Urris school bus policy described as ‘bonkers’

The public meeting was held in Tiernasligo National School in Urris.
The public meeting was held in Tiernasligo National School in Urris.

New school bus rules which will see children from Urris have to attend school in Buncrana will not require them to travel over Mamore Gap, it has been confirmed.

However, they will now have to travel to Clonmany and on to Buncrana, a further distance than that from Urris to Carndonagh.

The move was confirmed at a public meeting in Tiernasligo National School on Monday evening, which was attended by a large group of parents and a number of public representatives.

Monday’s public meeting was held in response to confirmation that school children in one half of Urris will have to attend secondary schools in Buncrana from September if they wish to avail of the school transport scheme.

This is due to the fact that eligibility for the scheme is determined by distance, with the department deeming Buncrana closer to Carndonagh for one half of Urris, via Mamore Gap.

Students from Urris traditionally attend Carndonagh Community School and the rules could now see siblings attend different schools.

There were also concern that the route across Mamore Gap is unsafe.

At the meeting and again in the Dail on Tuesday, at which Deputy Charlie McConalogue raised the issue, Education Minister Damien English confirmed the school bus would not travel over Mamore Gap but that the route would be used to determine distance.

Minister English told Deputy McConalogue the school transport scheme had to be “implemented fairly” across the country.

He also said it had been discovered a number of children in the area had been incorrectly assessed as eligible for school transport and in the 2015/2016 year, are only eligible for this on a concessionary basis.

Deputy McConalogue replied it was “disgraceful” the department had not looked at the particulars of the case in Urris and said that if Mamore Gap is not used, the route via Clonmany and on to Buncrana was longer than the route from Urris to Buncrana.

Monday’s public meeting, which was chaired by parent Brian Harkin, the measure was described “bonkers” and the parents agreed to ask Minister English to travel to Urris and see for himself the route the children will have to take.

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Harkin said parents, many of whom lodged appeals which were turned down, were anxious that the “ridiculous decision” would be overturned.

He added that even though the bus route will now not go via Mamore Gap, as previously feared, it now means the children will have to be taken this Clonmany to Buncrana, “which leave the distance further than it was to start with.”

Mr Harkin said the department’s insistence that distance is determined by the “shortest traversable route” is national policy and one which they do not want to “back down on.”

He also pointed out how many parents had already bought books and uniforms for Carndonagh school, as the date to do so would have passed by the time any appeal decision was known.

He said many could now not afford to also buy the same for Buncrana schools.

Questions were raised at the meeting over how the scheme would present value for money and parents also told how their children were worried about the situation, with many unsure which school they would be attending in September.

Mr Harkin said they had all been left “in limbo.”

Earlier in the day, the parents had met with Minister Joe McHugh who told them he had been “hitting a brick wall” in relation to the policy but would continue to make representations to the Minister.

He said the minister had asked for a breakdown of the costings of the routes to and from the schools.