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Clare Sinn Féin TD, Violet Anne Wynne has described the HSE's €600 million Winter Plan as a "wish list". Photograph by John Kelly

New petition seeks overhaul of public school transport

A LISSYCASEY father whose child was recently adversely impacted by the concessionary selection system for public school transport has devised a new petition to spearhead radical reform.

Up to 15 pupils from Lissycasey and surrounding areas had their places on a bus to St John Bosco Community College withdrawn at the start of the school year because of antiquated boundary rules, which deemed them ineligible and put them on the concessionary list.

West Clare pupils will get their place on a bus after a new contractor was appointed last week with a larger vehicle.

Ciaran O’Flaherty is gravely concerned about the Bus Eireann school transport policy currently in place, in relation to “eligible” and “concessionary” categorisation, as the sole means to complete selection.

Mr O’Flaherty believes the current policy is unfair, unethical, unreasonable and divisive, creating real divide in rural communities and resulted in the recent West Clare “Bus Fiasco”.

Requesting Bus Eireann to abolish the two-tier system, he is proposing an actual demand driven system only where buses are hired to accommodate numbers and no child gets left behind.

He asks what is the point in Bus Eireann’s selection criteria when they finally matched demand with the hiring of an additional bus for St John Bosco, which highlights the current process is “not fit for purpose”.

“Bus Eireann should have no remit in dictating which school a child should go to. Currently it does. It clearly states a recommended school when you submit your eircode.

“Bus Eireann selection does not take into account the nuances of rural living, which results in scenarios like the ones experienced in Newmarket- on-Fergus, Killaloe and Lissycasey. We are 0.2km outside the eligible area. Eligible parents/children have to pass our concessionary house by car foot to get to the school bus stop.

“Bus Eireann also need to be held accountable for their treatment of concessionary students and parents. I have detailed examples recorded and seen by all four County Clare TDs in my previous correspondence relating specifically to the West Clare School Bus Fiasco.

“No one should have to suffer the poorest level of duty of care and lack of communication from a public body as I have had to experience at first hand.”

He is seeking the support of all the four Clare Dáil deputies, Violet-Anne Wynne, Joe Carey, Michael McNamara and Cathal Crowe to implement this petition.

Deputy Wynne has called on Education Minister Norma Foley to review the Bus Eireann’s post primary school transport and controversial concessionary selection system with a view to completely scrapping it.

“We still have students without seats, and we still have students not being collected at appropriate locations along their routes.

“I am also calling on Bus Eireann to stop ignoring calls from effected parents and I would ask that they engage with all these cases efficiently and with the level of compassion required,” she stated.

Deputy Crowe called for the school transport scheme to be scrapped in its current form.

“A huge number of pupils have been left without access to a seat on a school bus this year; some in cases where numbers have been too high to adhere to social distancing guidelines but others where parents had their requests accepted and had paid for a place only later to be told they no longer had it.

“I’ve been inundated with queries relating to secondary school transport this year and I know Bus Éireann has as well,” said Deputy Crowe.

Deputy Crowe said he was working with Minister Foley to rectify issues in areas in Broadford, Crusheen, Kildysart and Cratloe and many other villages.

Bus Éireann operates the School Transport Scheme on behalf of the Department of Education, transporting 120,000 children on 7,000 dedicated school routes every year.

To be eligible for School Transport, a Bus Eireann spokeswoman explained primary school children must live more than 3.2km from their nearest national school, and post-primary school children must live more than 4.8km from their nearest education centre.

Distance eligibility will be determined by Bus Éireann by measuring the shortest traversable route from the child’s home to the relevant education centre.

Availability for children who do not meet these criteria may vary from year to year, and concessionary transport cannot be guaranteed for the duration of the school cycle.  Unfortunately, demand often exceeds supply in various areas of the country.

Families who do not secure transport have the opportunity to appeal the decision through the Department of Education.  This appeals process is available year-round and further information is available at the Bus Éireann and Department of Education websites.

 

Dan Danaher

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