Private Members' Business. - School Transport: Motion (Resumed).

Wednesday, 18 May 1983

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 342 No. 8

First Page Previous Page Page of 56 Next Page Last Page

The following motion was moved by Deputy O'Rourke on 17 May 1983:

That Dáil Éireann condemns the Government for the present chaos and confusion in the school transport scheme and for inflicting hardship on many thousands of families.

[1664] Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

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

“approves of the arrangements made by the Government in connection with the imposition of school transport charges to alleviate any hardship which might be caused to families by such charges.”

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  It is a great disappointment that the Minister is not here.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): It is not yet 7 o'clock. There is no need for that kind of carry on.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  This is an indication of her interest in the whole matter.

In whatever minutes I have remaining. I will first of all recap on what I said in relation to the school bus charges. These charges were imposed by the Coalition Government on Christmas Eve 1982 and thereby a precedent was created because charges on school buses had not been made up to then. The scheme, which was to operate from 1 January 1983, was implemented in an amateurish fashion, creating confusion and chaos all over rural Ireland. Some parents paid, some did not. All parents and all pupils were treated with similar disdain. Leaving certificate pupils due to start examinations on 8 June will not now be able to sit for their examinations because of this ill-considered bungling. Deputies on both sides of the House are on record as supporting the move to revert to the concept of free education which was introduced and maintained by successive Fianna Fáil Governments. Are these Deputies saying now that they agree with the Government's decision to leave children at crossroads crying in bewilderment and despair about their future? For the rest of their lives they will say to the Minister that she blatantly discriminated against them and gave them a lesser [1665] chance in life. Was it because of her ignorance of the scene in rural Ireland?

At a meeting in Taghmon, County Wexford, Fine Gael had nice, polite representatives who will not take too kindly to being referred to as Nazis. The school bus transport scheme was discussed. On that occasion I myself counselled caution and parents representing many areas of County Wexford, to whom Deputy Avril Doyle last night referred as Nazis, behaved responsibly even though their children were being prevented from attending second level education. The people of Taghmon in Wexford are fine, decent people.

(Interruptions.)

A Deputy:  Deputy Doyle did not refer to the parents of Wexford as Nazis. I was present in the House last night.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  I note from the official record of last night: “Fianna Fáil are creating confusion in Wexford, deliberately using their children as Nazis use their children.” The people of Taghmon, Wexford are fine, decent people. Natives of that county easily recognise that greatness as do many outsiders. Unfortunately, a few do not.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Deputy has a minute and as time has been split I must be strict.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  We have a proud history of responsibility in County Wexford and never yet has that history been tainted. I am prepared to defend it anywhere at any time. The people of Wexford and the people of Ireland see the transport scheme as a disaster. I appeal to the Minister to withdraw it before it is too late. Sooner or later she must admit that she has made a blunder, and if she does we will forgive her. Only today I learned of a man coming to the city in the morning. On the way he picked up three children who were hitching a lift to school. Imagine that in this day and age.

[1666]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Deputy's time is up.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  This is a scandalous decision for the Government to take. I appeal to all Deputies across the way. Do they not care that thousands will not be able to sit for their leaving certificate examination? Do they want this on their conscience for the rest of their lives. I appeal to them to be reasonable and to support our motion.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I understand that by agreement the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Creed, is to have 20 minutes and Deputy Avril Doyle will come in then for ten minutes.

Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Creed): Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I am agreeable to that. Because Deputy Byrne and Deputy O'Rourke both contributed to this motion last night, I would like 20 minutes to reply and I would like to get it without interruption because this is a serious motion. If those people have a right to put their views before this House there should be a right of reply.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  No subject has had more time in this House than the matter of school transport. This is about my fourth time here debating school transport by way of parliamentary questions, debate on the Adjournment and Private Members' Time. I have no objection to that but I maintain that many other matters need to be discussed here for which the opportunity has not been given.

We must accept when we talk about free school transport, free health services and so on, that nothing is free. Always somebody must pay and this was accepted not alone by this Government but also by the Government whom this Government replaced. Somebody must pay and that applies to school transport. I want to deal with the motion, but before I do so, because allegations were made [1667] by the two speakers across the way which were serious reflections on the officials of my Department, on myself and on those charged with the administration of the school transport scheme, I want to deal with those serious allegations in case they would go unchallenged without a proper reply to them. The most serious was presented here last night by Deputy O'Rourke. It was an allegation that a child with only one arm was put off a bus. I want the House to take note of my reply to that before I deal with the motion itself. Representations on behalf of this pupil were made by Deputy O'Rourke and she was also the subject of a Dáil question put down by the same Deputy. The position is that exemption from the charges may be allowed in the case of severely handicapped pupils who use school transport. Where such exemption is claimed it is necessary, however, that medical evidence of the pupil's disability be forwarded to the Department on the official medical form for submission to the Department's medical adviser. In the case mentioned by the Deputy the necessary form of medical certification was sent to Deputy O'Rourke on 29 April for completion by the child's doctor. I understand that the completed form has not yet been returned to my Department. The ordinary certificate does not suffice in these cases. I assure Deputy O'Rourke that when the completed official form comes to hand the question of waiving transport charges for this child will be considered sympathetically, but I underline that until such time as that certificate is before my Department a decision cannot be taken.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I will be delighted.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  The Deputy has been informed. It is possible that the child in question, presumably not having paid the fare and thus not holding a valid ticket, would have been refused transport. It would have been more helpful if Deputy O'Rourke had acceded to the request in my letter to her of 29 April to have the required medical certification form completed by a doctor and returned to my Department without delay. I have no [1668] doubt that the matter was urgent but I cannot understand why Deputy O'Rourke did not comply with my request. I cannot understand why she did not reply to my letter and give that certification. I may be wrong, but it appeared to me that she was waving that certificate here last night. If it had been with my Department I would have taken action on it. As the Minister responsible I can say that my officials are considerate and would respond to a case such as that almost immediately.

