Private Members' Business. - School Bus Charges: Motion.

Tuesday, 15 February 1983

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 340 No. 1

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Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  I move:

That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to ensure that no child is denied the right to education because of the imposition of school bus charges.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Deputy Hugh Byrne has 40 minutes.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  All Members will recognise the significance of this motion because of their contacts with their constituents. The significance will be far more evident to rural Deputies than to those in urban areas but the latter will be very well aware of the importance of this matter. Since I considered putting down this motion and subsequently lodged it with the Chief Whip, I have spoken of the subject matter of the motion to many Deputies from all sides. The general consensus is that public representatives have been inundated with calls at their clinics by irate constituents complaining bitterly of the recent imposition of school bus charges. I have had far more callers on this single issue than any other over the past three weeks. Irrespective of where my clinics are in County Wexford, the story is the same. The cry is that we are back to a situation where only the rich can afford to be educated. The poor children or the children of the less well off cannot now enjoy second level education because of the imposition of school bus [206] charges. This has put education beyond the means of many. The subject has also been raised at every meeting throughout the nation, community meetings, residents' associations, sporting bodies and at every level of political activity. I am aware of many cumainn, comhairlí ceanntair, and comhairlí Dáil ceanntair who have discussed this issue at length and all have made recommendations that we should not discriminate against anybody and that we should give every child equal opportunity. Let us cherish all the children of the nation equally.

All Members will be aware of the great march of the teachers in Dublin. They came to the city to add their voices to the groundswell of opinion against this dastardly act, the imposition of education cuts and the insensitive manner in which they were applied. Many Members from all sides went out to meet their constituents among the teachers that day and to assure them of their fullest support. Many gave their support while having their photograph taken for the local paper but when that support really matters I would ask them to give it heartily. The time is now. If this motion is passed we can all be happy in the knowledge that we have struck a blow for the children of Ireland who do not have a say in this House, those young people who depend on us to protect their rights. We should not let them down.

In preparing my contribution for this debate I have consulted with the Teachers' Union of Ireland and the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, both unions at local and national level, the Catholic Parents' Association, parent-teacher organisations, community school parent organisations, community care teams, public representatives at all levels, chief education officers and many others. In researching the subject I have relied heavily on the book Irish Education, History and Structure by John Coolahan and I believe that the combined wisdom of all those sources must be conclusive. Added to the sources mentioned, I have applied a good deal of common sense and I feel, therefore, fully qualified to speak with reasonable authority on the subject under discussion.

[207] We are now going back to the situation where children whose parents cannot afford the charges — and we must admit they are many — will have to stay at home. It is very difficult to say at this stage how many children will be affected but I estimate that it will be at least 5 per cent and, based on a census of pupils attending second level education, I estimate that 14,354 children will be denied their right to second level education. What is to happen to all those children? The law demands that all children should go to school until the age of 15 and we all know that most children these days are ready to leave national school and move on to second level at 12 years of age. Are these children to break the law for three years simply because their parents cannot afford to pay for their education? That question must be answered fully and frankly tonight. I repeat the question because of its significance. Most of us know that children will leave national school at 12 years of age. They are anxious to go to secondary school but their parents cannot afford to send them because of the school bus charges. The law requires these young children to be at school. How can these children not break the law? What must they do during the three years in question?

I should like to outline the school bus charges being imposed. This information must be considered in the light of the prospect of 200,000 people being unemployed. Services which have always been free of charge must now be paid for as follows: pupils up to intermediate level, £42 per year; senior cycle pupils, £72 per year. Children of medical card holders are exempt at senior cycle level only. The impression was given that all children of medical card holders would be exempt but it must be made quite clear that they are exempt at senior cycle only. Up to 100,000 pupils will incur these extra charges and a family may find itself facing an annual bill of £150 in school transport charges alone.

Special fares for pupils ineligible for free transport are being increased also. Charges for primary pupils will be increased from £10.50 to £30 per year and [208] for post primary pupils the increase will be from £10.50 per year to £72. Ordinary city school transport charges for primary and post primary pupils are being increased from 10p to 20p per single journey. It is self-evident that these charges will be particularly damaging in rural areas and that large families will be severely affected.

I should now like to deal with educational cutbacks in general. Additional cutbacks are proposed in secondary, community, comprehensive and vocational schools and they will have serious consequences. There will be fewer subjects and because of that there will be larger classes. There will also be less remedial work. I have heard Government Deputies when in Opposition shedding bitter tears about the need to increase the level of remedial teaching. There will also be a virtual disappearance of guidance and counselling, a decline of educational standards and a worsening of employment prospects for our youth. Many jobs today require a basic educational qualification of leaving certificate but if children cannot afford to go to school how can they obtain a leaving certificate qualification? How can they get that basic educational qualification? I hope the Minister will realise the damage her proposals will cause and that following this debate she will have a change of heart.

