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Wednesday, 21st August 2019

Families left frustrated as school bus uncertainty continues

Front Page

Getting a seat on the school bus for your child can be a complicated process.

Sometimes even the simplest things in life can become complicated. With just a couple of weeks to go before children return to school parents all over County Louth are still wondering whether or not they will get places for their children on school buses.

Due to a mix up between the Departments of Education and Finance and Bus Éireann many parents have been told that there is no space on the bus service for their children even though they have been paid for.

Under the system, which is implemented by the Department of Education, children that live a certain distance from their nearest school - 3.2km at primary level and 4.8km at secondary - are deemed to be eligible for school transport.

After that there are so-called “concessionary” seats for children who do not meet these distance criteria and they are considered only after eligible children have been facilitated.

Where the number of concessionary applications for school transport exceeds the number of spare seats available, tickets are allocated on a random selection process.

This has led to much confusion and calls from local politicians for the two Ministers to sort the situation out as many students could be left with no way of getting to school.

"It’s farcical" - Breathnach

Louth TD Declan Breathnach (FF) has called on the Minister for Education to intervene to ensure that students will be able to avail of places on school buses, regardless of concessionary status.

“I have been inundated with calls from parents this week who have been told there is no room on the school bus for their child. Many of these parents had paid for the service months ago, only to now be told no there is no space and they will be refunded. They do not want a refund; they want to know their child will be able to get to school.”

Breathnach continued “The Minister for Education has announced more funding for school buses while the Minister for Finance has said he hasn’t approved this. It’s farcical.”

“Only 24,000 of the 30,000 applications for a concessionary seat have been granted, and the remaining 6,000 should be granted immediately to give parents the certainty that their child can get to school.”

‘Ridiculous and unnecessary’- Ó Murchú

Sinn Féin councillor Ruairí Ó Murchú also says that it is ‘ridiculous and unnecessary’ that substantial numbers of school pupils across Louth have been refused concessionary school transport.

“In many cases these pupils have received concessionary bus passes for years and families have built their daily routines around this provision.

"Thankfully some of these people have since received bus passes within the last number of days, but not all families are catered for.

“This fiasco occurs every summer and leads to unnecessary stress and annoyance for many families.

“Joe McHugh, the Minister for Education, who has ultimate responsibility for this scheme, indicated in media reports in recent days that the issue could be resolved with an additional investment of €4 million.

“He has said that efforts to agree this investment are being blocked by the Department of Public Expenditure.

“I have written to the Minister for Finance to ask him to re-examine this scheme and the manner in which it is operated by Bus Éireann. Sinn Féin has also called for changes to be made to the scheme.

“We simply cannot allow a system to prevail which causes this much uncertainty and annoyance to local families.”

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