Wednesday, 18 May 1983
Dáil Eireann Debate
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  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.
Mr. H. 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.
Mr. H. 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.
Mr. H. 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.
Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. 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.
Mr. 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  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.
Mr. 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  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. 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: 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——
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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  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.
An Ceann Comhairle: 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: 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  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.
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