The dream of a Europe-wide free travel scheme for senior citizens has been shot down by Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar, who said there was no such thing as “free travel”.
The idea, floated by Killarney hotelier Michael Rosney, was well received by members of the European Parliament’s influential tourism committee at a meeting in Kerry of senior members of the European People’s Party.
Many countries, including Ireland, already operate a free or heavily subsidised train and bus scheme for their own senior citizens.
“The next proper and logical step is to make these schemes available for all European senior citizens. It could bring unprecedented benefits on many different levels for the people of Europe, obviously for the senior citizens themselves, but also for those of us who live and work in the less populated areas of our union,” said Mr Rosney.
Ireland gave free travel to senior citizens from other EU countries for one year and about 36,000 people availed of it even though it had not been properly marketed abroad, and it fell apart for lack of organisation after a year, said Mr Rosney, who has spent the last 35 years running his award-winning Killeen House Hotel.
He believed that if it had been properly nurtured and marketed the number coming could have been 250,000 in no time.
The hotelier said the senior tourists would pay for themselves through their spending that would help create jobs and provide the exchequer with additional money from Vat.
Sean Kelly, the Fine Gael MEP who organised the visit and is a member of the tourism committee, and fellow MEP Gay Mitchell thought it was an interesting idea to help drum up more business for the country’s faltering tourism business.
But Mr Varadkar was not so enthusiastic. “There is no such thing as free travel, someone has to pay, and the cost to the Irish Government is €8m a year with a similar cost for the bus and train companies.”
It was also a matter of social justice, he said, since many elderly people are well-off and those who are the most wealthy are the ones who tend to travel and so have their transport subsidised.
He added that the Government was not thinking of scrapping the free transport scheme for Irish citizens.
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