School Transport PQs

Jim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)

Question 117: To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding a school (details supplied) in County Cork which serves the educational needs of a minority community which will be curtailed by the proposed reduction in the minimum numbers required for school transport service with the loss of two bus routes currently serving the school. [8355/11]

Ciarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)

The changes to the school transport scheme were announced in the 2011 Budget by the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and derive from a recommendation in the recently published Value for Money Review of the scheme. From the beginning of the 2011/12 school year, services under the minimum numbers, either single services or which are part of double tripping arrangements, will be discontinued. A pick up density of 10 eligible pupils in a distinct locality on a particular route will be required to establish or retain services.

The details of the routes and the number of buses required will only be finalised later this year when applications/payments/exemptions have been processed by Bus Eireann. As is currently the case, where an eligible pupil cannot avail of a service, eligible families can apply for the transport grant (traditionally called the remote area grant) which is payable based on distance travelled up to a maximum of 9.7 kilometres. Given the major financial constraints facing the country, I cannot reverse the changes to school transport as announced by the previous government in Budget 2011. We all have to understand the legacy of economic mismanagement which the last Government gave to the country.

Jim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)

Question 187: To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the recommendations of the Ombudsman for Children in respect of the setting up of a register of interested parties who are seeking a service that does not exist at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7764/11]
Ciarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 186 and 187 together.

The purpose of the Ombudsman for Children is to promote and safeguard the rights and welfare of children and young people under the age of 18. In specific circumstances as outlined under the relevant Act, the Ombudsman for Children may investigate any action taken (being an action taken in the performance of administrative functions) by or on behalf of a public body. Following an investigation, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) produces a statement which may include a series of recommendations. These recommendations are not binding on the public body. The recommendations referred to by the Deputy were in fact comments made by the OCO following a preliminary investigation of a complaint as a consequence of which, having carefully considered all the information provided, no maladministration on the part of my Department was identified.

I wish to inform the Deputy that information on the school transport schemes generally is available on my Department’s website, through contact with the Transport Liaison Officers or the local Bus Éireann offices. Furthermore, to increase public awareness about the school transport scheme, the recently published Value for Money Review of the scheme recommends the establishment of a dedicated school transport website by Bus Éireann with all of the information clearly set out and this is being pursued. As school transport is subject to a process of application, Bus Éireann which operates the school transport scheme on behalf of my Department organises services for each school year based on the applications received from eligible pupils.