Priority Questions. - Public Transport.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

81 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the discussions he has had with trade unions representing CIE workers in regard to his proposals to split the company into three independent companies; the steps he intends to take to keep workers informed, especially having regard to the disruption to public transport arising from the demonstration by workers concerned that they had not been informed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2895/03]

When I announced my proposals for public transport reform to the Public Transport Partnership Forum on 7 November last year, I indicated that it was my intention that the restructuring of CIE should be implemented in a spirit of partnership and consultation. Since then I have had a series of discussions with representatives of the CIE unions. I met with the NBRU on 11 November 2002 and with a joint ICTU and SIPTU delegation on 5 December 2002.

I met with the CIE board, including the worker directors, on 11 December 2002 and I subsequently arranged for the CIE board and CIE unions to be briefed on the technical study commissioned by my Department on the restructuring of the companies. I also met each of the subsidiary boards on 27, 28 and 29 January.

On 21 January, I wrote to unions renewing my invitation to meet at any time. Following on from that I again met with representatives of the unions yesterday. I had a lengthy and useful meeting with the trade unions yesterday during which it was agreed that there would be bilateral discussions between my Department and the trade unions to explore the reform of public transport in the greater Dublin area. The objective is to conclude these discussions by the end of March.

During that meeting I invited the trade unions to submit a short paper to the restructuring implementation group, which I will be convening shortly, identifying their principal concerns about the restructuring of CIE.

Does the Minister accept that he has mishandled the situation? In an era of partnership he has failed to sit down with interested parties to explain the rationale for his proposals for CIE or to take on board the views of the people involved. Does he further accept that the concerns of workers in the CIE group are legitimate given the experience in Britain where the Government rushed headlong into the privatisation of transport services and it turned out to be an absolute disaster for commuters? Services did not improve and quickly the supposedly open market turned into a closed market with small local monopolies. Does the Minister accept that the concerns of workers in CIE are legitimate? Is he in a position to allay those concerns?

Just yesterday the Minister belatedly sat down with the unions involved. Will he give a commitment to entering bilateral talks over the coming months with an open mind and not a set agenda in respect of competition? There is concern that the Minister has not learned from the experience of other countries, particularly Britain, and he is rushing into this headlong because he is ideologically hung up on the issue of competition without having regard to the experience where competition is not necessarily a good thing in respect of public transport.

I acknowledge the legitimate concerns of the workers in CIE and I made that clear to them in the many meetings I have had with the workers' representatives at board meetings and union meetings. I have met the ICTU and SIPTU on two occasions and I announced my proposals at the forum on public transport, where the unions are represented.

The unions walked out of that.

They did but at a different stage, not at that meeting. I am making two proposals: that the CIE holding company will be dissolved and the three companies will operate independently to provide choice to people and competitive pressure, which the country needs, and that from January 2004 we will open up 25% of the Dublin market to franchising. I am not talking about the British model of deregulation and naked competition, I am talking about controlled, organised, structured competition under a regulator, allowing the people of Dublin an increasingly better service. There is no mystery about this and I have been clear with the unions about it.

This is not ideological. I do not propose the privatisation of the company, I propose the opening of the market. I would be interested to hear the view of the Labour Party on the opening up of markets in public transport so that I will know what I am debating. I am for opening the market, having discussed it with the unions, to bring about a better public service. Dublin Bus is a great company but it is not entitled to be the only company in the city.

Will the Minister make the PricewaterhouseCoopers report available to Opposition spokespersons? We should have access to it. It will still be necessary to have an operating company to carry out the operations CIE currently carries out. I do not, therefore, understand the rationale behind the breaking up of the group. Surely it should be possible to return the powers the Minister wants without breaking up the company, given that it is accepted there is a need for some holding company.

The consultants' report states that performance indicators should be in place. The Minister should put them in place before criticising Dublin Bus for the way it carries out its functions.

I will make the report available.