The Minister for Transport has an important role as sole shareholder of CIE. That is a responsible role but I suggest it has been a tremendous obstacle to transport in this country. That CIE has been a monopoly for so long, along with the other great monopolies of the State – CIE, An Post and Aer Rianta – has hindered the particular objectives to which those companies aspire. Their mission has been hindered by their monopolies.
I say this in the knowledge that private companies will now be allowed to compete with CIE in certain areas. We should welcome that because it is consumer-friendly, even if the CIE unions do not welcome it. It is important that the new Minister is prepared to challenge, not in a confrontational way, the unions which say there should be no change in this particular area.
It is obvious to anybody that in the modern world we cannot continue with monopolies of this sort. We only have to look at the incredible success of Aircoach running its buses from the airport to acknowledge that this service is consumer-friendly and absolutely necessary in the present context. Aircoach was started by John O’Sullivan, who I believe used to be in Dublin Bus. He set up the business on his own with a very small amount of money but sold it recently for €15 million. That was a great achievement because he set up to compete with the major monopolies from the airport, and he has now expanded his bus fleet. He started off running at a loss. One only had to be on the street outside to see all the empty coaches driving past. It was a disaster to start with but people got used to these particular buses which they found were cleaner, more frequent and more efficient.
They were cheaper as well. People used them and gave Mr. O’Sullivan the sort of mandate small private competitors need in this area against the great monopolies. If the introduction of competition in certain semi-State areas kills the monopoly and even puts the State out of the picture, so be it. If it is run for the benefit of the customer and can be profitable, that is a philosophy the Minister can happily espouse and comfortably say is popular. There is nothing wrong with doing something popular if it also happens to be right.
Semi-State companies, particularly in the transport area, are used by certain people to protect particular perches; these people sit on and expand their empire, make sure it does not make a profit, keep competition out and crucify the consumer. I welcome the fact that we are moving away from that philosophy and urge the Minister to take his courage in his hands and promote faster change. We would then see more Luas projects, greater competition in other areas and a better transport system.