Minister of State for Training and Skills John Halligan has vowed to continue to fight for an extra €4m for the school bus scheme to continue to include concessionary children.
Mr Halligan explained to RTÉ radio’s Today with Miriam O’Callaghan show that concessionary children are pupils who get a seat on a bus even if they are not eligible, because there is a vacant space.
He said: “The crux of the problem is that if there were spaces on a bus rather than let it go to its destination with seats empty we then put children that were not eligible - that's concessionary children - on the bus.
“There are 117,500 children on the school bus scheme including 13,00 with special education needs. Transport is on 5,000 vehicles twice a day. Covering 100 million kilometres annually.”
Mr Halligan added that in 2018 the cost of providing school transport amounted to €206m with “a very small proportion” paid by parents, the rest by the department.
“The problem is the service dates from 1968," he said. "The system is one of the best in Europe. All eligible children get school transport either through the rural grant or on buses or taxis, all special needs children get it.
“Our problem at present is that every year more and more concessionary children come into the scheme. If I had my way, and I've said this on numerous occasions, I made a commitment to parents all around the country, to politicians, public representatives …
“What I'm saying now is we do require about €4.2m which would take all concessionaries off the scheme. I am looking for it. My view is that we should get it.
Mr Halligan said he had stopped a recommendation by Depar to have concessionary children taken off the scheme altogether.
He said: “I actually stopped that from happening, that was the one power I had as Minister to stop that.
“The legality of the scheme that was put in place was put in for eligible children and special needs children, it never mentioned concessionary children. All of these are being carried in the scheme, the money that comes out of that scheme is not a special pot of money that's put in for school transport, it comes out of the education budget.
“I think we need to get our children to school.
“We are still in negotiations with Depar and the Department and we've made our case on a number of occasions through school transport, I think we do have a chance of getting some.
“What we asked for in the budget last year we did receive, there was an attempt to cut back the scheme. I believe that €4m would resolve a lot of issues in more problematic areas where concessionary children are not getting transport.”