Healy-Rae dismisses rural link scheme as ‘spin’

Michael Healy-Rae

There has been a broad welcome to government plans to expand rural bus services, including night-time buses, although Michael Healy-Rae TD has pointed out that the scheme was “not adequate”.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross said the evening and night-time transport services will run on a trial basis in rural areas for six months.

In all, it will mean 50 new services in 19 local authority areas.

Some routes, such as the Burtonport to Letterkenny route in Co Donegal, a route covering Tipperary town-Cahir-Cashel, and the Route 253 from Kinsale to Clonakilty in Co Cork are regular fixed routes under the public service obligation (PSO).

Others, such as all the routes in Carlow, Kilkenny, Wicklow, Kerry, Laois and Offaly, are DRT (demand responsive transit) pre-book flexible routes.

Mr Ross said the announcement of the routes followed consultation with stakeholders on how to combat social isolation.

“I tasked the National Transport Authority to examine how to extend existing Local Link services under the Rural Transport Programme,” he said.

Tackling the issue of social isolation in rural areas has always been a priority of the Independent Alliance.

He said following a funding call for applications to all 17Local Link Offices to deliver a range of trial evening and nighttime services, the NTA received 50 proposals from 12 of the Local Link Offices and that the NTA will consider any further proposed services from the remaining five Local Link offices.

Funding for all 50 new services has been approved on a six-month trial basis, comprising 20 extensions to existing regular public transport routes and 30 demand responsive services.

It will add 188 new trips per week to the network of rural transport services nationally and will run on average from 6pm to 11pm, typically on Friday and Saturday evenings.

It’s hoped all 50 services will be operational by the end of next month and will run until December.

The results of the trial will then be assessed and the availability of funding in 2019 will also be assessed before deciding on the future of the services.

The department said the total cost of funding the services — which has been dubbed the “drink link” — this year is €450,000.

While some welcomed the move, Michael Healy-Rae was not among them. The TD for Kerry South told RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme, the service was “not adequate — that is why I am opposed to it”.

He said other government measures, such as reduced drink-driving limits, were “hurting” rural Ireland and the bus scheme would not deflect from that, despite “spin doctors trying to make it more acceptable”.

The Mayor of Cork County, Cllr Declan Hurley, tweeted his approval for the scheme, saying he welcomed the announcement of a new evening and nighttime local bus service for Kinsale to Clonakilty and Rockchapel to Meelin and Banteer, with the service to run between 6pm-11pm at weekends on a trial basis for six months “to address social isolation in rural areas”.

A spokesperson for Limerick Council said Local Link was actively investigating options for continued expansion of the existing community bus services in the county.

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