In proposing a motion such as this it is necessary to give an example. For that reason I should like to refer a school in my constituency, the Presentation Convent in Wexford. That school claims that the proposed changes would prevent many of their students competing on equal terms for employment because they will be deprived of equal opportunity in education. That school feels it is unjust to deprive children under 15, who are obliged by law to attend school, of the free transport facilities if their parents are holders of medical cards. On the question of the holders of medical cards we should take into consideration those who are just outside the income level, those who are earning about £1 per week outside the limit. We are all aware of such people. They will suffer to a greater [209] extent because they will have to pay the transport charge for senior cycle pupils. The Wexford school also feels that the changes represent discrimination in practice against rural based families. They consider that if one pupil has to forego education because of the financial condition of the family it will constitute blatant discrimination against the rural community. The Presentation Convent expect that the transport charges will result in a number of students not completing their senior cycle. It is my view — it is up to the Government to contradict me — that the number will amount to 14,000. The parents council of the Presentation Convent are aware of cases where the decision to send young girls to the junior cycle will deny their older sisters the benefits of the senior cycle. In other words, because new members of a family go into second level education, somebody must do without education. In that school girls at senior cycle level were pulled out after they had obtained their intermediate certificate because the parents of those children felt that as they had some basics in education they should be withdrawn so that the younger children could get an opportunity.

The Presentation Convent maintain that, if enrolment drops immediately as a result of the transport charges, as is happening, the quota of teachers will be reduced to one teacher for every 20 pupils who leave. Due to the quota being established on attendance figures over the year for the following year the numbers leaving will be spread over 24 classes. One pupil less in each class would result in one teacher lost to the school. The imposition of the charges will have serious consequences for this school. I should like to explain the reason for that. In 1978 a commitment was undertaken by the school to repay £28,000 per annum for 30 years. That followed on the building of a complete new school at a cost of £1,300,000. State grants, gifts, and donations left a massive £220,000 outstanding. The parents council and the Presentation community have raised the required amount to date. A significant proportion of the £28,000 is raised by monthly voluntary subscriptions of £4 per family. [210] That is almost equal to the transport charge for two children. The current debt is £170,000. The capacity of rural parents to meet the transport charges, which are compulsory, could adversely affect the amount of voluntary subscriptions. The consequences on the commitments can easily be appreciated. The school cannot renegotiate the mortgage and there will not be any option but to leave all cultural commitments at risk such as drama, computer studies, public speaking and debating. Caretakers are not allowed in secondary schools, and, therefore, the financial commitments for non-teaching staff will be substantial. For instance, if the secretary leaves she cannot be replaced but the administration of a 40-teacher 740-student school cannot be continued without staff.

The current enrolment in the school entitles it to 40 teachers, 38 based on the student-teacher ratio of 19-1 and two ex-quota, a career guidance counsellor and a remedial teacher. If the quota is changed, as proposed, to 20-1 then the school will be entitled to 38 teachers. Therefore, the first two teachers to leave will not be replaced. The remedial teacher and the career guidance counsellor will have to revert to teaching duties, a ridiculous situation. As the remedial teacher teaches French and English and the career guidance teacher Commerce only neither teacher would necessarily slot into a vacancy. For instance, were the art teacher to leave all pupils taking that subject could not continue their studies. I hope the situation that exists in that school brings closer to the Minister's heart the position that exists throughout the country.

I should like to illustrate some other points in relation to the motion. The purpose of the free transport scheme was to ensure that children living in remote areas could avail of the same educational facilities as their urban counterparts. Equality of opportunity was the basic philosophy behind the scheme. The free transport system was in part compensation for the closure of rural schools. As everybody knows, it was Fianna Fáil's policy — it was their brainchild — to introduce free education and they did [211] that successfully. Since 1967 we successfully preserved the concept of free education giving every child in this nation the opportunity to get second level education. This is not so any more. I will repeat that many times before I finish. If it is said often enough, it may have some effect.

The costs of the system have increased principally because of the number of children from rural areas proceeding to second level education. It is undeniable that there was a considerable escalation in costs from £1 million in 1968 to £30 million in 1982. Between 1981 and 1982 costs increased by 20 per cent from £25¼ million to £30¼ million. The number of users increased from about 50,000 to 150,000.

