Tuesday, 14 May 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Jennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
I raise an issue in Bagenalstown, County Carlow, where there is an ongoing protest. Last week Irish Rail confirmed that it was going to downgrade the service provided in Bagenalstown train station to use of an automated machine.It states it will no longer have a stationmaster on site and will subcontract maintenance of the station. The stationmaster will be relocated to another station which already has adequate staff. In 2017, the station was thought so beautiful that An Post captured it on a commemorative stamp. We now hear Irish Rail plans to lease it out. To say it is not busy enough to keep it manned is unacceptable in a rural town. People in towns such as Bagenalstown matter. This issue is so important. We speak about rural areas but Bagenalstown, which has one of the most beautiful railway stations in Ireland, is now being told the man who runs the station will be going somewhere else. That is unacceptable.
Irish Rail has told us 80% of users avail of online ticketing and that only 20% of passengers go into the station to buy tickets. That does not matter. What about the 20%, who need to have the service in the railway station? I have been informed by Irish Rail that a staff member will disembark at all stations to help with machine tickets and acceptability issues. I worry that we are slowly destroying rural Ireland and its way of life.
Transport poverty and accessibility are social and environmental issues. More than one in four people living with a disability do not use public transport due to accessibility reasons. What we are now seeing will further prevent the use of public transport at a time when we need to be considering ways to reduce our carbon footprint. I am very concerned that, without a staff presence in Bagenalstown, there will be an increase in anti-social behaviour. The issue of maintenance needs to be examined but we also must consider the requirements of people who need help - the 20%; they matter. They include older people who do not use online services and those with disabilities. My office telephone has been ringing for the past week. I have been contacted by older people, in particular. They are so concerned about this. Individuals with disabilities are also ringing me. A disability rack may be pulled out for wheelchairs users. College and schoolgoing children also use the services in the station. What is occurring is unacceptable. Irish Rail cannot afford to be turning away customers. I fear this is what is going to happen.
I will talk to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport about this. I believe what I describe is happening across the board. It is happening in Athy and it has happened in Thomastown. It is unacceptable that rural Ireland is being forgotten. We have to ensure that we provide the services to the people. God be with the days when one said, "Hello", to everyone. One went into the train station and people said, "Hello", and asked how things were. Are we changing all this? Are we going to live in a society in which we will be going online for everything? That is unacceptable.