A system of community-run rural transport schemes is safe, the Government has insisted.
The Rural Transportation Scheme will be strengthened – not abolished – Junior Transport Minister Alan Kelly claimed despite a leaked report proposing to scrap the initiative.
A draft report from the Department of Transport, leaked to the media, proposes to abolish the 35 community-run rural transport schemes and replace them with eight regional authorities overseeing the programme while local county councils would run individual schemes in their areas.
The transportation network was established in 2002 to combat social isolation in rural areas.
Community groups including Irish Rural Link said any plans to abolish the scheme would be devastating for rural residents who are already faced with the closure of schools and garda stations and dwindling populations due to emigration.
But in a statement, Mr Kelly's department insisted that while it was reviewing the scheme, there were no plans to abolish the programme.
"On the contrary, Minister Kelly is committed to strengthening the programme by ensuring a more efficient delivery structure and by maximising integration with other state transport services," it said.
The department added it was consulting with local authorities, the National Transportation Agency and the Rural Transport Network to restructure the scheme while making it more efficient.