I should like to go back to a local instance. When I started second level education I was the only person in my parish who had the opportunity to go to school. It was not necessarily that my parents were well off, but because they made that sacrifice. I recognise that it was a sacrifice and I have always given them great credit for their sacrifice in sending me to school.

More than most I recognise the great significance of the introduction of free education even at the cost presented to us here today. I live in a rural part of County Wexford, an area where people did not have the opportunity to be educated. From 1967 to now they had that opportunity irrespective of what their parents did, whether they were unemployed or whatever. Today we are getting back to the situation prior to 1968. That is a disgraceful move and the Minister and her junior Minister should be ashamed to have any part in it.

The Fianna Fáil White Paper on Education stated that the Government would continue the school transport scheme while keeping costs under review with the object of getting the best service in the most economical manner. The Way Forward stated that the possibility of providing school transport facilities through State agencies would be examined. The Fianna Fáil approach was to find a more economic way to run the service. Detailed negotiations were carried out [212] with certain agencies. A steady succession of education Ministers last year, and particularly last autumn, meant that proposals from the Department of Finance were not subjected to the thorough political scrutiny they deserved.

Civil servants tend to take advantage of new Ministers to rush measures through. Last year we had the proposed raising of the school entry age. We all know what happened to that. The Coalition Government realised their mistake and we do not hear anything about it today. I distinctly remember a hot debate followed by a vote, and the Coalition Government still proposed that the school entry age should be raised. We do not hear anything about it this year. I am glad they got that little bit of sense and I hope the debate tonight will have a similar effect.

Some people feel that many parents could afford to pay the charges imposed. As we all know, in practice parents have to make voluntary contributions to the national and secondary schools for facilities above the bare minimum. This will be an additional charge. For a family with three children it could cost over £100 per year. The decision which had not been finalised before the change of Government would have had to be reviewed by whoever was the new Minister for Education. I am afraid the Minister, Deputy Hussey, adopted what was a provisional decision only and made it her own. This means it was fully acceptable to her.

Then she had the audacity to make a pathetic attempt to pretend she was carrying out a Fianna Fáil decision instead of accepting her own responsibility. We all remember — perhaps I more than most — before the last election when the Government parties had all the answers. We were told the Fianna Fáil Government were wrong about everything they proposed or tried. Yet the Minister now claims she is following in Fianna Fáil's footsteps. This is a terrible contradiction. I would not like to say any more about it. It is only one of a series of measures showing that provincial Ireland will be discriminated against under this Government. The Minister — and no offence is meant — may live physically in County [213] Wicklow but she has a Dublin 4 mentality.

Mrs. Hussey: Information on Gemma Hussey  Zoom on Gemma Hussey  Dublin 6.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  I should like to quote from a press release issued by the Fianna Fáil press office following the imposition of school bus charges on 7 January 1983. In it the former Minister for Education, Deputy Brady, stated:

The Government's handling of the educational cutbacks has been hypocritical inept and insensitive.

The continuing attempts by the Minister for Education to transfer the responsibility for these cuts from herself onto the former Government is an evasion of ministerial responsibility. During the General Election just past, both Fine Gael and Labour conveyed the impression that — if they came to power — they would greatly modify if not minimise the economies which Fianna Fáil were proposing in education. This may have been a beneficial electoral strategy, but it engendered unrealistic presumptions amongst parents and teachers'.

The Fianna Fáil cutback proposals were presented openly and put before the electorate without equivocation.

The abrupt manner in which the cutbacks were announced was at variance with the common practice of consultation with the groups most immediately involved — teachers and parents.

The motion is simple to understand. I hope the Minister will not try to dodge the real issue. The concept of free education was hard fought for and hard fought to retain. Fianna Fáil retained it and would have continued to retain it since it was our brainchild. In rural Ireland children will again walk the roads because the Minister has seen fit to deny them education. Some of those who are well enough off to go to school will be denied the right to proper education because of the disappearance of selected subjects and the Minister's mishandling of the situation. I plead with the Minister not to play politics with our children. We have advanced far and the Minister is [214] responsible for bringing our educational system back 20 years. She should not allow discrimination against children in rural areas. She should not run away from the real issues and should not seek to blame anyone else for a problem of her own making. She is now the boss and I ask her to admit that she has made a mistake and to put it right before it is too late.

Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Creed): Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“approves of the arrangements made by the Government for the continued operation of the School Transport Service within the limits imposed by the provision made for this service in the Estimates for the Public Services, 1983.”

