Thursday, 19 July 2012
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach arís. The matter I wish to raise, school transport, is part of the Minister of State's brief and concerns a specific situation with which I am dealing in County Clare. It concerns a young child starting second level school in September who experienced systematic bullying in primary school. The medical evidence and doctor's certificates on this case are available to the Minister. The bullies that caused the problem will attend the school nearest and the bullied child will travel elsewhere. However, the rules of the transport scheme are that an allowance will not be provided unless the pupil is attending the nearest possible school. There must be exceptions and this should be one of them. This child will be far better served in terms of his education need if she goes to a post-primary school a little further away that will not be attended by the bullies. Then she will have some chance of being able to settle into school and of having the same opportunities as her peers.
I understand full well that the scheme must have rules. However, there are exceptional circumstances. On compassionate grounds, I appeal to the Minister of State to use his good offices to make an exception in this case, given the medical evidence is there.
I thank Senator Conway for raising this matter today. As he is aware, school transport is a significant operation, managed by Bus Éireann on the Department's behalf and covering over 82 million km annually. In the region of 113,000 children, including more than 8,000 children with special needs, are transported in approximately 4,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country. The main objective of the school transport scheme is to support the safe transport to and from school of children who would have difficulty travelling for reasons of distance to their nearest school if transport is not supported.
Under the terms of my Department's post-primary school transport scheme, children are eligible for transport where they reside not less than 4.8 km from and are attending their nearest education centre as determined by my Department or Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language. Children who are not attending their nearest school may apply for school transport on a concessionary basis, subject to a number of terms and conditions which are detailed in the scheme.
The school transport charge for children who are eligible for school transport and for children who are availing of school transport on a concessionary basis remains at €350 per annum for the 2012-13 school year. This charge can be paid in two instalments in July and December. Eligible children for whom no school transport service is available may apply for the remote area grant towards the cost of making private transport arrangements. This grant is only available to children who are eligible in the first instance.
Considering what the Senator has said and the evidence he has submitted, I will ask Bus Éireann to submit a report to my school transport unit regarding the availability of services, if any, for the pupil referred to by the Senator. We will revert to the Senator as soon as that report is available.
That is a most satisfactory reply. My knowledge would suggest there is alternative transport to the school which is a little further away. That is a positive response and I look for the hearing from the Minister of State or his Department.