Pensioners protest against transport cuts

More than 350 angry pensioners attended a public meeting in Ballybofey on Wednesday night to protest against cuts to the rural transport programme.
They are all regular users of the scheme, which is run by three companies in Donegal, all managed by voluntary boards. The McCarthy report advocates the total abolition of the rural transport programme, which was set up in Donegal in 2002 but only began operating in some areas of the county as recently as nine months ago.

Fiona O'Shea manages the programme for Seirbhís Iompair Tuaithe Teo (SITT), which services the south, southwest and much of the northeast of the county. She told the Democrat those present at the meeting represent only the tip of the iceberg. "Helping the elderly retain their independence is only one aspect of rural transport. It's part of the fabric of community, enabling community groups, family resource centres, afterschool projects and the HSE to provide access to their programmes. In fact, 99% of the rural transport fleet is fully wheelchair accessible, a ratio you'd never find in privately-run companies."

Cormac Skinnader, manager of the programme in Inishowen, says it makes a massive difference in people's lives. "The difference is independence. There's been a great take-up. People who have their own transport don't understand what it's like not to be able to get around."

Kathy Anderson, a regular user of rural transport, spoke on behalf of people from the Stranorlar/Ballybofey area. "I'm a firm believer that a country is judged by how it looks after the young, the ill and the elderly. We hope this service won't be taken away."

Mary McKinney, a member of the sub-committee for Inishowen Rural Transport, added: "The politicians must ask themselves what the reaction would be if Dublin Bus was done away with, along with the DART and commuter trains. People in Donegal have as much of a right to public transport as anyone living in Dublin. It's the one issue that comes up in community development across every single sector."

Dinny McGinley, TD, agreed the rural transport programme was "a great godsend to the 50,000 people who used the service in the last six months and to the voluntary sector".

Senator Pearse Doherty recalled that his first job on graduating in 1999 was undertaking an audit of rural transport in the Donegal Gaeltacht . "So I'm thoroughly aware of its importance. You are preaching to the converted when talking to me or my party about rural transport."

Senator Brian O'Domhnaill said the programme in Donegal represents "value for money, Smarter Transport". He concluded: "Pennies are being spent on it in an overall context, yet it gives people a better quality of life".

Donegal Democrat