Today again witnesses huge disruption for up to 155,000 passengers on our railway system, the DART and so on. These are people going to work and to hospital appointments on intercity routes. This huge disruption is not good for our economy. The rail workers have not had a pay increase in ten years. They do not want to be on the picket line and they are very anxious for an orderly, proactive resolution of this dispute.
The origins of and background to this lie in a lack of proactivity from Government, in particular the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, in regard to public transport policy in general and in terms of investment in our railway system.
In the aftermath of the bus strike the Minister made serious commitments to convene a stakeholders' forum involving the National Transport Authority, NTA; his Department, Irish Rail and the unions, but it was never convened. The whole idea was to try to prevent the industrial relations turmoil that, sadly, has been too much of a feature of the public transport system in the past two years. I would like to know why the stakeholders' forum has not been convened.
A national rail review was initiated 12 months ago and submissions were sought from everyone. Political parties made submissions, as did various interested bodies, but the review has never seen the light of day. Where is it?
There is an overall funding issue pertaining to Irish Rail and the railway system. The NTA has stated there are major issues and that, at a minimum and just to stand still in the next five years, Irish Rail will need €103 million over and above what it is receiving in order to ensure the tracks will be up to speed and existing deficits will be bridged. If we are serious about tackling climate change, public transport will be a key enabler in Ireland meeting its targets in that regard. Investment in public transport, including railways, will be essential if we are to meet the climate change targets we have set.
That is the policy background to today's industrial dispute. I argue that we are where we are because of a lack of proactivity on the part of the Minister and his lack of empathy towards the idea behind public transport. Given his public utterances during the years, he has a long track record of lacking basic sympathy for and empathy with Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and CIÉ overall. That has been his form. However, a country is now at stake. Instead of tweeting about the fortunes of Manchester United or contemplating publicly a fantasy visit to North Korea, he would be far better off focusing on issues within his realm of responsibility, including industrial relations in the transport sector. It would be far better if he were to concentrate on having these issues resolved and proactively deal with them well in advance in order that we do not arrive at a situation like today's.
When will the national rail review be published? Why did the Minister not convene the stakeholders' forum? Does the Taoiseach accept that, in the context of an effective and viable rail network, a step change in investment will have to occur? Will we see more proactivity on the part of the Minister in terms of public transport policy?