The safeguarding of the Ring a Link rural transport scheme which is a three county project between South Tipperary, Carlow and Kilkenny was sought in the Dáil by Tipperary Independent Deputy Mattie McGrath.
Thanks to Fr. Gerard O’Connor, Fr. Pat Condon and others who championed the rural transport issue, we have one of the most successful schemes in the country, he said. “I happen to be the chairperson of the working group in South Tipperary,” he said. “The Minister wants to amalgamate groups around the country, with which I agree, but we have a ready-made template for amalgamation in Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary.”
Ring a Link has made a bid to have North Tipperary included and it already offers services there, although not many, he said. “We have state-of-the-art booking technology which can trace people to their front doors and which has the capability of communicating GPS messages to bus drivers.”
There is a need for the three-county model to be retained, particularly as huge investments have been made in the bus fleet and in drivers and other staff, and because there is now a knowledge about what rural transport involves, he said.
“We are entitled to a slice of the cake,” he said. “An attempt was made via the McCarthy report to get rid of our model but we fought it off. However, we are obliged to make cuts of 7% and, despite the difficulties involved, we will deliver these next year. The template we have in place is a model for the remainder of the country. Removing south Tipperary from the equation and obliging it to put in place its own service would give rise to a significant cost because there would be a need to purchase new buses and booking technology, employ new drivers, etc.”
In response Transport Minister Alan Kelly said a value for money report on rural transport groups identified a number of issues in respect of the overall value for money of the programme, the level of administration costs, inconsistencies in fare levels, the cost per service across the country and the lack of data and performance measures, as well as a range of other matters.
“Central to the new national administrative structure is the establishment of 18 transport co-ordination units, TCUs, in place of the existing 35 groups,” he said. “This represents the most suitable and efficient model because it will provide the appropriate critical mass of population and characteristics to sustain the running costs of each unit. A selection and appraisal process is currently under way in respect of the 18 TCUs. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on that matter. The final closing date for receipt of applications was 30 November. Only existing RTP groups were eligible to apply to become TCUs, which means that much of the experience and local links and knowledge will be retained in the new structure.”
For the sake of clarity and in order to allay any fears for users of existing rural transport services, he said he wished to emphasise that services will be maintained at current levels for the foreseeable future.
“It has been decided, in consultation with the National Transport Authority, to establish a TCU in County Tipperary,” he said. “Given that the county now has one local authority and vocational education committee and that Deputy Mattie McGrath and I will soon share a constituency, I am surprised the Deputy is concerned about a proposal to join North, Mid and West County Tipperary with the South of the county to address its transport needs. This is the appropriate approach.”
No decision taken on Pillar 2 funding - Hayes
The development of a new rural programme under Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy will be a key support in enhancing the competitiveness of the agrifood sector, achieving more sustainable management of natural resources and ensuring a more balanced development of rural areas, Minister of State Tom Hayes told the Dáil.
Replying to Fianna Fáil’s Agriculture Spokesman Eamon O’Cúiv he said no time or effort will be spared in negotiating for as much as can possibly be achieved in the coming months.
Deputy O’Cúiv claimed that under the rules negotiated by the current Minister for Agriculture & Food, the small print shows that the new Pillar 2 could be as little as €3 billion. “That is a potentially huge 40% cut in funding,” he said. “The last Pillar 2 funding for the period 2007-2013 amounted to €4.8 billion, between State funding and European funding. Pillar 2 funding has been co-funded, with 53% coming from the EU and 47% coming from the Government.”
However, Minister Hayes said consultation is ongoing with all stakeholders. “The Deputy should not believe everything he reads in the newspapers. To be clear, no decision has yet been made on these matters. As we speak, departmental officials are talking to colleagues in other Departments in an effort to maximise the funding we can obtain for rural development.”
“The Government of which the Deputy was a member dropped the schemes it had negotiated halfway through their cycles, including the Rural Environment Protection Scheme, the Young Farmers’ Installation Scheme, the Early Retirement Scheme and the Suckler Cow and Fallen Cow schemes,” he said. We do not want to announce something that we cannot maintain. That is why we are engaged in a consultation process. We are receiving great support from many rural and farmers’ organisations, including people in the Deputy’s party. In fact, some of those people have advised us not to listen to what he is saying in regard to Pillars 1 and 2.”