Let me say straight away that the Government have no wish that any child would be deprived of education as a result of school bus charges, or for any other reason, and have taken the measures, in the light of the current financial situation, to safeguard as far as it is possible, the educational provisions made for the children of the country, including the school transport service.

The school transport service was established on its present basis in 1967 and its establishment coincided with the introduction of free post-primary education. During the first full year of its operation, 1968-69, it was availed of by 90,000 children at a cost to the State of £1.96 million. Some 18 years later, in 1983, it was estimated that the service would be used by approximately 167,000 children and that the cost of its operation would be £33.6 million. By any standards this growth in the cost of the service is staggering and it reflects particularly a fundamental change that has occurred in western countries following two oil crises and the accelerated growth in the cost of oil as a primary fuel. In school transport, whether we like it or not, we are engaged in transferring an ever higher portion of [215] the resources of this country to our suppliers of oil. It is interesting to note that the growth in school transport costs over the five-year period 1977-1982 was considerably greater than that in the consumer price index, but was reasonably in line with the transport component of the consumer price index when allowance was made for the expansion of the service.

The Government, however, no less than Fianna Fáil when in office, were very naturally concerned about the growth of this “secondary” cost of education and accepted, in general terms, the approach to achieving savings in this area as outlined in the estimates for the Public Services, 1983, published on 18 November 1982. It is as well that we should all be clear in our minds as to what this approach was. The provision made for school transport in the Estimates for 1982 was £30.25 million. The estimated requirement for operating the service in 1983 was £33.6 million.

The actual provision made in the Estimates for 1983 as published on 18 November 1982 was £28.2 million. The Dáil will note that the 1983 provision was less than that of 1982 by some £2 million, that no allowance was made for increased costs, or for an increasing pupil population and that the 1983 Estimates envisaged a shortfall of £5.4 million on the amount calculated as required to operate the service in 1983 on the same basis as 1982. Quite obviously the service could not be so operated on this provision unless steps were taken to make good the shortfall of £5.4 million. The steps which were taken consisted of two main measures, first, the introduction of charges for second level pupils as a contribution to the cost of the service and secondly the abolition of what was known as “the school transport subsidy” to CIE. Many commentators on the current measures with regard to school transport would seek to find a solution to the financial problems involved in advocating a more cost-efficient operation of the service. I can assure the Dáil that wherever economies are possible they will be identified and they will be made, [216] and indeed, the school transport service is under constant examination to secure the most economic operation possible. There is no soft option, however, in this matter, either by handing over the service to private operators as has been suggested by some, or by involving local committees of schools' authorities or others in its operation, or by extending, as is so often mooted, the usage of special school buses. The Government have no doctrinaire position on any one of these approaches. What it does have is a school transport service operated by CIE on behalf of the Department of Education, using vehicles owned by CIE and driven by whole-time CIE drivers, using vehicles owned by my Department, maintained by CIE and driven by part-time CIE drivers and using vehicles operated by private hire contractors who tender for school runs in the various areas. The private enterprise component in the operation of the service is substantially higher than is generally appreciated. Contractors accounted for more than 43 per cent of the transport component of the service for the year ending 31 December 1981 and because of a preponderance of minibuses used by small contractors their vehicles outnumbered the CIE operated vehicles in the ratio of two to one. Efforts made by my Department over a number of years to interest local and other agencies in the operation of the school transport service were without result.

A criticism frequently levelled at the school transport service relates to the buses which are owned by my Department and operated by CIE with part-time drivers—the yellow “busanna scoile” so familiar on the roads of rural Ireland. It is often contended that if such buses were available for general hire and use, the profits so made could be set against the cost of the school bus service. The facts, however, do not give much support to this contention. These buses were designed for school use and are not suitable for general hire. The age of the fleet—the majority of the vehicles are close on 16 years old—would render the possibility of general hire unattractive.

There are other factors also, including the employment structure within which [217] these buses operate, which weigh against the possibilities of profitable private hire. And yet these buses are a vital component of the service, in order to maintain an adequate supply of vehicles, to provide a fall-back position in the supply of particular services and to create a base which can enable competitive tendering to take place so as to secure economic contract prices.

As I said, the cost efficiency of the service provides no ready panacea, or soft options in the present situation, a fact which was confirmed by the extensive study of the service made by Hyland and Associates in 1978, which did not reveal any areas of substantial economies, other than by the introduction of charges.

