On those Dublin Bus strikes …
“I wasn’t involved – that was the point.”
Minister Ross defended his lack of involvement in the strikes which saw widespread disruption in the city for a number of days in September.
The Dublin-Rathdown TD said that he was “firm in [his] resolve” and would not have backed down, even if the strikes had continued until Christmas.
Minister Ross said that he wasn’t prepared to fund Dublin Bus management at the expense of the taxpayer – especially with the possibility of further potential strikes from Bus Eireann and Irish Rail.
He said that when he made it clear he wasn’t going to just sign a cheque, that this comment wasn’t intended for the workers.
“The people who annoyed me most were the Dublin Bus management – not the workers or the unions.
“It was important that when the management went into negotiations that they got the message that they were on their own, and that the Department wasn’t just behind them waiting to sign a cheque.
“It worked – we weren’t going to sign a cheque for them, and it was difficult not to, because we could have done it and both sides were annoying us every day, criticising us.
“[Deputy] Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP), who is a friend of mine, was outside my office with a huge sign that said: ‘Where is the Minister?’, but I thought that was quite funny, actually!”
However, Minister Ross said that the widespread criticism didn’t bother him, and he is satisfied that he set a precedent for future industrial action in the transport sector.
What did cause problems, though, was the bus lane issue, which Minister Ross says he wanted to keep open for use by drivers, but he was prevented from doing so by the Road Safety Authority who ruled that it was “too dangerous”.
On Budget 2017 …
This was the first budget that Minister Ross had much involvement in at Cabinet level – an experience which he described as “a very interesting time”.
“It was my first time involved at that level, and I think that was marked down as being a point of difficulty, but we came to an agreement and the Government worked well on the budget, actually.”
Minister Ross said that he feels his Independent Alliance “got a lot into the Budget,” and cites the old age pension bonus as a particular success that they brought to the table.
On parts of the Budget he was not happy with, Minister Ross said that he was annoyed with pension payments being delayed.
“I would have liked to have given a bit more away in other areas, but we couldn’t do it – it was very thinly spread. We only had about €800 million, which seems like a lot – but it’s not – to spread around the different interest groups.
“So yes, I was unhappy we couldn’t do more, but I hope we can do more next year. It all depends on Brexit now, that could knock us for six.”
On Brexit, he added: “things could really kick off”, and said: “It’ll affect our exports, and tourism could go down because of exchange rates. We’re in a precarious position.”
On repealing the Eighth Amendment …
Minister Ross is personally in favour of repealing it, and wants there to be a free vote on the matter in the Dail.
“There should be a free vote on it,” he added, but stated that not all members of the Independent Alliance are in favour of repealing it.
“I’m in favour of repeal – absolutely, as is Finian McGrath and John Halligan.” However, the two rural TDs in the IA Cabinet, Kevin “Boxer” Moran and Sean Canney, are against such a move.
“Our view has always been that it is a matter of conscience and up to the individual – we’re going to have to sort out our differences at some stage.”
On Dublin’s key transport projects …
Minister Ross said that the Luas Cross City line will be completed next year. “It’s on target and it’s within budget,” he said, insisting that it will be up and running by next Autumn. “I don’t think there will be any delay on it, it’s been on target the whole time, so there’s no reason why it should be.”
He said that the Luas Cross City will be “a bit of a monument to transport in this country”, once completed.
However, he confirmed that we can’t expect other major projects such as Metro North and Dart Underground to be completed until around 2025. “They’re being planned, but the funds aren’t there yet.”
On the Rio Olympics and Pat Hickey …
The minister, who also has Sport on his portfolio, says that the Olympics was “quite the event”.
“We were meant to be going over to encourage the athletes and to be there as a presence and show support from the Government, and it was overshadowed by Pat Hickey. We were meant to be there for a fortnight and we came back after three days. It was very dramatic.”
Minister Ross said that he has not spoken to Pat Hickey since Rio, adding: “We didn’t get on very well!” But he admitted that he feels sorry for the former president of the Olympic Council of Ireland.
“He’s only available on the phone anyway. I do feel terrible for him, stuck over there – he could be there for another 18 months or more. “On a personal level, we didn’t get on at all, but he’s not a young man; he’s stuck out there without his family. It’s tough for him.”
On his relationship with Enda Kenny …
“Relationships between the different people in government are actually rather good at the moment,” Minister Ross revealed, after a “catastrophic” first few months.
“There’s no point in trying to pretend otherwise, they [the first few months of the new government this year] were incredible – we were working on completely different agendas.
“We [the IA] believe that we should have a free vote [in the Dail], and Fine Gael had never heard of free votes, so it was very difficult.”
Minister Ross said that he and An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, are now beginning to understand each other.
“The relationships have improved – they were bad – Enda and I didn’t even have conversations. It was almost impossible; we didn’t really see eye to eye, but now we have conversations.
“We have to talk and reach agreements, but we don’t have to go for a pint together or anything like that, but the relationships are getting better.
“We’re getting on quite well now – as partners in government, we’re beginning to work better together.”