Deputy Michael Healy Rae’s opposition to the Fine Gael proposal to increase rural bus services is a regressive move for rural Ireland, a Fine Gael TD has said.
Martin Heydon, Fine Gael Chairperson and TD for Kildare South is proposing to extend bus services on certain routes around Ireland to help combat rural isolation.
Speaking on the matter Deputy Heydon said: “I am shocked that Michael Healy Rae is opposing this Fine Gael proposal to extend existing successful local link rural transport routes that currently finish early in the day, to run later in the evening.
“Fifteen of the 38 routes set to benefit from the Fine Gael proposal are in Kerry. Why would Deputy Healy Rae oppose such a move? The residents of Kilgarvan, home of the Healy Raes would benefit from additional services on Saturday and Sunday nights. The Healy Rae’s own pub would of course benefit from this measure also.
“While the drink driving legislation has brought the debate about social isolation to the fore, this proposal is actually about a lot more than bringing people to and from the pub. This is about connecting our communities.
“As chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, I was mandated by my colleagues to work with Transport Minister Shane Ross to come up with solutions to try to address the issue of social isolation.
“What we in Fine Gael are proposing is an extensive pilot scheme to extend public transport into rural areas at a time where it isn’t currently available, for people to use as their needs dictate. That may be to visit other friends or relatives living alone, or to go into town to play bingo or a game of cards or even watch a sports match in the summer evenings.
“Working in conjunction with the local link companies, we proposed 38 routes for the pilot scheme, as they are all existing successful routes that have good passenger numbers during the day. Should the 38 routes see significant demand for the pilot evening service, this is something that then could be rolled out nationwide. The proposed pilot is extensive, covering 12 local link companies across 15 counties.
“Adding in an extra round trip in the evening has no additional capital cost for these services, due to the fact that all routes proposed have existing buses in place.
“Fine Gael is passionate about the potential of rural transport as a way of addressing issues of social isolation. We, as a nation, haven’t fully tapped into the potential that local link offers us. As the local link services move towards door to door services, with the involvement of local hackneys, there is a much greater flexibility in the service than the linear routes might suggest.
“At a cost of a little over €1 million, this pilot would provide in excess of 11,000 extra trips per annum around rural Ireland. This figure doesn’t take into account the money that would be collected in fares by local link.
“Minister Ross has expressed a desire to work with me to help address the issue of social isolation and he has referred these proposals the NTA for their consideration. I look forward to following up on the matter with him in the near future.” concluded Deputy Heydon.