The school transport service is a highly complex interlocking system which has to provide a predictable and reliable service for some 167,000 pupils, every day of the school year. Implicit in this service is a complex administrative operation of procurement and scheduling, of complying with public service vehicle requirements, of determining eligibility in accordance with the rules of the scheme and of securing reliable contracts at economic cost. All of these services are carried out by CIE in conjunction with the transport liaison officers and on behalf of my Department. Under the arrangements as announced for 1983, CIE has accepted the further responsibility of administering the school bus charges.

It is through the introduction of charges on second level pupils using the service that the Government intend to make up approximately £4.2 million of the £5.4 million required to keep the service operating on its present scale and under present conditions. The charges or contributions required are:

£14 per term in respect of eligible junior cycle pupils; £24 per term in respect of eligible senior cycle pupils; £24 per term for junior and senior cycle pupils using catchment boundary facilities; £10 per term for concessionary fare payers at primary level; £24 per term for concessionary fare payers at post-primary level.

It should be noted that there is no [218] charge being made for eligible primary school pupils who will continue to receive free transport as before. A minimum of £50 per term has been fixed in respect of the contributions from any one family. Senior cycle pupils whose parents-guardians are holders of a medical card have been excused the contribution.

All Deputies will be familiar with the significance of junior and senior cycle, the former being the years, usually three, up to and including the intermediate certificate and the latter being the post intermediate years, usually two, and embracing the leaving certificate as a terminal examination. Concessionary fare payers are pupils at primary and post-primary level who are not eligible under age-distance regulations to avail of the scheme, but who are allowed occupy spare seats on special services provided they pay an appropriate fare.

Catchment boundary facilities are more complex in that they arise from the conditions of the post primary transport scheme. For the purpose of this scheme the country is divided up into areas, each area being served by its own adequate post-primary centre. Pupils within a given area and residing more than three miles from the centre serving it are eligible under the scheme for transport to that centre, and to that centre only. Sometimes parents of pupils eligible under the scheme choose to send their children to school in a centre serving an area adjacent to their own. Such pupils may be allowed to avail of school transport services to that centre, provided they cross the boundary between their own area and the adjacent area before boarding a school bus and provided there are seats available on the bus after all properly eligible children are served. This is what is known as the “Catchment Boundary Facility” and it is essentially a concession extended to children who choose for their own reasons to go to a post-primary centre other than the adequate centre serving the area where they live.

This, then, gives a full picture of the charges introduced and the categories of pupils to whom they apply. Deputies will [219] note that there is only one substantial difference between these arrangements and the measures proposed by the previous administration on 18 November 1982.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  Not proposals, suggestions.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  The amount of revenue to be generated by the charges is the same. There is no charge for eligible primary school pupils. A season ticket lasting for a term is the modus operandi, with a lower charge for eligible junior cycle pupils attending their appropriate centre. The only substantial difference is that the Government felt that special consideration should be given to less well-off parents of senior cycle students. These parents must forego the possible income which could be earned by their children had they left school and gone to work, in order to retain them at school through a stage which is more expensive in terms of meeting personal needs as well as incidental educational costs of books, requisites and so on. In making this concession the Government were clearly showing their concern for the less well-off, by remitting the higher charge for school transport at senior cycle level and thereby ensuring that no unnecessary obstacle would be placed in the way of such pupils completing their post-primary education.

I would contend that the contributions sought to this highly subsidised service are very reasonable, a total of £4.2 million as against an estimated expenditure from State funds of £28.2 million. At the individual level the contributions amount to £1.16 approximately per week for a junior cycle pupil and £2 per week for a senior cycle pupil.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  Not much, if you can afford it.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  These must be seen against an average cost of school transport per pupil/week of £5.66 in November 1982.

Let us look closely at the impact of the charges on less well-off families. As many [220] such families would have children both at primary and at the different stages of post-primary schools, the structure of charges and concessions is such as to minimise that impact. For a single child in such a family the charge for school transport over the entire 13-year cycle of primary and post-primary education is £126, less than £10 per school year, about 28p per school week, or approximately half of the price of a packet of potato crisps per school day.

