Members of the public may be asked to volunteer as safety wardens outside a number of schools in Cork county.
The goodwill gesture by volunteers may be required to step-in to fill the gap unless Cork County Council can force the Department of Education to financially assist the local authority.
A special council committee is to delve into the problem following a lengthy debate in County Hall which heard that many schools, located beside busy and dangerous roads, cannot employ wardens due to being cash-strapped.
The issue was raised by Councillor Seamus McGrath (FF), who said more wardens was “a key safety issue” rather than a financial matter as fewer than 50 of the county’s 297 schools only had a warden.
He said the Government was trying to encourage more children to walk or cycle to school. However, he said, due to safety concerns such an option would not be a viable proposal for some, especially if pupils were attending schools on dangerous roads or in areas with high volumes of traffic.
“I’m taking cognizance of the [limited] resources we have, but we should put in place a priority criteria in terms of the dangers and work off that,” said Mr McGrath.
“A child’s life should never be put at risk,” insisted Councillor Kay Dawson (FG), who agreed an audit should be conducted by council officials to prioritise where school wardens should be employed.
Her party colleague, Councillor Sinead Sheppard, also pointed out that even in schools where school wardens are available, a temporary replacement was not always ensured in the event of a warden being out sick.
The availability of safety wardens, she said, was a major issue in areas where schools were located along busy traffic routes.
Councillor Melissa Mullane (SF), meanwhile, said Davis College and a gaelscoil, both in Mallow had vacancies for a warden for quite some time, but without success.
She suggested, in future, a condition was attached to planning approvals for new schools, and those getting major extensions, that the Department of Education would be required to fund the appointment of a school warden.
Councillor June Murphy (Ind) highlighted the case of Presentation Convent in Mitchelstown which had 1,000 pupils and had also been seeking a warden for some time.
Sinn Féin’s Councillor Danielle Twomey said there were five primary schools in Midleton and, to her knowledge, none of them were involved on the school warden scheme.
Councillor Kevin Murphy (FG) said: “We should make an effort to invite volunteers to join the scheme and train them properly as well.”
Councillor Deirdre Forde (FG) said that schools in the Grange and Frankfield areas of Douglas had been looking for replacement wardens for many years.
Councillor Paul Hayes (SF) said that during his school days, many schools in West Cork had a junior warden scheme operated by older pupils in national schools for the benefit of the younger ones.
Council chief executive Tim Lucey said there were so many schools in the county the demand was huge.
He said the cost of employing wardens was not the sole issue as the council would also have to fund the capital cost of developing proper pedestrian crossings and erecting warning signs.
Mr Lucey said it would be a good idea “to look at volunteerism” to plug the gap, and said the council might also engage with the region’s primary schools principals’ organisation about the issue to see if they had any ideas which could be examined.
Councillors agreed with Mr McGrath’s suggestion the issue be referred to the council’s transport SPC (special purposes committee) to offer proposals.
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