Gardaí do not believe the introduction of transport police on buses and trains is the solution to anti-social behaviour problems, Minister Eamon Ryan has said.
The National Bus and Rail Union (NRBU) is to ballot its members next week on possible strike action in protest at the deteriorating conditions on public transport.
General secretary Dermot Leary has detailed a list of “shocking” incidents staff have been confronted with, including sexual harassment, physical violence and open drug use.
Calls have been made for the introduction of a dedicated police service for the sector, but the Minister for Transport has said Gardaí are not in favour of such a move.
Mr Ryan said: “I think one of the questions today being asked is do you have a separate transport police for that?
“The advice from the Gardaí, and we have to heed their advice, they’re experts in security areas, is that no, that doesn’t work.
“There is very good liaison between An Garda Siochana and Irish Rail.
“I think we should double down on that and address what is a very valid concern.
“But I think the measures have been taken at the moment, going further and stronger and faster with that is the most important, best response.”
Speaking on RTÉ News, Mr Leary said NRBU members are in “despair” over the issue.
He said: “It’s everything from sexual harassment to verbal assaults, physical assaults, threats of rape on some of our women members, openly taking drugs, shooting up heroin, snorting cocaine off tables, engaging in sexual acts, being drunk.
“It just goes on and on and on. It’s quite shocking actually, what’s going on out there and our members actually despair at this stage.”
Mr Leary backed calls for a dedicated transport police and said he believed that Garda management is against the measure, but not the rank and file.
“I heard the Minister saying Gardaí didn’t want that type of division in the Gardaí,” he said.
“Garda management don’t want it, but the representative bodies would fully support us on that.
“There is a debate to be had, and that’s what we want to do.”
Taoiseach Micheal Martin said public transport workers had to be protected, and Government would engage with Gardai on how to do that.
He said: “We are always concerned about anti-social behaviour, no matter where it manifests itself. But particularly on public transport, because we owe a lot to our public transport workers.
“Throughout Covid they’ve continued providing services for us.
“We want more and more people to use public transport.
“The evidence is that if a good regular service is provided, utilisation of public transport increases.
“So it’s very, very important that the staff on our trains and on our buses are protected.
“We will work An Garda Siochana to devise the best means of achieving that and of doing that.
“In the meantime, I would appeal to the public to be supportive of drivers and of staff on our trains and buses, and to those who may engage to desist in that anti-social behaviour.”