Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

School Transport Issues: Engagement with Minister for Education

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy. I agree with his comment that the school transport system is beneficial and important. The Deputy referred to capacity. We have already seen an increase of more than 21% in capacity. As I said, 124,000 young people are now availing of that transport system, as opposed to 103,000 this time last year. Those who qualify to avail of it meet the criteria. The criteria for eligibility, as the Deputy is aware, are that the child must live within 3.2 km of a primary school or 4.8 km of the nearest or next nearest post-primary school. The criteria are clear. We are in the throes of considering the criteria, going forward. They are subject to review. It was not possible at this time to change the criteria because that would not have been fair.

The Deputy specifically referenced concessionary places. Children receive concessionary access to transport where there is additional capacity on the bus. That happened last year and is happening again this year. It is interesting to note there has been an increase of one third in concessionary availability this year. The Deputy and any other public representative will be aware that there can be late application for eligibility. There can be individual circumstances in a family that mean there is a need for a late application. Something may have happened. Perhaps there is an illness in a family. There are myriad circumstances that could mean someone who is eligible was not in a position to apply on time. They remain eligible if they meet the criteria. Concessionary places will, of course, be accommodated where there is additional capacity. As I have said, some children who may be allowed a concessionary place have not been successful. It is difficult to ascertain why people fall under the concessionary label. Some do not meet the criteria for eligibility. Others are attending their fourth, fifth or sixth nearest school. In the context of the upcoming budget, I am in discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, to see if there is potential to accommodate the cohort who have previously availed of a concessionary place, where there is capacity. We may have an opportunity in the context of the budget to do something in that regard.