It is not a high price to pay for education and I have no doubt that the parents of Ireland, particularly the less well-off parents, who make many sacrifices for their children, will not regard the school transport charge as unreasonable in the very difficult economic circumstances.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  The potato crisp Government.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I did not interrupt the Deputy. If he listens to me I will reply to the points he made. I have taken a note of them and I want to remind him of some of the accusations he made. I was rather surprised to see that the proposers of the motion did not include my predecessor or former Ministers for Education. Let me hasten to add that the Deputies opposite have the right to put their names to any motion but I am surprised that on what was regarded as a very important matter the names did not include those of former Ministers for Education.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  The Minister can be sure they will vote for it.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I have referred to the complexity of the school transport system. I have had advice from many people on this matter. No service is sacrosanct and must be reviewed regularly. I have had responsibility for school transport for a short time but I have had discussions with a number of people, directly and indirectly involved in education and, particularly, in the school transport system. I have had discussions with CEOs and with parents' committees and tomorrow I shall meet the Private Bus Owners Association and will listen to their proposals [221] regarding school transport. If those proposals are worthy of consideration, I can give the House an assurance they will be considered. While the school transport service is a valuable service there are anomalies and difficulties. If it is necessary that there be a certain number of children in a district in order to qualify for a transport service and if that number is not reached, it could be regarded as an injustice to that area. I am examining that matter at the moment.

Now that their party are no longer in office, the proposers of the motion do not have the responsibility of operating the school transport service on the moneys they provided. Yet they see a strong case for extending to the junior cycle pupils the concession available to senior cycle pupils whose parents have medical cards. If that were done we would have to look for more from those who are paying. I appreciate the concern of the Deputies opposite for this extension of a concession they never thought of in the first place. The Government would be most happy to do this if that were possible at this time. The proportion of medical card holders is such that the cost of applying this concession would amount to approximately £1 million and this would have to be recouped by increasing substantially the charge to the remaining users. What we have done indicates clearly the intention of the Government that at least in the senior cycle every incentive will be given to the children of parents who are holders of medical cards and who are regarded as in the lower income group to continue their post-primary education. In these circumstances many pupils would undoubtedly cease to use the service as a result of which this operation would become unviable and would be in danger of being discontinued. There is little practical value in extending a concession which the pupils would not have the opportunity to exercise.

The other component of the savings to ensure the continuance of the school transport service was achieved by the cancellation of a subsidy of £1.25 million which was paid annually to CIE by the Department of Education. A substantial number of children in urban areas, estimated [222] at approximately 50,000, travelled to school and back on scheduled CIE services. Until early January this year these children availed of a special low child fare which was made possible as a result of this subsidy. The withdrawal of the subsidy resulted in the schoolchild fares virtually doubling. Many commentators have contended that the introduction of school bus charges discriminated against the rural population and that those living in urban areas escaped such imposition. It must be clear now that such is not the case. Any child, whether at primary or post-primary level, junior cycle or senior cycle, whether or not the parents hold medical cards, availing of the Dublin city bus services to travel to and from school has to pay fares amounting to about £72 over the school year. In provincial cities the corresponding amount is £54. If the pupils are over 16, as many senior cycle pupils are, the fares which apply are full adult fares. It will be clearly appreciated from such figures that if any discrimination exists it is in favour of the rural population.

There are many reasons why it was necessary to curtail the provision made for school transport in the Estimates for 1983. I do not propose to go into these as they are being dealt with extensively in the context of the debate on the budget. The position as I have outlined it in this address is factual and sober and contains little joy. If the shortfall for the operation of the school transport service were not met by the measures taken and the arrangements made by the Government, then there would be little option but to seriously curtail the service. Such a curtailment would invariably carry in its wake the consequences which the Deputies who proposed the motion quite genuinely fear, and that was the alternative which the Government and the Minister of the day had in that shortfall of £5.4 million of either imposing the charges which have been mentioned here or else discontinuing some of the service. Many children in Ireland would be denied education under those circumstances, particularly post-primary education, very simply because they would have no means of getting to school. In many areas [223] we are not in a position where children may exercise choices between various modes of transport, public, special and private, for the purpose of getting to school and home again. It is vital to ensuring access to education that the school transport service be maintained and the arrangements made by the Government are so directed.

I listened with interest to Deputy Byrne and the case he had made, and one would get the impression that his party were not in power for a long time, that the Fianna Fáil Party were in Opposition. He stated that in his clinics in his constituency he was inundated with callers. He was talking about his Dáil ceantair and comhairle Dáil ceantair, agus is oth liom a rá nach bhfuil an Ghaeilge go líofa agamsa. Here he was talking about the pressure he was under. I would be very interested to know what his reply was. When I was speaking he saw fit to interrupt me about the measures proposed by Fianna Fáil when they were in office and before they left office when they produced the Book of Estimates and when they saw that education was being examined. I will quote the public statement made by Deputy G. Brady, former Minister for Education so that Deputy Byrne will be quite clear and know exactly—if he does not yet know—the true position and what to tell his comhairle ceantair and comhairle Dáil ceantair members.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Minister, you have five minutes.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I will quote from the public statement by the then Minister for Education on 18 November 1982:

