Deputy Bobby Aylward
Fianna Fáil TD for Carlow - Kilkenny Bobby Aylward has called for an overhaul of the School Transport Scheme to ensure outstanding issues with eligibility requirements are dealt with.
Deputy Aylward made the comments after securing a special Dáil debate on the issue earlier today.
“Every year concessionary ticket holding children are being left by the side of the road without transport to their schools. In the majority of cases parents are not informed until a couple of weeks before the school doors open. This leaves them in the impossible position of having to arrange school transport at short notice. The whole issue puts unnecessary hardship on young families,” said Deputy Aylward.
“The current rules determining eligibility must be changed as they are not fit for purpose. For example, they do not take into account parochial identity and prevent children from attending schools in their own parish. The rules also result in siblings being split between different schools and do not take into account the location of after school and extra-curricular activities with local GAA or other sports clubs. The rule stating, "routes will not be extended or altered, additional vehicles will not be introduced, nor will larger vehicles or extra trips using existing vehicles be provided to cater for children travelling on a concessionary basis", must be scrapped in order to allow flexibility at back to school time.
“The current appeals mechanism is totally unfit for purpose. Since 2015, 558 appeals were made to the School Transport Appeals Office. None of these appeals were upheld. An independent appeals board must be established to examine and consider matters for which a degree of discretion and common sense can be applied.
“It is our job as legislators and the Minister of State's job as Minister to address problems where they arise. There is a problem in rural Ireland in particular. The onus is on the Minister of State to review this scheme, as he has promised over the past two years he would do, with a view to the introduction of a scheme that is fit for purpose.
“There will be a small cost associated with these rule changes. Fianna Fáil has costed these at approximately between 3.2 and 4 million euro. This is a relatively small figure in the overall budgetary context and when you consider the number of struggling families that it will assist.
“Fine Gael have had 9 years now to solve this problem. It’s astonishing that they have failed to do so to date. I believe we need to see some movement on this in Budget 2019,” concluded Deputy Aylward