Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Children, Robert Troy TD, has called on the Government to intervene and use a “common sense” approach with regard to new plans that aim to restrict free school transport.
Ballinalee councillor Michael Carrigy (FG) has called for a more “co-ordinated approach” and insisted that the latest review in relation to transport fees failed to take religious preference in to consideration. “I have been contacted by numerous parents in the past week who have been told that their children will not be eligible for free school transport from September because of new criteria introduced,” Deputy Troy told the Leader, adding that this latest move “made no financial sense”.
“In most cases the school bus is already travelling from these townlands, but new pupils will not be entitled to a place without paying a concessionary charge and can only travel if there is spare capacity on the bus. As a result, some children starting school in September will find they are not allowed to travel on the same bus as their older siblings, while families with medical cards will still have to pay these costs.”
Under the new rules, children are only eligible for State supported transport if they attend the school closest in proximity to their home. According to Cllr Carrigy, the rule has failed to acknowledge families who would prefer to send their children to Church of Ireland or multi-denominational schools “which may not be the nearest school to them”.
“While the old system needed to be reviewed because of the sheer cost of school transport, the new rules will have to be ironed out in time,” he added. “People who chose to send children to schools based on religion may have no choice but to bypass the school closest to them to achieve that; at the same time you can’t have a situation either where people are by-passing local schools.”
Cllr Carrigy went on to say that the “right balance” was required to achieve the overall desired effect and co-ordination should be a priority. “We have been looking for change in respect of school transport for many years now, but matters will have to be ironed out on this, and perhaps more investigation is needed in relation to individual requirements.”
Deputy Troy told the Leader: “Matters have been raised with Minister Ciarán Cannon on several occasions but he has so far refused to consider the impact of his decision on families in Westmeath, Longford and across the country”.