Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal North East Charlie McConalogue says he will continue to put pressure on the Social Protection Minister to include the Buncrana-Derry bus route in the free travel pass scheme. The service was taken over by McGonagle Coach & Bus Hire following the closure of the Lough Swilly Bus Company; however the Department of Social Protection has withheld the subsidy on the route.
Responding to a Dáil question from the Donegal Deputy, Minister Joan Burton indicated that she is now reconsidering the issue.
Deputy McConalogue commented, “Despite numerous representations over the past few months, the Minster has continued to refuse to fund the route claiming the scheme is frozen and that her Department is not in a position to consider new applications or indeed requests from existing operators for increased payments.
“However, there may be some hope for free travel pass holders affected by the Government’s withdrawal of funding on the Buncrana-Derry route judging by the Minister’s response to a question I raised in the Dáil last week. Minister Burton claims she “has asked officials in the Department to examine ways in which companies could be admitted to the free travel scheme, initially where they are taking over routes for which free travel funding was previously available, including in Donegal, and thereafter on other routes with licenced passenger services“.
“This shift in tone is a positive development, and would indicate a willingness to consider the plight of pensioners and others who depend on their free travel pass in Inishowen. It is now imperative that Minister Burton follows through on her commitment to examine how the travel passes may be restored.
“I am now calling on Minister Burton to put a deadline in place for this review. It is unfair that the current situation, whereby the Government is discriminating against pensioners in Inishowen, is allowed to continue. Senior citizens are entitled to free travel right across the country, and local services are particularly important, however here in Inishowen, one of the main routes is not covered by the free travel pass. This service has always been subsidised in the past and the Minister should ensure that funding is available to provide for the subsidy into the future”.