Another point made here should be clarified. Here the allegation was made by Deputy Byrne and mentioned also by Deputy O'Rourke. The question related to Wexford and other areas and Deputy Byrne was particularly emphatic. One would get the impression, listening to his charges, that we were highlighting and embarrassing those children whose parents had medical cards and that other children were ridiculing them because their parents had medical cards. I refute that allegation. There was no poor law stamp on that ticket to indicate that those children's parents had medical cards. I emphasise that because that allegation was made here and is completely without foundation. In other areas the medical card must be produced to act as certification for the services it is presented for, but in this instance there is no necessity to do that because the ticket is exactly the same as that provided for children by CIE even if their parents are millionaires. There is no indication on the ticket to say it is held by children whose parents have medical cards.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Denis Lyons  Zoom on Denis Lyons  On a point of order, on the statement made by the Deputy that holders of medical cards are not indentifiable——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  That is not a point of order.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Denis Lyons  Zoom on Denis Lyons  Of course it is.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Deputy should not shout at the Chair. It is not a point of order, it is a matter to be refuted in debate. Deputy Lyons will resume his seat, please.

[1669]Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  For the information of Deputy Lyons, it was alleged here last night by Deputy Byrne and supported by Deputy O'Rourke, that children who had tickets because their parents had medical cards were identified and embarrassed by the other children and ridiculed.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Denis Lyons  Zoom on Denis Lyons  I did not raise a point of order on the statement made by the Minister now. I rose to make a point of order on a statement which the Minister made that children whose parents were holders of medical cards——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  That is not a point of order. The Deputy will resume his seat. I am warning the Deputy that if he does not resume his seat I will ask him to leave the House.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Deputy will resume his seat.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Denis Lyons  Zoom on Denis Lyons  In deference to you I will.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I am replying to allegations that were made here last night which were untrue and without foundation. The motion refers to the present chaos and confusion in the school transport scheme. Where is the chaos and confusion? Confusion implies a situation where the facts are not known. That is not the case here.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Order, please.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  This was a Government decision which was announced on 23 December 1982. It was made perfectly plain by every means available where each category of post-primary student stood. Application forms to be filled in by parents were sent out. The categories and amounts were clearly set out. The whole process received widespread publicity in the media. A large majority of parents paid in the Christmas to Easter term. In the current term, arrangements were notified as follows: on 1 March 1983 [1670] CIE sent out forms to post-primary schools in connection with charges for the summer term. The deadline for the receipt of charges was 8 April 1983. On 20 April 1983 notices were placed by CIE in national and local newspapers extending the deadline for payment to 27 April 1983 and warning that transport would not be given to those without validation tickets after 6 May 1983. On 21 April 1983 there were radio advertisements giving the above message and on 22 April there were more television and radio advertisements giving the same details and warning parents of the situation. On 27 April 1983 all part-time school bus drivers and school bus contractors got a letter from CIE asking them to give a gentle reminder to those who had not paid.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Order, please.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I know I am hurting the Deputies opposite.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  This is no credit to the House.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  It is not and if the people on whose behalf they are speaking heard the debate they would not be very impressed by it.

Mr. E. O'Keeffe: Information on Ned O'Keeffe  Zoom on Ned O'Keeffe  On a point of order, I am appalled that the Minister who is from a rural constituency is not aware of the confusion that exists——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  If Deputy O'Keeffe interrupts again I will order him out of the House. I am appealing to all sides of the House to respect the fact that this is a limited debate with a number of people wishing to speak and everybody should be able to do so without interruption.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I will mention some of the publications in which the advertisements were placed. There are many but I will mention some for the benefit of the two Deputies who spoke here last night. It [1671] was placed in the Wexford People, New Ross Standard, The Guardian and the Enniscorthy Echo. It was also placed in the Offaly Independent, Westmeath Examiner, Midland Tribune, Roscommon Herald, Roscommon Champion and the Longford News. When Deputy O'Rourke and others talk about confusion I do not know what they are talking about. Special validation tickets were issued for the current term to all eligible pupils who applied and paid the appropriate charge or submitted a medical card in lieu. I am advised that those who paid or submitted medical cards by 27 April would have got their tickets by 6 May. I am satisfied that this is correct in almost all cases.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  That is not correct.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Denis Lyons  Zoom on Denis Lyons  On a point of order——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I hope it is a point of order.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Denis Lyons  Zoom on Denis Lyons  The Minister has repeated that all the tickets were issued. That is not a correct statement.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  That is not a point of order. Deputy Lyons will leave the House now.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  That is unfair.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  It is not unfair, Deputy Lyons will leave the House or I will have him named. I call on the Minister to propose the suspension of Deputy Lyons.


Last Updated: 14/09/2010 10:11:04 First Page Previous Page Page of 56 Next Page Last Page