There will be no charge introduced for pupils of national schools eligible for free transport in accordance with the School Transport Regulations. The cost of the scheme for primary and post-primary schools has, however, been growing to such an extent that measures need to be taken in regard to it. Since no alteration is contemplated in the range of the service the measures required to control cost must involve [224] the introduction of a charge in the case of second level school pupils. Consideration is being given to the question of the arrangements to be made for the implementation of such charge. It is contemplated that such arrangements would take the form of a season ticket,

Let the Deputy bear that in mind——

that there would be a lower rate for junior pupils and that a concession would be made to take account of the circumstances of members of large families.

This then was the position which our Government found when we came into office.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Why not take the large families into consideration?

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  Deputy Wilson will have his opportunity. I am replying to Deputy Byrne. He made an accusation that it was the brainchild of the Minister for Education.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Stop the craw-thumping and get back the money.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I am stating stating exactly what the position is. Deputy Wilson, whether he likes it or not, did not see fit to put his name to this motion before the House even though he was a former Minister for Education.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  That was four Ministers ago. When there was not enough in the Book of Estimates I went and got more, and the Minister can put that in his pipe and smoke it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Deputies must allow the Minister to conclude.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I always obey the Chair. Stop the craw-thumping.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  Deputy Wilson, who has seen fit to interrupt me, did not put his name to the motion. I am saying precisely what the position was when the new Government took office and the outgoing [225] Government and the Minister for Education at that stage stated it quite clearly and categorically. I defy the former Minister for Education, Deputy Brady, to come in here and deny the charges I have made and let him say that he never made that public statement.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I tell the Minister to stand on his own two feet.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  It rings hollow when some of his party members come in here and shed crocodile tears for the charges which were imposed by the Minister for Education confronted with a £5.4 million shortfall to be made up. All right, the alternative, the soft option could have been taken by the Minister for Education, Deputy Hussey, and she could have said, “We will wipe out £5.4 million worth of school transport and this will militate against the children particularly in rural areas”. I am glad, under the circumstances, that she took the alternative and opted for what we have imposed here and I sincerely hope that it will not deny one child the right to continue his or her second level education.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  It is——

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I did not interrupt the Deputy even though I was tempted to do so. I ask him please to listen. I have only a minute or two to conclude. That is not the intention of imposing those charges. As I have given an assurance to the House, I do not think I can do any more. I have been approximately two months on this and the Minister has asked me to have a detailed investigation into the school transport. Mind you, the Fianna Fáil Ministers did not do it. I am trying to do it.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  It is the Minister's job.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I am saying to this House that the school transport system will be examined by me in the not too distant future and every person with a point of view to offer on school transport, even the Deputy——

[226]Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  I have given the Minister 40 minutes of ideas.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  The Deputy has given me 40 minutes of something I do not accept. He should be factual about the position.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  The Minister to conclude.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  This is a very complicated school transport service. Under present circumstances I do not believe that it is right for any Deputy to come in here and try to make political capital out of the education of our children. I can say that we added an extra concession where we provided for second level education, for senior cycle pupils. We provided free transport for those children whose parents or guardians are holders of medical cards. I do not deny that any imposition on anyone must create some hardship, but I hope that this imposition, which was necessary under the circumstances, will not deprive one child of second level education.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Deputy Mac Giolla, I want to explain that you cannot move your amendment now but you can explain it to the House. We have not disposed of amendment No. 1. We have not reached a decision on it. The Deputy can explain his reasons for his amendment.

Mr. Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  I find it difficult to understand that. However, I accept your ruling. I am delighted this motion was put down so that a debate can be held on this extraordinary change in the education system, which was announced almost on Christmas Eve when there was no opportunity for the Members of the House to debate it. The Workers' Party felt that the motion put down by a number of Fianna Fáil Deputies was not specific. It said that no child should be denied the right to education because of the imposition of school bus charges. This is impossible because when you have school bus charges children will be denied the right to free education. We felt that an amendment should be put down specifically [227] referring to the effect of the school bus charges and asking that all words after “Government” be deleted and the following be substituted—

not to proceed with the imposition of school bus charges as these would lead to hardship particularly for children of the poor and socially disadvantaged, and further calls on the Government to ensure:

(1) that there will be no change in the availability of free school transport from the level operating on 1 December, 1982, and

That is before the Minister announced her pre-Christmas budget cutbacks—

(2) that CIE be given an additional subvention to enable it to restore school bus fares to the level operating on 1 December, 1982.

