THE issue of Clare Bus has been raised in Dáil Éireann, with three of the constituency’s TDs appealing directly to Minister Shane Ross to intervene in the dispute with the National Transport Authority (NTA), which resulted in new contractors being appointed to the rural transport service in March.
Deputy Cathal Crowe outlined the importance of the service saying, “We are not a leafy suburb with DARTs and Luas trams going down through it. We rely very much on rural transport.” The Fianna Fáil TD described the dispute over funding as “shambolic” and, referring to the staff of Clare bus said, “They are the only group of workers I can think of in the State at present who have been made redundant, not by the Covid crisis but by Government body hard-balling.”
In her maiden speech in Dáil Éireann, Sinn Féin TD, Violet-Anne Wynne asked, “Will the Minister also step up and engage an independent mediator to resolve contractual issues between the NTA and Clare Bus?” she asked. Deputy Wynne also asserted that the new operators don’t provide the same level of accessibility. “Some 72% of services currently provided by the private operator are not accessible,” she said, “and therefore exclude wheelchair users and those with reduced mobility. This is a distressing state in which to leave persons of need.”
In a heated exchange, Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister “if it is acceptable for a company to essentially be blackballed by a State authority as a lockdown looms?” The Independent TD said staff “were essentially silenced by the National Transport Authority”.
Responding, Minister Ross outlined the background to the contracts for rural transport services and noted that Clare Bus emerged as the preferred bidder, with the signing of contracts due to take place in January 2020. “The series of correspondence issued from the NTA to Clare Bus between January and March 2020 in an effort to enter into a contractual relationship with the company,” he said. “Clare Bus did not sign contracts by the deadline set by the NTA. The NTA considered that in the interest of customers across the county, it was left with no option but to put alternative measures in place. As of Monday, 23 March 2020, two local transport operators have been contracted by the NTA to deliver Local Link services in County Clare.”