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Achill families left ‘high and dry’ by school bus saga


WAITING School buses parked up at Cashel on Achill Island at the weekend. Some local parents have had difficulties getting bus tickets for their children to go to school.

Families left in the lurch after application issues

Edwin McGreal

A frontline worker in Achill says she is considering withdrawing her son from school or else face giving up her job after struggles to get her son on the school bus service continues into the mid-term break.
Catherine O’Malley, who works full-time in a nursing home, and her husband, Gerard, have been faced with a 40 minute round trip twice a day to ferry their son Tristan from their home in Dookinella at the western part of the island to school in Coláiste Pobail Acla just over the bridge on the mainland.
However, when she is working, the family were often relying on relations to help out when guidelines allowed. That is now off the table under the current restrictions and car-pooling with other families has never been on the table this year, because of Covid-19 guidelines.
“After Halloween I don’t know if we will be able to keep doing this. But if we withdraw him from school, social services will be at our door. The only way we can make this work as things are right now is give up my job and I don’t think that’s an option. We’re in an awful situation. It’s so important kids get an education. Tristan is in Transition Year and that’s a very important year for a teenager’s development.
“Back in late September, beginning of October we nearly did hit rock bottom. We had worked so hard during the pandemic. We had done everything 100 percent and you are thrown this curve ball,” she said.
Ms O’Malley said was late applying for the August 4 deadline but made repeated efforts to pay after then, including on the day the online portal was reopened for late applicants on September 7.
“Our application was late but the way I was looking at it during the summer was I wasn’t sure if the buses would be able to run or even if the school would be open. Then when we tried to register, poor broadband was an issue. We’ve registered late in other years but, suddenly, no late applications were being entertained this year.
“We’ve been told there’s still a seat for him. There are 48 pupils for that bus and 47 have tickets, just my lad that hasn’t been given one.
“The bus is going past his door. Why would they not issue him his ticket and pick him up?”
‘Really frustrating’
Another parent who has been left in the lurch by the situation is Deirdre O’Hara from Owenduff, Achill. She said she applied for her three secondary school-going children to receive their tickets before the deadline and the application appeared to be a success.
However, when no tickets had arrived by early September, she rang the Bus Éireann office in Ballina and was told the medical card details for her children had not processed.
Ms O’Hara also applied for passes for her children, Emma, James and John, on the September 7 day for reopening applications.
In screenshots viewed by The Mayo News the portal said all three children were eligible, that the application had been received but the family are still left without tickets. Ms O’Hara must bring them to school every day, as well as bringing her two younger children to national school in Tonragee.
“The way it has been left now it is constant rushing, go, go, go in the mornings and afternoon, Monday to Friday. It’s really frustrating. I’m constantly on the road between all the different pick-ups. I have five children, I depend on this bus service to pick up our three eldest children,” Ms O’Hara told The Mayo News.
The Mayo News understands at least two more families in Achill have been left without a bus service this year.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that this is happening,” said local Cllr Paul McNamara, who said he has canvassed both the Department of Transport and the Department of Education on the matter as well as getting the matter raised in Seanad Éireann.
“Achill is a vast area and for parents to be expected to ferry kids from one end of Achill to the other is a very difficult situation. Families have been left high and dry.
“In many cases, families were late applying but that had to be inevitable this year of all years and all families applied on the date for late applications but were all unsuccessful.”
In response to a series of questions by The Mayo News, Bus Éireann said all applicants who filled out there application by the August 4 deadline ‘have been facilitated’ and that the service ‘is now operating at full capacity’.
In response to a series of follow-up questions, Bus Éireann said they had nothing further to add.