Donegal Fianna Fáil Deputy Charlie McConalogue has slammed the Government for refusing to accept that the road Bus Eireann is using to calculate the nearest school route for Urris pupils is unsuitable and unsafe.
Deputy McConalogue challenged the Education Minister in the Dáil on the issue. However although Minister Jan O’Sullivan said she was aware of the issue she also stated that the criteria in determining school transport eligibility had to be applied uniformly across the country.
“The Minister’s response is clear – this Government is going to force pupils from the Urris area to travel across a dangerous mountain road and relocate from Carndonagh to Buncrana if they want to avail of free school transport”, explained Deputy McConalogue.
The change in school transport eligibility came into effect in September 2012 however with the introduction this year of online registration and the use of google maps to determine distances it is now coming to light that the nearest school for Urris pupils is Buncrana because the online system uses Mamore Gap when calculating the shortest route.
The Donegal Deputy commented, “This new system is completely senseless. Not only does it advocate the use of the road through the Mamore Gap, which is extremely treacherous during the winter months, it will see children from Urris forced to relocate from Carndonagh Community School to Buncrana. This has the potential to lead to a situation where two siblings are attending two separate schools in different locations, as the new rules only came into force in September 2012.
“There is a long tradition of children from the Urris area attending Carndonagh Community School and I am extremely concerned that the system used to calculate the distance does not take the condition of the route in question into account. Bus Eireann has decided to use a road through Mamore Gap in calculating one of the routes, despite the fact that the road itself is dangerous, particularly in the winter months, and could put the safety of these children at risk. Despite the concerns raised by local parents, Bus Eireann claims the rules given to it by the Department of Education is prohibiting it from ruling out this option.
“The Minister of State with responsibility for school transport Damien English washed his hands of the situation in the Dáil yesterday when he passed the buck back to Bus Eireann, stating that responsibility for the planning and timetabling of school transport routes rests with the bus company, as it operates the school transport scheme.
“I have been working on this issue with both Councillor Martin McDermott and Councillor Rena Donaghy and I will continue to raise this issue directly with the Minister. This is a completely unacceptable situation and I will not let this matter rest. The Minister O’Sullivan must allow Bus Éireann to apply a sensible and safe approach to this situation so that the students of Urris can continue to attend the Carndonagh Community School”.