Contempt motion may be filed over bus service
The Chief State Solicitor and Department of Education could face a contempt of court motion in the ongoing legal row over the €150 million a year school bus service.
US-backed Student Transport Scheme (STS) last year failed in a High Court bid to force the Department of Education to put the school bus service out to public tender.
State company Bus Éireann operates the service, which cost €152 million in 2011, on the department’s behalf. STS claims this is contrary to EU public procurement law.
The company is appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court. At a hearing on Friday, it attempted to bring contempt of court proceedings against the Department of Education and the Chief State Solicitor.
However, the Supreme Court struck out the motion on the basis that it did not have the jurisdiction to deal with it. The three-judge bench informed STS that the High Court should deal with the matter.
STS has not ruled out pursuing the contempt motion in the High Court, although Friday’s ruling means it is likely to be months before it can do so.
The company based its motion on the fact the department and its lawyers told the High Court that Bus Éireann did not make a profit from providing the schools service, a fact that was critical to the ruling.
However, STS director Tim Doyle maintains, in an affidavit referred to on Friday, that it has since emerged that Bus Éireann has made a profit from operating the service in the past, and that the department must have been aware of this.
His affidavit names Department of Education principal officer Patricia O’Connor and assistant secretary Pat Burke, as well as Chief State Solicitor Eileen Creedon and Barbara Slattery of the Chief State Solicitor’s office.
That office warned at the weekend that it would defend any such motion.
“If a motion for contempt of court is brought in the High Court it will be fully defended and any allegations made by Student Transport Scheme Ltd in grounding affidavits will be fully defended,” it said in a statement.
A department spokeswoman described the claim as groundless and pointed out that STS had lost its High Court action on every point it had raised.
The Supreme Court granted the department and Bus Éireann security for their costs, which means STS must lodge money with the court ahead of an appeal.
STS is backed by IC Bus, part of US multinational Navistar.