Varadkar under fire over rural transport

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has been told to “get out of Dublin” and meet rural communities to see the importance of the Rural Transport Network which he plans to abolish.

Fianna Fáil’s transport spokesperson, Timmy Dooley, called on the minister to clarify plans to scrap the scheme which were revealed in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, saying it displayed the “insensitivity” of the Coalition’s policy towards rural dwellers.

The scheme organises and delivers transport to the most isolated areas, usually serving elderly people. Under plans being drawn up, the 35 community-based companies that run it will be abolished and replaced by a new regime run by eight regional authorities.

“This has been an extremely successful and cost- effective scheme since its inception in 2002,” Mr Dooley said and questioned why the Government would scrap something that has worked well for more than a decade.

The Clare TD said the scheme had “exceeded expectations in tackling rural isolation and providing valuable transport links to those who would otherwise have been isolated in their homes.”

People in rural areas are already despairing for their future, he said, and this move will only add to that concern: “So many towns and villages have lost their Garda stations, post offices and local bank branches over the past year, while the threat remains over the future of many small rural schools,” he said.

Mr Dooley said the minister, who represents the Dublin West constituency, “needs to get out of Dublin to understand the impact of this particular policy decision.”

Waterford TD Ciara Conway said there was “no cause for alarm” over the future of rural transport in her county which she said has a system “unique” from the rest of the country.

She said the Deise Ling service has always been under the remit of the county council — similar to what is being planned under the new scheme for the rest of the country.

“What is under way, and what I understand the report is looking into, is ways of integrating the service. So it’s hoped to bring non- emergency healthcare, and the likes of school transport, for example, into the service.”

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