Bus company challenges Bus Eireann's €166m deal with Minister for Education
A PRIVATE company is challenging an alleged €166m contract between Bus Eireann and the Minister of Education for a bus service providing transport for 123,000 students.
Student Transport Scheme (STS) Ltd says an agreement between the Minister and the State-subsidised bus company contravenes EU directives relating to the awarding of public contracts.
They want the Commercial Court to declare the contract between the two is ineffective under those regulations and are also seeking damages.
The Minister, and Bus Eireann as a notice party, say there is no contract and even if there was they are entitled to avail of a number of exceptions including that the school transport scheme was set up long before the EU directives came into force.
In its action, STS, of Pimlico in Dublin, says the Minister failed to identify if, how and when the school transport contract for the
2011/12 was awarded to Bus Eireann.
It has also claimed that if it had been given information sought from the Minister in May of last year about the school transport services, it would have been able to determine whether it had an interest in the contract or had grounds for review.
STS was incorporated last year with the intention of tendering for the school transport scheme and says it has a "memorandum of understanding" with a large US-based school bus manufacturer and distributor.
It claims it has information indicating Bus Eireann secured €166m for provision of school transport services for about 123,000 children daily for the year ending December 31, 2010.
The Department of Education had declined to disclose details of the alleged 2011/12 contract on grounds it was commercially sensitive, STS claimed.
In a statement of opposition, the Minister says STS does not have any standing to bring the proceedings and public contract directives do not impose any obligation on him to terminate the transport scheme or engage in a competitive tendering process.
Bus Eireann says it will contend the administration of the transport scheme constitutes a form of co-operation among public entities in which there is no participation of private capital. The implementation of the scheme is governed solely by considerations relating to the pursuit of objectives in the public interest.
They say the arrangement is exempt from the application of the EU directives and/or any law concerning public procurement.
Opening the case yesterday before Mr Justice Brian McGovern, Anthony Collins SC, for STS, said the court will first have to decide whether a contract exists and if the judge finds against him then the whole case falls away.
Their case was the contract did exist and that it is an arrangement between the Minister and Bus Eireann that must be construed for the purposes of EU and national law, counsel said.