LOCAL TDs and councillors, along with over 200 concerned parents, packed out a school hall on Monday night to express their concern over changes to the school bus service.
The meeting, at Bishop Galvin Central School in Newcestown, was called to address the planned bus transport changes, which could see a reduction of up to 40% in attendance at the school.
Mícheál Ó Donnchadha, spokesperson for ‘Save Our School Buses’, told the large attendance that the ‘nearest school’ policy being proposed by the Department of Education would lead to the fragmentation of the community in Newcestown.
Under the Department’s guidelines – which were first flagged in 2011 – new pupils will have to enroll in their ‘nearest’ available primary school, if they wish to be eligible for school transport.
Up until now, pupils across the parish have been bussed to the Central School in Newcestown. The school was established in 1971, following the closure of several small schools in the parish. However, Newcestown is not the nearest school for many pupils and the new regulations mean they will now lose their entitlement to bus transport.
‘If we allow this to be taken away, then it’s gone for good and it’s up to us here to do something about it,’ said Mícheál Ó Donnchadha. ‘Do we want to be remembered as the generation who sat idly by? No one will thank us for that.’
‘It will be a case of Solomon’s Choice where parents will have to enroll their younger children in a different school to their older family members,’ he added. ‘We won’t gain any pupils and there is no financial saving with this. It’s just transferring costs to other schools, and they will need two to three extra rooms, while we will have two empty rooms as a result.’
School principal Donie Keane said the ‘Central School rule’ was now being replaced by the ‘Nearest School’ rule and that Newcestown was one of very few Central Schools in the country which will be affected by it.
Parent Tim Murray told the meeting: ‘If ye don’t do something, ye will get very little votes, and the election is the only tool we have.’ Another parent, Aidan Rourke, said that the Newcestown community is a template for others – ‘Don’t destroy it, we love it.’
Aine Twomey, who lives in Farnivane with her husband Paul, and their three sons, told The Southern Star that this new rule would be a disaster for them.
‘We have two boys aged five years old and eight years old who get the bus to Newcestown school every day. We also have a young baby who in five years’ time – because of this new rule – will have to go to Castlelack National School, as it’s the nearest to us,’ said Aine. ‘So I could end up with my youngest son going to a different school to my other son, which is not an ideal situation. It will also be detrimental to the community here in Newcestown as children will end up going to schools outside the parish.’
Fine Gael Cork North West TD Michael Creed said he was ‘acutely conscious of the role the Central School plays in the community’ and said that they need to present the case to the Department of Education to ‘see the fallacy of the argument they are proposing.’
His fellow colleague, Fine Gael Cork North West TD Aine Collins, said the ‘proposal is not common sense and it’s not economic viable’.
Fianna Fáíl Cllr Andrias Moynihan said he was ‘standing 110%’ with the community in Newcestown in fighting it.
‘It’s more than just the damage to the school, but also to the wider community, culturally and even in sport. It would be a devastating blow and we need to change the policy at upper level,’ said Cllr Moynihan.
Independent Cllr Michael Collins from Goleen said that this is ‘an urban decision made by a pencil-pusher in the Department of Education’.
‘The Department rules without any flexibility and Bus Eireann are willing to do something about the changes, but their hands are tied,’ said Cllr Collins.
Sinn Fein Cllr Rachel McCarthy said it was another attack on rural Ireland.
‘It’s about your parish and every child should have the opportunity to go to school in their parish,’ said Cllr McCarthy.
Independent Cllr Alan Coleman said it’s a ‘breach of faith’ because the people of the parish took the decision to close the smaller schools when the idea of a central school was first suggested in 1971.
‘This doesn’t recognise the reality of what makes a community, it’s something ingrained in generations,’ said Cllr Coleman, who emphasised another issue in the area – the state of the roads. He announced that he had hit a pothole on his way to the meeting and was delayed as a result, adding some light relief to the meeting.
A further meeting will take place in Newcestown on February 12th, where parents will be updated on any progress following a meeting arranged between Department officials and school representatives. A petition signed by people from all over the parish has already gained over 1,800 signatures.