School transport scheme an ‘utter mess’, Dáil told

Sinn Féin TD says parents feel badly let down after thousands of children left without school transport

The school transport scheme is an “utter mess”, Sinn Féin TD Sorca Clarke claimed as she accused Minister for Education Norma Foley of being “in hiding” on the controversy.

The Longford-Westmeath TD claimed that the Government had failed to plan for increased capacity in the move announced in July to provide transport free this year to eligible children across the State.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said, however, that 124,000 tickets had been issued for this year, an increase of 21,000. He pointed out that many families were now getting school transport for the first time, with an annual saving of some €650 a year. He added that a “nominal fee” may be charged next year, but he acknowledged that the increase in school transport places had not been enough.

Mr Varadkar said it had been the biggest issue for the past couple of weeks, particularly for rural TDs


During leaders’ questions, in which Ms Clarke was standing in for party leader Mary Lou McDonald, she highlighted reported remarks by Mr Varadkar at a parliamentary party meeting that making school transport free this year had been “a mistake”.

Claiming the Minister had been “in hiding”, she said Ms Foley had only now agreed to attend the Oireachtas education committee on the matter.

“Parents up and down the country are feeling very badly let down as thousands of children have been left without a place on school transport,” she said. “Many parents who relied on this service have been left high and dry after being told that their child no longer has a seat on the school bus. And, incredibly, members of the public and TDs are being told by Bus Éireann that additional capacity is not being sought for pupils who didn’t secure a ticket for the school year.”

An unprecedented 130,000 applications were made for the scheme following the Government announcement that no fee would be charged because of the cost-of-living crisis.

Ms Clark added that parents who applied on time for the scheme had their children lose out because of its “unfair lottery nature”.

“Families who had expected to realise savings of €500 will now instead be heaped with additional costs as they try to find alternatives. We have a crazy situation where parents are being forced to give up work in order to get their children to school. This is an absolute mess.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times