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Transport Minister rules out last minute intervention to halt Bus Eireann strike

Transport Minister Shane Ross has insisted he will not make an 11th hour intervention to resolve a looming Bus Eireann strike which will cripple the country-wide bus network.

Before a parliamentary committee, Mr Ross said he had no money to resolve the problem and therefore getting involved in what was an industrial dispute would not help.

The minister said trade union bosses and Bus Eireann chiefs would have to sit down together to sort out the row, which would "undoubtedly" happen sooner or later.

"I wont get involved in this dispute," he told the Oireachtas joint committee on transport, tourism and sport. "I don't feel that would be the right thing to do."

Mr Ross said the unions and the company needed to return to the negotiating table without any preconditions.

"This is a matter between themselves, they will have to resolve it themselves. Undoubtedly sooner or later that is what will happen."

Mr Ross added: "What I don't see from people calling for my intervention is what my intervention will do.

"I see it as a distraction and it would be a signal that I will come to this industrial relations battle with money to offer.

"I don't have money to offer."

Union chiefs ordered an all-out strike at Bus Eireann starting next Monday after bosses at the State bus company declared they were pressing ahead with cost-cutting measures.

These will include the axing of routes between Dublin and Derry, Clonmel and Westport within weeks while services between the capital and Limerick and Galway are being curtailed.

The cutbacks are expected to impact on pay and jobs.

Bus Eireann is adamant they are necessary "due to the perilous state of the company's finances and the failure to reach agreement with unions" in its row over a survival plan.

Both the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) and Siptu have backed an indefinite all-out strike in response.

Mr Ross rejected claims he has done nothing to resolve the crisis.

"It is patently false that I sat back and did nothing," he said. "I do not believe at the 11th hour that it would be helpful (to intervene). I am very hopeful that the parties will get together in the next few days and behave in a responsible manner.

"To suggest I'm doing nothing or sitting back - no, I reject that and reject that totally. I have been extraordinarily active in this area but I'm not intervening in an industrial dispute."

Mr Ross said the core issues are with the unsustainable losses at the Expressway service, which is run as a commercial enterprise by Bus Eireann.

Taxpayers could not subsidise a commercial enterprise, he told the committee, adding that he had increased other State funding for struggling bus routes under public control.

Bus Eireann says it lost up to 9 million euro (£7.7 million) last year and will be insolvent by the end of this year - its 30th anniversary - with the loss of all 2,600 jobs unless an emergency survival plan is agreed.

Unions claim cost-cutting measures being proposed by the company will result in effective pay cuts of up to 30%.

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