Up to 35 busses of all sizes, shapes and colours left the Tralee Road Industrial Estate in Castleisland right on the designated time of 10.30am this morning on their one-lap protest tour of the town.
It was all over in a matter of half an hour.
They came as a representative sample of the Kerry Private Bus Operators and from all over the county and beyond the borders.
They were there to protest at what they see as the ‘elbowing in’ of the locally based Kerry Flyer Ltd into a market in which the playing field is anything but level.
In a statement, before they headed off into town, the operators pointed out their grievences which they confined to a single sheet of paper.
Having to Protest
“It is with regret that we find ourselves here today having to protest through Castleisland town. We apologise for any inconvenience we may have caused to the good people in the area,” the statement opened.
“What has led us to this situation here today is the fact that a number of private bus operators have lost their Bus Eireann Special Needs Contracts to a heavily Government subsidised ‘community service.’
“This service ‘Kerry Flyer’ entered this limited market last year and immediately secured five of these contracts. As Kerry Flyer has charity status and is in receipt of funding from many sources, including the Government through the Dormant Accounts Fund and Pobal, Kerry County Council and the Ring Of Kerry Charity Cycle just to name a few, it is impossible for small family run non-funded bus operators to compete with this service, hence one bus operator lost a run which had been in the family for over 40 years and another operator is no longer in business.
Protests into the Future
“We are holding this protest today and will continue to hold these protests into the future in support of these operators and to highlight this issue. It is important here to point out that this service, Kerry Flyer, unbelievably has stated that it will attempt to secure up to 20 more of these contracts this year, this will put a lot more contractors and their employees out of work.
“Now we wish to highlight that unlike Kerry Flyer, we, non-funded private operators, provide transport to all members of our community 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If we lose our contracts we will no longer be able to continue this essential service. Another nail in the coffin of rural Ireland.
“We wish, for the record to state that under no circumstances do we wish to see Kerry Flyer stop their services in transporting the elderly to day care centres, shopping trips or hospitals etc and the other services they do which don’t result in job loses. This is, after all, the reason they were established in the first place. In fact we have worked beside Kerry Flyer since 2001 without a problem.
God Given Right
“We understand that we don’t have a God given right to these Bus Eireann contracts, but by God we have a right to compete for them on a level playing field. And yes we understand that Kerry Flyer are required to generate their own income as a condition of their funding but it is absolutely all wrong for them to do this by taking our hard earned income.
“It also has to be pointed out that these contracts that Kerry Flyer have already secured, amount to just 4% of the passengers that they carry but yet the amount of worry and financial stress that they have already caused us operators is immense.
“Surly if common sense was to prevail Kerry Flyer would act like the community service that they are funded to be and leave us private operators and our hard earned income alone. We thank you for taking the time to read this,” the statement concluded. Paudie Collins on 086 80 30 601 or Johnny O’Meara on 087 28 82 292 can be contacted for further information.
Repeated the Stance
Outgoing TD Brendan Griffin stood with the operators before the protest this morning and he repeated the stance he took at the Meet the Candidates event at the River Island Hotel a couple of weeks ago.
“This is not simply a matter of dog eat dog in a strict business sense,” said Mr. Griffin.
“It would be like a government sponsored public house opening up here in the centre of Castleisland and dropping its prices – because it can – and putting all the other pubs out of business. It’s just as unfair as that and I came over this morning to support the private operators in their protest,” he said.
As the protest was getting under way, Michael Healy Rae was sending an email which reads as follows:
“This morning the private bus operators organised a protest in Castleisland and Michael Healy Rae believes that this protest has already achieved a lot in that the CEO of Bus Eireann Martin Nolan has contacted Deputy Healy Rae to confirm that he will meet with the group representing the Private Bus Operators in the coming weeks to discuss this important issue.
Michael Healy Rae states that he is delighted and he welcomes the CEO’s agreement to this meeting and believes the protest contributed largely to his agreement to meet.”
However, one local man believes that what’s going on is indeed just the run-of-the-mill dog-eat-dog of any normal business in any normal town. And he has been badly bitten.
John Nolan’s family had given 49 years of unbroken service to CIE and Bus Éireann in the school transport business from their Church Street base.
“I was a private bus operator just like the people who are protesting there now. In fact my father and myself were transporting students from Scartaglin to Castleisland for ten shillings-a-week before the 1967 free transport scheme was introduced by Minister Donagh O’Malley.
“That was for six day’s a week as the boys’ secondary school opened for a half-day on Saturdays then. One of my passenger from that time was the recently retired TD Tom Fleming.
“I was shafted by my own colleagues and was told in a phone call from Bus Éireann that I had lost the contract for the school run – that we had been involved in since my father’s time all those years ago.
“I think it’s funny now that they are protesting against the same kind of under-cutting treatment that was dished out to me when I was shafted. No matter what way you look at what’s going on here now it’s dog-eat-dog and it’s as simple as that,” said Mr. Nolan.
I have a statement to hand from the Kerry Flyer Ltd management and that will be posted here later this evening. – John Reidy, The Maine Valley Post 19-2-2016