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Thursday 22 August 2019

No child should be left standing on side of road


Stock Image: Getty Images
Stock Image: Getty Images
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The image of a child left standing at the side of a country roadway while the school bus passes them by is a fairly striking one.

You wouldn't imagine it could happen by design, but that's exactly how our School Transport Scheme operates.

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It's a well-known problem which has been highlighted in the Irish Independent for three years, but is still allowed to happen.

Back in 2017, Minister of State John Halligan told this newspaper he was powerless to resolve the issue because of legislative and funding hurdles. "You hold your head in your hands sometimes as a minister. You get in there and you find it's so difficult to change things," he said.

Now the senior minister in the Department of Education, Joe McHugh, says there is a quick fix but his efforts are being blocked by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

Donegal is one of the counties where families rely heavily on the school bus, so no doubt Mr McHugh's office has received calls from worried parents.

You wouldn't have to be top of the class to reach the solution that he is putting forward.

"The solution quite simply is where you have a 30-seater and you could have eight or nine extra people who can't fit on that 30-seater bus, you get them a bigger bus," he said, adding it was just "common sense".

According to the minister, this would add around €4m to the cost of the bus scheme, which already stands at €200m.

He is even proposing to use money from within his own department, rather than seeking extra funds from Mr Donohoe.

But as is often the case, common sense is not so common.

The rules state that children who do not automatically qualify for a bus ticket can only get a space if there are empty seats on existing services.

Bizarrely, the use of a bigger bus is expressly banned - even if it might be considered more economically viable or environmentally friendly.

As a result, we are three weeks out from the new term and thousands of parents still don't know how their child will get to school. Hundreds of them will ultimately be forced to get in their cars and drive.

Some rules are just made to be broken, because no child should be left behind.

Irish Independent

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