's negotiations said that they are merely "exploratory", it is significant that unions have agreed to meet Irish Rail management just days after they forged ahead with implementing pay cuts.
"Like in any negotiations, there is always common ground - that's what these talks will aim to establish," noted one source.
Mr Donohoe has been criticised for his handling of the rail crisis and came under fire from Fianna Fáil after he said the strike action was a "slap in the face" of taxpayers.
But his argument that the State's industrial relations mechanisms are well equipped to deal with the dispute may prove to be correct.
"I welcome the fact that the LRC has intervened at this time and that the invitations to talks have been accepted by the parties to the Irish Rail dispute.
"As I have maintained, the LRC is the appropriate forum in which discussions can, and should, take place, and am hopeful of a positive outcome," Mr Donohoe said last night.
Trade union NBRU - which represents 600 rail workers - said the talks will focus on more than just pay cuts.
"We understand that this invitation is designed to establish if there is a basis for further discussions around a more comprehensive agenda rather then one which has a disproportionate focus on our members wages. We will engage with the commission on this basis," said NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary.
Today's talks will be watched closely by the GAA as it prepares to host the All Ireland Hurling final between Tipperary and Kilkenny.
The strike scheduled for next weekend is due to be followed by further industrial action on September 21, when the football decider takes place.
The industrial action is in response to temporary pay cuts for staff which came into place on Sunday.
The Labour Court recommended that the pay cuts should apply for 28 months.