That second paragraph is put down for the specific reason that the Minister in reply to Deputy Byrne specifically pointed out the charges that were made in urban areas. He specified it as an average of £70 per family. Everybody recognises the effect the charges will have on families in rural areas where children have to be sent to school by bus because they live long distances from schools. Many of the children in urban areas have to travel five, six, and seven miles to school. We felt that the effect of the charges in urban areas had not been recognised and we added that in too. We felt that it was necessary to put down an amendment to the motion in order to bring out the effect of the charges on the educational system.

This seems to be an additional item beginning the dismantlement of the free education system. In the last few years a series of charges have come into second level schools. There have been charges in relation to books, uniforms and fees are collected from parents for the heating and general running of the schools because insufficient money is going to second level schools because of the capitation grant system. The new charges on top of those already there are the beginning [228] of the dismantlement of the free education system.

The tradition of our people is very strongly in favour of the greatest possible education for their children. This is what is causing such a tremendous outcry. The list of people opposing this is very widespread and comprises Conradh na Gaeilge, The Congress of Catholic School Parents Association, Federation of Christian Brothers Schools, Parents Councils, Secretariat of Secondary Schools, The Association of Remedial Teachers, The Association of Principals of Vocational Schools, the VEC, Joint Education Committee of Catholic Bishops, the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, Catholic Primary School Managers' Association, USI, Institute of Guidance Counsellors, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU Women's Committee and Youth Committee, Trade Councils in Bray, Dublin, Kilkenny, Limerick and all over the country. The list is so widespread because when free education was introduced 15 years ago no measure from the time the State was founded got such widespread support throughout the country. There is such an outcry now because the people feel that free education is being taken away from their children. The debate on the transport charges is a vital element in ensuring that free education exists.

The Minister's statement that this was necessary because of the increase in the price of oil is no answer. When we decided on free education we decided that the taxpayer must pay for it. Wherever the money is got the taxpayer must pay for it. It is very poor economics to do away with this because if you reduce our education potential there will be fewer children in school and a worse education will lead to an increase in vandalism and crime. A sum of £11 million is being paid out by Dublin Corporation on malicious damages this year alone.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  The motion refers to school transport cuts and not vandalism. I would prefer if the Deputy would keep to the motion.

Mr. Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  If there are fewer [229] children in school and more children at home and around the place this will lead to an increase in vandalism and crime and will involve the State in increased costs which will amount to more than the £3 million referred to in relation to this. It will not allow for the preparation of children, whom we always call out greatest national resource. They will be allowed to go stagnant, unused and unprepared for the take off which we expect will come within the next two, three or five years. Our children, because of this, will not be able to avail of the jobs that will become available. From the immediate point of view and the future it is very bad economics to break down the free education system. It is very bad for the future of the country. The Minister should look at this again and realise the tremendous outcry there is on this particular issue. It is more than on the budget and is more than on any other issue. The Minister should restore free transport and ensure the continuation of the free education system.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  On a point of order, what is the precedent for the interruption of the debate in this manner? I was very pleased to hear what Deputy Mac Giolla had to say. I want to know what the precedent is.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I do not understand the Deputy's question.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  The motion is down in the names of the four Deputies present on this side of the House as well as others. The Chair made a ruling in relation to Deputy Mac Giolla's contribution and I want to know what the precedent is.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  There are two amendments down and that is the cause of it.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Could the Chair quote the precedent for me?

An Ceann-Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I could not quote the Standing Order offhand. The Deputy may take it that what has been done is governed by Standing Orders and precedent. If the Deputy would like to [230] visit the Ceann Comhairle's office we will discuss it in native language.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I wish to support the motion:

That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to ensure that no child is denied the right to education because of the imposition of school bus charges.

I listened with great interest to what my colleague, Deputy Hugh Byrne, had to say and also with interest but growing disbelief to what the Minister of State had to say. He expressed surprise that no previous Minister for Education has his name to this motion. I would remind him that this party believe in giving the talented the opportunity of expressing that talent and that is why we have put our names to the motion but I would point out that we are joined here by the most prestigious Minister for Education that we have had in the past number of years. I trust the Minister's mind is put at rest by that.

In concluding the Minister of State said that it was not the intention of the Government to deprive any child of the right to education by way of the imposition of the school bus charges. I would have to accept what he says in that regard but some children will soon be deprived of the right to second-level education particularly because of these charges.

Debate adjourned.


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