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No more Mr Nice Guy as Donohoe follows Leo's lead

Paschal Donohoe may well be the politest TD in Dail Eireann.

When the baby-faced Minister for Transport (below) goes on radio, his first words are often: "Thank you for having me on your programme."

So his outraged response to the threat of a national rail strike later this month can only mean one thing - he believes a hardball approach is necessary to prevent the spectacle of empty seats at this year's All-Ireland finals in Croke Park.

Donohoe's language certainly shows that he is not nearly as much of a pushover as he might look. He has dubbed the proposed stoppages "a slap in the face" to Irish taxpayers who subsidise Irish Rail to the tune of €290m every year.

In his view the new pay cuts, ranging from just 1.7pc for workers earning under €56,000 to 6.1pc for those on over €100,000, are both completely reasonable and totally necessary to keep the company in business.

Needless to say, Irish Rail's biggest unions see things rather differently.

Both Siptu and the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) have rejected the cost-cutting measures by large margins in a number of ballots. The NBRU is now planning four days of strikes, starting with a 48-hour stoppage on August 24 followed by two 24-hour stoppages on September 7 and 21.

Union leaders love to innocently point out that there is never a good time to take industrial action.

In fact, those two Sundays in September could not have been more cynically chosen.

They coincide with the All-Ireland hurling and football finals, when GAA fans all over the country will rely on trains to get them to Dublin.

By threatening to derail the biggest dates on Ireland's sporting calendar, the NBRU is not only depriving itself of some desperately needed revenue. It is also kissing goodbye to any chance it might have had of winning the public's sympathy.

Even the most diehard Dublin or Donegal fan presumably does not want to see a situation where Kerry or Mayo are unable to fill Croker for the football decider.

All this means that for the moment at least, Paschal Donohoe is safe to assume the high moral ground. However, being a good minister requires more than giving bolshie union leaders a rap on the knuckles. In the coming weeks, he must bang heads together in order to bring about peace talks - and even be prepared to personally negotiate a deal himself if all other options fail.

scorn

Donohoe's aggressive warning to the NBRU comes straight from the playbook of his predecessor, Leo Varadkar. When strike action reared its ugly head at Bus Eireann in 2013 and Aer Lingus this year, Leo's first response was always to pour scorn on the unions involved.

Thankfully, both disputes ended before too much damage could be done but this was a high-risk strategy that always had the potential to blow up in the Minister's face.

Paschal Donohoe's cabinet career is getting off to a busy start. This rising star would be well advised to mix tough talk with constructive diplomacy, however, in order to prevent his nice-guy image from hitting the buffers.


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