Other Questions. - Iarnród Éireann Stoppage.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

7 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the steps, if any, she has taken or plans to take to help facilitate a settlement to the problems that led to the recent stoppage of locomotive drivers in Iarnród Éireann; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26980/98]

I understand the formula put forward by the Labour Relations Commission to get over the difficulties that led to the work stoppage on 24 November has been accepted by both management and unions and that the talks are on track again.

I would encourage all parties to make every effort to resolve their remaining difficulties and bring these restructuring negotiations to a successful conclusion. This will be in the longer term interest of everyone in the company and ultimately for the benefit of the travelling public.

The unofficial action on 24 November caused inconvenience and hardship to rail passengers and the general public. It also damaged the reputation of the railway as an effective and reliable means of transport. I would therefore strongly urge the parties to avoid any repetition of this type of action. Negotiations, however difficult, are the only way in which agreement can be reached.

I share the Minister's pleasure that the talks are back on track. What assurance can she give the travelling public that there will not be a repetition of the unofficial action which caused the stoppage of trains on 24 November? What action has she taken since to ensure that industrial relations in the company are improved? In particular, has she met the chairperson of the company and restored a working relationship with him? Has she met the unions or received a report from the Labour Relations Commission? Has she heard from her trouble-shooter about the likelihood of any more industrial relations games that might required to be shot at CIE?

One cannot give a definite assurance about anything. It would be foolish if I were to say hand on heart that there will not be another strike in CIE. However, I hope following that action, which should not have happened, that common sense has come back into the arena and there will be a willingness on the part of all involved not to have another day such as that. I have encouraged that strongly. Since 24 November I have spoken to the human relations manager in Iarnród Éireann and the two unions involved. The chairman and I have a very good relationship and we are writing letters to one another.

Does that mean he will be reappointed?

He has a long way to go.

How long?

We should not get derailed and should keep to the questions asked.

Probably until 2000; it is a millennium project. I do not have a difficulty with any chairman or chief executive under my aegis. They may have difficulties but I prefer in my sunny way to ignore them. I have also spoken to Keiran Mulvey of the LRC and John Behan. I will continue to speak to the players involved and put my butt into those matters, as Deputy Stagg inelegantly put it, because they are vitally important.

The Minister has spoken to everybody involved in this dispute — the human relations manager, unions, chief executive of the LRC and the trouble-shooter — but has merely engaged in correspondence with the chairman of CIE.

I forgot to indicate that I spoke to the chairman last week.

When the Minister spoke to the chairman did she receive any assurance from him that he will not make the type of public intervention that gave rise to the dispute on 24 November?

That is the Deputy's interpretation of what gave rise to the dispute. I had lunch with the chairman on the Monday before the strike after he had made his statement and we spoke about those matters.

Given the chairman's statement, referred to by Deputy Gilmore, the Minister's reply and the fact that she said that she has no difficulty with the chairman, what is her interpretation of what precipitated the unofficial action? Does she agree it resulted from the chairman's irrational and unwise statement? Should that then give rise to a difficulty with the chairman?

I do not intend to have difficulties with the chairman.

What is the Minister's interpretation of the reason for the wildcat action that occurred, which was highly undesirable?

I do not know. On the night the chairman made the statement I got back to my flat at 11.45 p.m. and there was a request on my voicemail to ring "Morning Ireland". I did so and the producers said that they had the statement and asked if I knew anything about it. I said "not really" and I was asked if I would go on the programme.

The Minister said she would go on if they took her last.

No, I said that I would go on——

The Minister often calls the programme.

During the last five minutes when nobody can respond.

I told the producer of the programme that I thought it would be a good idea if she informed Mr. Joyce that I was going on so that it would not be a surprise to him. He and I were on together. I do not know why he made the statement and I did not ask him.

He is unlikely to make another.

The one day action, or bush fire, was symptomatic of a wider problem which is unusual, if not unique to public transport and CIE. The principal unions, the NRBU and SIPTU, are not members of ICTU whereas in virtually every other sector there is an ethos of partnership, which all of us support and in which ICTU has a role. Have the Taoiseach and others active in planning partnership considered taking steps to bring these people and their representatives into ICTU and the partnership process as a method of dealing with all the problems in the viability plan and not just this bush fire?

There is a measure of truth in the Deputy's comments. I have given thought to it but I have not come to any conclusion. It seems that over those days and since that the absence of such a relationship would lead to difficulties. I omitted to say that in the ongoing informal discussions which I have held since the strike I also spoke to Des Geraghty and he will play a strong role in the matter from now on.

When the Minister spoke to Mr. Mulvey, chief executive of the LRC, did he convey his view as to what caused the strike? If he did, will she share it with the House?

My discussions with him were informal but I will have a formal discussion with him next week. We agreed that the talks should be renewed with much greater intensity and he was of the opinion that that was the best way forward. I did not indulge in what happened but looked forward.