Friday 23 August 2019

'Penny-pinching' Donohoe slammed by rural TDs over school bus crisis

Michael Fitzmaurice
Michael Fitzmaurice
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has been accused of being "anti-rural" and "penny- pinching" over the failure to fund school transport for every child who needs it.

Rural Independent TDs Michael Fitzmaurice and Mattie McGrath attacked the Government and Mr Donohoe over the shortage of school bus places that has left thousands of parents in limbo with just a fortnight to the new school term.

More than 30,000 children are understood to have applied for so-called 'concessionary' tickets on school buses. But to date, Bus Éireann has only issued 24,000.

Junior Minister John Halligan, who has responsibility for the school transport scheme, told the Irish Independent on Tuesday the crisis could be averted if the Department of Education is allowed to spend an extra €4m from its own resources to pay for bigger buses. He claimed Mr Donohoe and his officials had "railed" against this.

"The inability to find €4m to sort out the transport needs of rural schoolchildren is yet another example of this Government being the most anti-rural administration in the history of the State," said Mr Fitzmaurice, a TD for Roscommon-Galway.

"This Government has billions and billions available for Luas lines, imaginary Metros, Darts, bicycle lanes and buses for Dublin.

"Yet, such is their apparent determination to drive rural people off the land, they cannot afford a few buses for schoolchildren."

Mr Fitzmaurice said it was a "total scandal" that thousands of students could lose out on school bus places because of "Paschal Donohoe's penny-pinching".

"This is a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach that will clog our roads with cars and add further pressure to the lives of hard-working people who will have to get up even earlier to go to work," he said.

Mr McGrath claimed hundreds of children in his Tipperary constituency were facing the prospect of having no transport for their children for the coming school year.

"Each year we have the same problem emerging with parents and children being left to fight for seat places.

"This is despite the fact that solutions have been consistently offered to Government for the last number of years," the Tipperary TD said.

He said Fine Gael politicians were blaming Mr Halligan when the fault lay at the door of the Finance Minister.

"If they were serious about addressing the problem then they would have already called on Paschal Donohoe to take his grip off the purse strings in order to help those families who are in dire need of school transport," Mr McGrath said.

A spokesperson for Mr Donohoe referred to a statement issued earlier this week where they said that Education Minister Joe McHugh was in talks with Mr Donohoe regarding "a proposal to modify the criteria for eligibility under the school transport scheme".

The spokesperson added: "There are a number of outstanding issues in relation to the proposal, including the costs involved, value for money and the wider delivery of the school transport scheme.

"Discussions are ongoing at official level between the two departments."

Irish Independent

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