Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Questions (56)

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

56. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to address the number of attacks that have taken place on transport workers across the three Córas Iompair Éireann companies and the measures to deal with same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29685/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Transport)

Last night a Bus Éireann driver was effectively kidnapped at knifepoint when somebody got on his bus and threatened to embed a sharp object into his skull if he did not allow him to go to Drogheda. The passenger had a false bus pass and had been challenged by the driver. The driver complied with all emergency procedures, yet the police who were meant to be at Drogheda never arrived.

This is just one in a long litany of incidents of attacks on bus and rail workers. What is the Minister going to do about it?

I thank the Deputy for her question. I take the matter she raised seriously, as I do all attacks of this sort.

The safety and security of public transport staff and passengers, including arrangements to deal with anti-social behaviour, are important matters that, first and foremost, must be managed by every public transport company, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, where appropriate. While the vast majority of public transport passenger journeys occur without incident, I am concerned to ensure the necessary arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and staff.

My Department has been advised by Iarnród Éireann that, in 2018, 14 assaults on the company’s staff were reported. This was a slight fall on the 2017 total of 15 assaults on staff. In the first six periods of 2019, there were five assaults on Irish Rail staff, compared to seven for the same period in 2018. This is not to lighten the blow. I take every one of these incidents seriously and am deeply concerned by what is happening.

Irish Rail has also advised that it has undertaken a range of measures and proposes further measures to address anti-social behaviour on the rail network. These include the recent announcement to pilot body cameras for ticket inspectors and customer services officers, increased security personnel, the introduction of customer service officers on all intercity routes and enhanced CCTV coverage.

A new text alert service will also be introduced shortly to enable customers to discreetly report anti-social behaviour incidents and allow security personnel, gardaí or both to be alerted and dispatched as required to an incident.

I am advised that the overall level of anti-social behaviour incidents involving Dublin Bus was down 18% in 2018 and was down by 14% in the first quarter of 2019, compared with the first quarter of 2018. The number of physical assaults on staff so far this year is 26 compared to 22 in the same period last year.

The entire Dublin Bus fleet is fully fitted with CCTV cameras with up to ten internal cameras and two external cameras fitted on the more modern vehicles in the fleet. Each vehicle is equipped with a radio, which facilitates immediate contact to the central control centre.

For several years, the National Bus and Rail Union, NBRU, and other unions have been trying to get the Minister and the Minister for Justice and Equality to take this issue seriously. I have a whole file which includes many letters which have been passed around from one Department to another. The demands of the workers’ representatives are simple. All Bus Éireann and public service vehicles should be retrofitted with security screens to prevent exactly the type of incident which happened last night to the driver I referred to. There should be a transport police body, for which there have been calls for a long time. Again, however, this has been passed from Billy to Jack. Bus Éireann should be cashless and its drivers should not be put in peril and be responsible for collecting fares. There should be an assault payment scheme, similar to what operates in Dublin Bus. The Minister is correct that Dublin Bus has much more security measures. The same is now requested for Bus Éireann and Irish Rail.

The Minister claimed such incidents have decreased. In late 2018, a female driver was assaulted at Busáras, a driver was threatened with a knife outside Kilbeggan, a driver was robbed in Naas and members of the Garda were called to remove aggressive passengers in Naas. This is a litany of incidents which the unions claim are on the increase and that there is no safety travelling on public transport. This is unfortunate because we are trying to get people to use public transport.

I acknowledge the role the unions have played in this. They have made strong representations and represented well on this issue. They have prompted a response from my Department and the transport companies. I absolutely agree with the Deputy in deploring those incidents to which she referred. I can only quote the statistics which I have given about the attacks. Any attack, however, is one too many. I do not think the statistics are valuable in this case because, although it is reducing in some of the transport companies, it is unacceptable. We will not be happy in any way until this is addressed and sorted.

Following representations from the NBRU, my Department wrote to the three CIÉ companies to get their views on the issue of anti-social behaviour, as well as ensuring the safety of both passengers and staff. All companies stressed their strong and close working relationships with An Garda Síochána.

I also contacted the Minister for Justice and Equality to seek his views on how we could address the issue of anti-social behaviour on our public transport system. The allocation of all Garda resources, including the manner in which Garda personnel are deployed, is solely a decision for the Garda Commissioner and his management team. I understand that An Garda Síochána has met the Railway Safety Advisory Council on the issue of anti-social behaviour on our public transport network.

It is not good enough that the Minister just throws his hands in the air and says it is up to the three companies. Public transport workers should be able to feel safe when doing their jobs and have security screens, as Dublin Bus workers have. The issue of a transport police force should not be passed from the Minister over to the Garda. It should be the Government that takes responsibility on this issue.

Next Tuesday, it is possible that Bus Éireann workers will take industrial action and curtail the services they have been providing, as happens often with Dublin Bus where workers refuse to go into areas for periods until anti-social behaviour in them stops. The Bus Éireann workers are well within their rights because for many years this has been going nowhere. The Minister has not taken responsibility for the safety of workers in public transport. I strongly encourage the workers to seriously consider curtailing their services as the only way they will get any notice taken of them.

I am certainly not throwing my hands in the air. It is quite the opposite. I have been hands-on in contacting all the relevant people to ensure something is done about it. Action has been taken as I have outlined. We will not be happy until that action is ultimately and totally successful. There is no utterly foolproof way of stopping people from being violent in any place. However, there are ways of taking precautions. We are going to take those precautions and will continue to intensify them where necessary and where we feel it is effective.

Last December, my Department provided an additional €115,000 to Iarnród Éireann to enable it to enhance security on DART and rail commuter services in the greater Dublin area and at its maintenance depots. This was in direct response to the problems to which the Deputy referred. Where there was equipment and money needed, we provided it in an emergency situation.

Can the Minister direct the companies to provide it?

We did it because it was necessary and people's welfare and lives were at risk. We were determined to tackle the problem. The Deputy should not claim I have not directly intervened when I have. I have also urged the companies in question to do what is necessary. They have been responding.

I have asked my Department to engage with all the transport companies, as well as the Railway Safety Advisory Council. I could give the Deputy a long list of measures which have been taken. I have already given her some. I am determined this scourge will be stamped out and I will do anything I can to ensure that it is.