By Tim Ryan
PROBLEMS in trying to source school transport for children from Sherkin Island were raised in the Upper House by Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard.
There is a ferry that takes the children to the mainland to go to school in Rath, which is near Baltimore, he said. However, the issue is one of timing.
‘Let me give the Minister of State (Mary Mitchell O’Connor) an example,’ he said. ‘If a parent has a child in junior or senior infants and he or she finishes at 2pm the parent or guardian must catch the ferry at noon, land in Baltimore at 12.15 pm, wait one hour and 45 minutes to pick up the child at 2pm, and catch the ferry at 3pm to arrive back at the island at 3.15pm. One would drive to Dublin in the time it takes to get a child home from school. It is bizarre, to say the very least.’
There are 183 school days in the year, he said. There is a need for a dedicated ferry service to match school pick-up times between 2pm and 3pm.Arranging transport for the children to school is becoming a major drain on the community. ‘Obviously for child protection reasons, a parent or grandparent has to accompany a schoolchild on the boat, as there is no chaperone on it. There is a need to have a dedicated chaperone on it for the children. We all know what will happen. People will not send their child to school on the mainland from the island. Rather, they will move to the mainland and the ethos that has been built on the island for generations, decades, if not millennia, will slowly drift away.’
In reply, Minister Mitchell O’Connor said a ferry passenger service is provided under a subsidy from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with several daily sailings. ‘Once children are at the pier on the mainland, a number of services are available to provide transport to the primary school in Baltimore and to post-primary schools in Rosscarbery, Clonakilty and Skibbereen,’ she said. ‘Regarding the senator’s question, a request has been received for the establishment of a dedicated school transport facility separate from the current service to transport children to Rath National School in Baltimore. Discussions are ongoing between officials in the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on this request.’
The Minister of State said she would take what the senator said and his description of the hardship experienced by parents and children and ensure the Department of Education and Skills knows exactly what is happening. Discussions must speed up between the two relevant Departments, she added.