They disagreed and teased out various issues, but there was consensus on one point from all who spoke at a public meeting in Mitchelstown last Wednesday night, that the X8 bus service needs to be retained.
The meeting was organised by the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) as part of their ‘Save Our Bus Service’ campaign and was held in The Firgrove Hotel. The main topic of discussion was the future of Bus Eireann Expressway, the local route of which is the X8 Cork to Dublin service.
Local activist Timmy ‘Rancher’ White was among those who spoke and he said the only way for Bus Eireann Expressway to be saved is for the people of rural Ireland to stand up and be counted.
“I will personally say and say without fear of contradiction, if we are to hold onto these services it will be done by the people in rural Ireland, not by the politicians in any party. I see the bus queues in the Square in Mitchelstown every day, the school children, the old people.
“Rural Ireland is very clearly dying around our ears and it has been left go that way. No matter who was in Government we elected rural TDs to go up to the big smoke to fight for us and represent us, we are not seeing it.
“What has to be organised will be by the people of rural Ireland. Don’t leave it all up to the drivers and the unions, they are all family men like ourselves, we can stop this here in rural Ireland, we can stop what they brought in. If we are to win this and hold on, if we lose one bus, it is one bus too many,” he added.
The recently leaked Grant Thornton report suggested that the only way to solve Bus Eireann’s financial crisis is to get rid of Expressway. If this were to happen, people in Mitchelstown would lose six daily services to Cork and there would be no bus from either Fermoy or Mitchelstown to Dublin.
Another person from the floor spoke of how she is a regular X8 bus passenger, using it to travel to medical appointments and to see her family in Greystones, County Wicklow. She added that bus services are invaluable to those who don’t drive and the communities around Mitchelstown need to fight for it to be kept.
The meeting was addressed by NBRU General Secretary Dermot O’Leary, who strongly criticised Minister for Transport Shane Ross in refusing to get involved in resolving the dispute between Bus Eireann and the unions. He said Minister Ross will have a role in this, whether it be publicly or privately.
The possibility of replacing the X8 service with a Public Service Obligation (PSO) route was discussed at the meeting. The National Transport Authority (NTA) states that PSO routes are socially necessary, but financially unviable public transport services.
‘THE SARDINE EXPRESS’
Mr O’Leary said the NTA has outlined in repose to comments from the NBRU that they have a tool kit to fix the departure of Bus Eireann from any rural communities. He said the alternative service they offer would be unacceptable and this was seen when the X8 was removed between Cashel and Portlaoise.
“When I say “service”, I put inverted commas around it, because Bus Eireann was serving those towns twice as much as the new company is doing.
“The misfortunate people have a service alright of sorts, but they are travelling on a 25-seater cramped mini-bus, that some of us have dubbed the sardine express, that is how bad it can be sometimes. This is the tool kit the NTA has to fix the X8 if, for example, it disappears,” he said.
Eoin Tobin from Fermoy, speaking after the meeting, said he thinks a PSO route is something that all parties should consider, as it is vital that the link between Mitchelstown/Fermoy and Dublin is retained.
“I disagree that we would have a small minibus, because with the amount of people using it to Dublin we will have to keep our big coaches. I think the PSO levy will not bring it down to small coaches.
“I think it is a compromise, I think we can’t lose our bus service. We can’t lose drivers’ jobs, it is vital, there are loads of young drivers and people depending on it as a livelihood. I think Shane Ross will have to come out and talk to the unions and look at PSO levy Government funding,” he added.
Labour TD Sean Sherlock said he believes there must be work across party political lines if they are to stave off what he says could be a disaster for ordinary people. Deputy Sherlock was also strongly critical of Bus Eireann management.
“What I have witnessed about this particular issue and this is a State company now, is the manner in which the management is acting. To say they are indecent is putting it mildly, but for an Irish State owned company to act this way puts us back in the time of Dickens. (Minister) Ross needs to be mindful that it is going to take more than a selfie of himself at 10 in the morning on Dublin Bus,” he said.
Fianna Fail TD Kevin O’Keefe was also critical of Minister Ross. Deputy O’Keeffe said he believes as the main shareholder Shane Ross should be initiating dialogue.
“There is a big threat to all routes, we don’t know what will be saved or not. To Mitchelstown the Expressway is a very invaluable service. I have no problem with private operators, they can go from Cork to Dublin without interacting with the towns, but Expressway looks after us here in Mitchelstown and Fermoy,” he added.
‘CALL THEIR BLUFF’
Speaking from the floor on the night, Assumpta Murphy from Fermoy said she supports the bus drivers, who have to deal with the public and money, unlike the Luas drivers, who got the deal they wanted.
“The drivers are the eyes and ears of Bus Eireann and they always will be. They are doing their best, but the unions should be fighting tooth and nail for the drivers, the boys and girls on the ground and to hell with management.
“You should go on strike and call their bluff once and for all, just go out and teach them a lesson. Put the ball back across the net, call their bluff and bring the place to a standstill, they do it in France, do it here,” she said.