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Union warns of strike unless bus service axe plan withdrawn

A leading trade union has warned of the real possibility of strike action if proposals to scrap urban bus services in Armagh and other towns across the Province proceed.

Unite has launched a ‘people power’ campaign against the proposed cuts, which emerged on Friday as part of the Department for Regional Development’s plans to make enforced savings.

On Friday it was revealed that Armagh city will be among 13 other towns across the Province that could be affected with complete service removal.

Seven other towns could have services severely limited.

Within those seven, Lurgan, Portadown, Newry and Dungannon are all included.

Rail services are also expected to be hit hard, with the likelihood of fewer trains running between Newry and Portadown.

The Department has been ordered to make total savings of £65m which could lead them to selling some car parks and raising the price of public transport.

Services connecting towns and villages could also be hit, although Translink has insisted the proposals are in ‘draft’ form.

Transport Minister Danny Kennedy has accepted that “very difficult decisions” have to be made as a result of budget cuts.

Councillors and MLAs locally branded the proposals “mad”, “ridiculous” and “an utter joke”.

There were warnings sounded that cutting the town service would hit at the retail and hospitality sector in the city, among other things, with fears rural routes to other towns and villages could be next on the ‘hit list’.

As well as Armagh, it was proposed to axe town services in Ballyclare, Ballynahinch, Banbridge, Carrickfergus, Cookstown, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Limavady, Magherafelt, Newcastle, Newtownabbey, Omagh and Strabane.

Others facing a serious cutback of services are Antrim, Ballymena, Bangor, Dungannon, Lurgan, Portadown and Newry.

The union Unite has now launched its ‘Hands Off Public Transport’ campaign in a bid to protect local services, as it says it would affect the most vulnerable – the elderly, the disabled, the working poor and families.

Union official Davy McMurray said Unite was planning to get various groups on board and sounded a warning of  protracted industrial action if the proposals are not taken off the table.

He said it would have a “hugely adverse impact” on those who rely upon these bus services.

And, in an ultimatum to the Department, he warned: “If the Minister (Danny Kennedy) insists on a course of decimating public transport we are intent on balloting our members on protracted industrial action to defend our bus and rail services.”

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