Parents are being forced to take annual leave from work due to shortcomings in the school transport scheme, the Dáil has heard.
Sinn Féin TD Sorca Clarke said the current state of school transport in some places was “in absolute chaos” and was taking a toll on parents’ mental and physical health.
“It’s causing unnecessary stress, it’s becoming a financial burden at a time that families are least placed to be able to take on board another cost,” she said.
“Parents are left with no choice, the length and breadth of the country, but to take annual leave from work in order to bring their children to school ... The shortage of schoolbuses is a national issue and it’s clearly having a disproportionate effect on children with special educational needs.”
The Longford-Westmeath TD said she had received an email from a woman who was now relying on her 73-year-old mother to collect her child from school.
Ms Clarke’s party colleague, Pearse Doherty, said the reality was there were “countless children and families in every constituency” across the State who still do not have the school transport to which they are entitled.
“If you cannot get your children into school and you have to make alternative arrangements, in some cases, it is a crisis within the family,” the Donegal TD said.
“I spoke to a constituent last week who has written to many other elected representatives through tears, as she put it, talking about how she had to give up work for the past month just to be able to get her children to school because the school transport system is unable to cater for her needs and those of her family along with many others.”
The school transport scheme is managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education with more than 154,000 young people transported daily in the 2022-2023 school year.
Minister for Education Norma Foley said there had been an increase in both applications and tickets issued for the 2023-2024 school year in comparison to the previous year.
Ms Foley said a small number of bus companies handed back contracts at the last minute. “Consequently, there are a small number of families who have been issued with tickets in good faith and who do not yet have transport in place,” she said.
“These families are being regularly updated by Bus Éireann as to the current status of their service. Bus Éireann has confirmed that no service has been cancelled, but as I have said, there are particular issues with resource availability in terms of drivers or contractors, and that a number of contractors continue to hand back contracts, or there have been zero bids for contracts in certain areas.”
The minister added that a “much-awaited” review of the school transport scheme was nearing completion and recognised improvements needed to be made to it.
“I expect to be in a position shortly to bring the review to Government, which will be the first step and, further to Government approval, the review will be published,” she said.