I have today paid tribute to the former CEO of Bus Eireann, Martin Nolan, who stepped down from the position after 6 years on Monday, a full year before he was due to step down from the role.
In my short time in politics I have met few people in the public sector or semi-state sector of the calibre of Martin Nolan. We might not have always agreed with one another, but one thing I can say as a public representative is that no matter what issue I raised with Mr. Nolan I always got a straight answer, I might not always have liked the answer but I knew where I stood. That is very rare when dealing with state run companies or departments.
In my opinion he was a straight talker and an effective CEO who steered Bus Eireann through a recession as best as he could given the resources at his disposal and the cuts imposed by government. He will be a loss to Bus Eireann. For semi-state companies to be losing talent like this is worrying and although the circumstances of the resignation are not known, I fear they cannot be good.
What now for the future of Bus Eireann I ask? I will not judge the new acting CEO Ray Hernan until I see what happens but Government policy is what I fear now. The board of Bus Eireann have initiated a policy of more cuts to routes and the restructuring of the Expressway service which serves many rural towns and villages as a vital transport link. There has been speculation that the west is in line for further cuts, but we will not know until the board reveal their plans for the company.
We know little of the future of the company as of yet but I suspect that over the next 4-6 weeks there will be revelations over the future of Bus Eireann and in typical fashion we will find out when the dye has already been cast. I believe the presentation of the Grant Thorton report, commissioned by the board of Bus Eireann, to unions will tell a story.
The time has long since passed that Ministers and Department officials stop listening to pen pushers who know little or nothing about delivering proper services. Yes, Bus Eireann needs to reduce losses but as a semi-state entity it has an obligation to provide services for the good of the public also. Economic Development and growth in rural regions is contingent on being connected with good public transport links,
If routes in the West of Ireland are to be given the axe then those supporting the government in this region need to consider their position. Rural Ireland has born the brunt of the recession. The worst of the storm has been weathered and further cuts simply cannot be tolerated. We are all in favour of greater efficiencies and delivering better services but that is not a license to axe services purely based on their economic performance. We have been picked alive and services have been put on a shoestring and we cannot allow any further cuts.
The news of the cuts comes only days after the National Transport Authority announced a rise of 10 million in the numbers using public transport in the Republic of Ireland. Bus Éireann saw customer numbers rise 1.7 million to nearly 32 million in 2016 the NTA announced. Anne Graham, Chief Executive of the NTA had this to say about the announcement “… public transport is not simply a matter of concern in Dublin. In fact a properly functioning public transport system is a key issue nationally when it comes to promoting balanced regional economic development, preventing social isolation and protecting the environment.
When you have the CEO of the National Transport Authority detailing the importance of transport to rural regions and their development, and the CEO of Bus Eireann resigning as cuts are announced to services by the board of the company, tough questions need to be asked about the governments suitability to govern. It seems to be crisis after crisis and there is a gaping leadership vacuum.