Foley faces committee criticism over school transport places

Minister blames ‘unprecedented expansion’ of scheme after some people unable to get places for their children

Minister for Education Norma Foley has faced criticism at a Dáil committee over people being unable to get school transport places for their children.

There has been “unprecedented expansion” of the school transport scheme following the temporary waiving of fees, Norma Foley told the Oireachtas education committee.

Ms Foley said she understands the frustrations of those who were unable to get school transport places for their children and that she is hopeful a review of the scheme will be completed by the end of the year.

Ms Foley said a large increase in applications this year, after the scheme was made free to help people deal with rising living costs, had led to “frustration over delays in issuing tickets in some instances”.


“I can assure you that Bus Éireann will continue to work intensively in all regions to process applications and to issue tickets as soon as buses and drivers are sourced to become available,” she said.

The Minister said she was in discussions with Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath to see if there was potential for a budget measure to help those who received concessionary tickets previously but were not allocated them for this year.

In July, the Government announced a waiving of school transport fees for the 2022-2023 school year as a part of a wider package of cost of living measures.

Ms Foley said that 124,000 students who met the criteria for free school transport were in receipt of it. She said almost all of the 130,000 applications were received by the deadline of July 29th for mainstream school transport. This figure included 44,299 new applications as well as rollovers from the previous year.

At the beginning of the last school year, a total of 103,600 children were carried on mainstream school transport services. Ms Foley said in the region of 20,400 additional places have been created.

“The temporary waiving of fees has led to an unprecedented expansion of the scheme with many more eligible and concessionary applicants receiving tickets than ever before.”

Ms Foley said the review of the scheme has “been impacted by some issues, most notably perhaps, Ukraine”.

Sinn Féin TD for Cork South Central Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire put it to the Minister that her department should have been looking for additional bus capacity over the summer months. He said the crisis could have been predicted and prevented.

“Why did those who applied on time and who would have got a concessionary place another year — why were they not prioritised over late applicants?”

Sligo Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry accused Ms Foley of repeating her answers on the successes of the scheme “50 times”. He said what was absent was “a bit of humility around the fact that a major mistake was made” in the planning of the roll-out of the free transport scheme.

He asked if Ms Foley had ever been advised that an issue was certain to arise in relation to people who had concessionary tickets in the previous years but were declined tickets this year. The Minister declined to give a yes or no answer.

“If we announced this evening that tickets for the All Ireland final next year are free and are stupid enough to expect that only 20 per cent extra capacity is required then there a real problem,” Mr MacSharry said.

“Yes we are helping 124,000 as you tell us ad nauseam. But it is the 6,000 that have been discommoded, and whether it was your fault or an officials fault or Bus Éireann’s fault that failure needs to be acknowledged.”

Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway Walsh said the Minister was “deflecting responsibility” while children, whom she described as “collateral damage”, are “left at the side of the road”.

Committee chairman and Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe said it was a “huge mistake that there wasn’t some form of nominal fee” and that he had heard a huge amount of anecdotal evidence of abuse of the system.

Ms Foley told him he should give this information to the authorities. Mr Kehoe replied it was not his job “to police” the issue.