SORT IT OUT, MINISTER!

31 August 2018 No Comments by The Northern Standard

It is surprising and disappointing that many parents in Co Monaghan, in common with families across the country, have had to contend once again with the flawed operation of the School Transport Scheme this week as their children returned to education after the summer holidays.

Alterations made to the scheme in 2016 after an operational review have caused distress and inconvenience to a significant portion of families because of rule changes that foreground the worst sort of bureaucratic inflexibility at the expense of compassion and common sense. Somewhere in the recesses of an ivory tower of officialdom, the “nearest school” rule which seems to have assumed primacy in the scheme’s priorities undoubtedly makes perfect sense and smoothens the administrative burden.

Out in the real world, this provision has generated mayhem and anger as parents have been forced to contemplate sending children to different schools than those attended by their older siblings if they want the offspring concerned to be able to avail of a seat on a school bus. No account has been taken in the make-up of the current scheme of human considerations such as the upheaval and upset that children forced into this step would have to endure as they sacrifice the close companionship of brothers, sisters and friends in order to obtain transport to school.

There is no accounting for family fealty to a particular school based on tradition or perhaps religious or sporting connections. Getting children to school expediently and safely should be a fairly straightforward undertaking. The provision of school transport comes at a certain cost to the State, it is true, but surely it is a cost that any progressive-thinking and efficiently governed State should be willing and able to bear, particularly a State such as our own which is currently vaunting its restored economic vitality and which lays strong and repeated emphasis on its investment in and esteem for education.

The flaws in the School Transport Scheme represent parsimony and administrative intransigence at their very worst, penny-pinching and pettiness that any selfrespecting Government should be thoroughly ashamed of. But the worst thing about the current mess is the time it is taking to fix it. The problems with the scheme have been loudly clarioned by public representatives at both local and national level since they started to become manifest.

Fianna Fáil councillor Seamus Coyle has tabled a motion for discussion on this issue for next week’s meeting of Monaghan Co Council – but he really shouldn’t have to. Councillor Coyle and his local authority colleagues, and Dáil Deputies and Senators for Cavan/Monaghan, have repeatedly highlighted the inequities and inadequacies of the scheme and called for them to be corrected.

Minister of State with responsibility for school transport John Halligan TD has held his hands up and said that the local and national politicians have a point. But he is being far too tardy in his response to the problems. It is totally unacceptable that a new school year has been allowed to dawn without this debacle being resolved.

“Where is the Minister on this – why haven’t we heard from him?” FF TD Niamh Smyth asks with complete justification in a statement to this newspaper this week. Much more than any of the passengers on the buses concerned this week, Minister Halligan resembles Shakespeare’s “whining school-boy… creeping like snail unwillingly”, not to school, but towards the inevitable and overdue solution to this glaring problem.

Sort it out, Minister!

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