Rural bus scheme cuts to hurt elderly, support group warns
MAURA Fitzgerald (70) considers herself one of the lucky ones.
Although she lives on "the side of a mountain", she still drives and enjoys a good level of independence, unlike many of her neighbours.
However, she understands better than most the importance of a good rural transport scheme and the vital social link it provides to elderly people in her community.
Mrs Fitzgerald is the chairperson of 'Sean Chairde', a voluntary organisation that represents over 1,000 elderly people in Kerry.
They organise social gatherings, information days, training events and even a bowls league, all aimed at combating the problem of isolation among elderly people in rural areas.
"We are indebted to Kerry Community Transport. Without them, there is no way we could provide the service we do," Mrs Fitzgerald said. "The people who use it absolutely love it . . . and they also depend on it."
Sean Chairde pays 60pc towards the transport costs when it uses the buses provided by Kerry Community Transport and only charges its clients €3 per head. The rest is made up through fundraising.
Sean Chairde was set up in 2004, two years after Kerry Community Transport, one of the 35 existing rural transport groups, which runs about 120 routes all over the county from its base in Scartaglen.
Sean Chairde won a Kerry Community Award in 2009 and a National Rural Links Award two years later in recognition of the work it does.
Mrs Fitzgerald was horrified to hear of any changes that might impact on the service.
"There's a lot of suicide in Kerry. We started because there was a need to get the elderly socially active, and if it wasn't for Kerry Community Transport what we do would not happen," she said.
"I know the country is in a bad way and a lot of people think the elderly have not been affected as much as everyone else.
"Older people just don't complain as much but they're very grateful for anything they get."