William Street trader Michael Gleeson, who says his trade has fallen by 25% since the strike commenced. PICTURE: ADRIAN BUTLER
BUS Eireann services in Limerick again failed to operate this Thursday as strike action continued for a seventh straight day.
Local commuters and business owners are counting the cost of the dispute over cuts to pay and conditions, with one local retailer Michael Gleeson claiming his trade has fallen by a quarter since the action commenced.
There are still no talks scheduled between the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), Siptu and the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) and Bus Eireann management.
And the pressure is growing on Transport Minister Shane Ross to intervene.
Dermot Healy, the NBRU’s local representative said: “We have right on our side. There’s a steely determination to fight to the bitter end, whatever end that might be.”
There has been support for the drivers action, with calls for governmental intervention. The chief executive of the Limerick Chamber, Dr James Ring, has notably called on Transport Minister Shane Ross to “pony up” and give increased financial backing to the semi-state bus firm.
Shoe shop owner Mr Gleeson, who trades in William Street also called for all parties to “see sense and get together”.
“The company is in dire straits. I do understand the workers position though. It is affecting my business, there is no doubt about that. But what can we do,” he asked.
Retail activity has also fallen at the Parkway Shopping Centre, according to its manager Roger Beck, who said: “Trade is very slowly coming back to Limerick, and the last thing we need is for something like this to drag on”.
Normally, Bus Eireann runs seven regular services covering the city and its surrounds, as well as other irregular services covering rural Co Limerick. On top of this, there are normally twice hourly services to Shannon Airport – which is currently inaccessible by public transport.
There are some private bus companies operating, but these do not accept state-issued free bus passes, leaving people stranded.
Mags Brown, the voluntary community centre manager in Caherdavin said: “At the moment, it’s awkward for students getting to college and the older people going in and out of town. It is a fair distance to walk. It’s hard, and there is a divide in the community. Some are supporting the action, some are not. But everyone wants there to be a more pro-active approach from government.”
Dr Ring agreed there has been a drop in footfall in Limerick, adding: “It is not acceptable. You cannot force Bus Eireann to operate like a commercial organisation, then put the shackles on them and say you have to put on non-commercial routes. If that’s what government wants, they have to back Bus Eireann.”
Sixmilebridge businessman Carl Ashley, who works in Limerick city, revealed he had to cancel meetings this Wednesday to ensure his four children get to school. Normally, they would ride the bus.
On the drivers side, Mr Healy, who is from Castletroy View, says he stands to see his pay cut from €600 a week down to €450.
“I’m a man with a mortgage. I’ve got all the bills to go with modern living. We wouldn’t be able to survive based on these cuts.”
Woodview bus driver James Quinn added: “I’ve a daughter going to college and a daughter doing the Leaving Certificate this year. I’ve a younger girl in primary school, and i’m only on the average industrial wage. Nobody wants to be on strike, lease of all me. We don’t want to have to be here.”
Although Bus Eireann services are not running, Dublin Coach is providing a service between Newcastle West, Adare, Limerick City and Dublin, as well as a twice-hourly service between the city and Castletroy.
Aoife Dunphy, Dublin Coach said the firm has been able to cope well with the extra demand.
“We would have 35 services operating per day to and from Limerick across our network. We have been advising all passengers to pre-book their seat at the time they wish to travel at so this allows us to see what services may be potentially busier than others. All staff have been exceptional during the busy period and we have received a lot of positive feedback from the public regarding the price and frequency of our services,” she said.
JJ Kavanagh has reported an increase in demand of 15% on its services on the Limerick-Dublin corridor, while Citylink is maintaining a schedule between Cork, Limerick and Galway, plus an express service to Dublin Airport.