"Are ya right there Michael, are ya right? Do ya think that we'll be home before the night? Well it all depends on whether, the old engine holds together. And it might now Michael sure it might."
(Percy French song)
Well, we all know the story by now. The Celtic Tiger leaping and bounding, an expanding economy and a rising tide that lifts all boats. Regular readers of Workers Solidarity might take all this with a grain of salt, and they would be right.
As we pointed out in our Spring issue, 34% of the Irish population now live below the official poverty line - as compared to only 30% a decade ago. Meantime house and rent prices have spiralled, and road traffic continues to rise at an alarming rate (4% to 8% per year according to the Secretary of the Department of the Environment, Jimmy Farrelly, quoted in the Irish Times 25th July).
This leads to the highest per capita incidence of road deaths in the EU (over 400 per year), massive traffic congestion and noise and air pollution. The extent of the pollution problem is illustrated in a joint study by the Economic and Social Research Institute, an Irish government think tank; and British consultants ERM. According to Frank McDonald, quoting from the report in the Irish Times (6th July):
"Transport has outstripped electricity generation as the fastest growing contributor to Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for half the projected increase to 2010."
He goes on to add:
"..but will the government take on the car lobby by making company cars which account for 40% of new car sales no longer attractive as a perk?"
This is a reasonable point, but the only alternative to cars - public transport - is cash starved and has been since the 1950s. Trains and buses are a highly efficient form of transport in terms of energy used, safety and the amount of pollution generated per person carried. But they are not a money making proposition.
The Irish rail network is now close to disintegration according to CIE's own chief executive Michael McDonnell. Addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Transport in 1995, he testified that the average age of Iarnród Eireann's locomotives was 29 years, carriages 20 years and more than half the track was over 50 years old! Of course, this leads to a disintegration of safety standards, effecting both passengers and workers.
Train drivers, organised in a new unofficial National Locomotive Drivers Committee organised an effective national strike on July 12th. Their demands focused on pay and conditions, but the state of the rail system was also a concern. According to one train driver, quoted in Socialist Worker (July 1998)
"..there are old wooden sleepers, and rails up to 90 years old in parts of Wexford and the West of Ireland. This results in delays. The Athenry-Limerick line has a speed limit of 30 mph because the track is so old. The derailment last year in Roscommon showed the dangers in this run-down of the railways."
The bosses' federation, IBEC, has demanded that £555 million a year be put into roads. CIE have asked for £650 million over the next 8 years to bring standards up to the quality level of the Dublin-Cork or Dublin-Belfast lines. Given the fact that roads carry 86% of commercial freight traffic, who do you think will get the investment? Once again the transport needs of ordinary Irish people will be sacrificed to a tiny ruling minority, and so it will always be until we turf them out and start making our own decisions.