Ross extends his 'drink links' bus scheme despite rows with FG
Transport Minister Shane Ross is to extend by three months a pilot scheme of buses taking rural drinkers home from the pub, saying the initial six-month period wasn't enough to decide whether it is cost-effective.
Mr Ross, who is locked in a battle with his Government colleagues in Fine Gael over his road safety clampdown, will not now make a decision on whether to permanently fund the service until the end of March.
The scheme began last July, with buses being provided to bring people home until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
The move was a response to complaints from TDs in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that stricter drink-driving legislation being pursued by the minister was killing rural towns.
Mr Ross has regularly found himself in dispute with Fine Gael on the topic in the intervening months.
Last week he was in conflict with other ministers at the Cabinet table.
Particular concern has been raised about anecdotal reports that gardaí have upped the use of alcohol checkpoints in the morning, even targeting people going to Mass and schools.
But the Independent Alliance minister came out swinging over the weekend, writing in the 'Sunday Independent' that any minister who opposes gardaí enforcing the law "would be unfit for Government".
Mr Ross also said there is a "lunatic fringe" in Leinster House who have been "huffing and puffing about the evil of breathalysing drink-drivers in the morning".
With tensions rising, his move to extend the late-night bus service may be seen as an olive branch.
Confirming another three months of funding for 'Local Links', Mr Ross said: "Tackling rural isolation and providing the means for people to meet, socialise and attend events is extremely important."
Since last summer, 65 services across all 26 counties have been running on average from 6pm to 11pm, typically on Friday and Saturday.
A statement from the Department of Transport said the initial National Transport Authority (NTA) review found the majority of services "are performing well, particularly as it took time for some of these new services to be developed".
However, it concluded that a six-month pilot "was a relatively short period within which to gauge passenger usage and trends".
A further review will take place in March.