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Time you started knocking heads together Minister

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Pascal Donohoe, TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

Pascal Donohoe, TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

Pascal Donohoe, TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

Get on your bikes. This is the message that our politicians, semi-state executives and union leaders have sent out by refusing to lift a finger in the ongoing Irish Rail pay dispute.

With less than 72 hours left before the first planned work stoppage, there is still time for sanity to prevail - but depressingly little sign that anyone is willing to make the first move.

Understandably, a lot of attention has focused on how these strikes might disrupt the All-Ireland championships.

The first possible casualty is this Sunday's first football semi-final between Kerry and Mayo, two counties that rely heavily on rail services to get their supporters to Croke Park.

If the controversy drags on into September, then the hurling and football finals are also due to be targeted.

However, this is not just a potential headache for GAA fans. The unions are also threatening to down tools on August 25 and September 8, two working Mondays when thousands of employees need trains to reach their offices.

In other words, this industrial action could also have a significant economic cost at a time when the country can least afford it.

So what is being done to prevent such a nightmare scenario? The simple answer appears to be, "not a lot".

With this runaway train about to hit the buffers, apparently nobody on board has enough nerve to press the emergency button.

David Franks, the CEO of Irish Rail, earned €225,000 last year [more than the Taoiseach] and has, incredibly, decided to go on annual leave.

As for the leaders of SIPTU and the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), they are still pleading their case over the airwaves - but sound more interested in making a show of strength than coming up with a potential solution.

It does not take a genius to point out what should happen now. No industrial row in history has ever been resolved by gross insults or the public wringing of hands.

Every single one was sorted out when the main players agreed to sit down and hammer out a deal.

After all, there is nothing very original about the issues at stake in Irish Rail.

Management insists that temporary pay cuts of between 1.7pc and 6.1pc are essential to save the company from going under, while workers protest that they are being asked to provide a 2014 service with 1998 levels of funding.

DRAGGING

The argument has been dragging on for almost two years now, so nobody can pretend that peace talks will be pleasant or easy.

But in the words of Winston Churchill: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

Sadly, there is every reason to be pessimistic right now. It looks as if we will have a repeat of the recent Bus Eireann and Aer Lingus disputes, with the senseless ritual of strike days before managers and unions are dragged back to the negotiating table.

The pattern has become a familiar one - when well-heeled workers on the public payroll fail to get their act together, it is often the poorest and most vulnerable who get it in the neck.

Ironically, Paschal Donohoe has just received an interesting report from his steering group on transport.

It shows one thing very clearly - the Government's goal of getting people out of cars and on to public transport has turned out to be a dismal failure.

Obviously this has a lot to do with chronic under-investment in our trains and buses over the years - but it does not exactly help when strikes flare up and ministers refuse to get their hands dirty.

Donohoe is a young, friendly and extremely ambitious politician.

It must surely have dawned on him by now that making Thatcherite statements about troublesome unions is not going to achieve anything - instead, he needs to start knocking heads from all sides together and make them see some sense.

Sooner or later, the Irish Rail dispute will be resolved.

Everyone involved has a duty to make it sooner.


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