A shortage of school bus places has left children across South Tipperary without public transport to school for the start of the new academic year in two weeks time, according to local politicans.
Mayor of Clonmel Cllr Garret Ahearn said he has been contacted by numerous parents across the county from Grangemockler, Killenaule, Cahir and Newcastle whose children have failed to secure a school bus ticket.
"Hundreds of parents throughout Tipperary are in limbo with just two weeks to the new term because of a shortage of school bus places," he said.
His Fine Gael general election running mate Mary Newman-Julian is campaigning to overturn several "unfair" school bus ticket rejections in her local community of New Inn.
Children from two families in New Inn have been turned down for primary school bus tickets because they live marginally closer to schools in Cahir and Golden than the two schools they attend in their home parish.
And a boy from a third New Inn family won't be able to take up the school bus ticket he has secured because the applications for bus tickets for his two younger siblings were rejected as their school is slightly closer to their home.
"Every August, families who may have previously received school bus tickets on a concessionary basis are on tenterhooks waiting for the email to tell them if they are to receive school bus tickets or not," said Ms Newman- Julian.
"It is terribly unfair that every year, some children attending their local parish school have to battle for school bus tickets; some winning, some losing."
The children of the first family, she is campaigning on behalf of, received school bus tickets since 2015 when they first applied for them. But the family's three children have been turned down for tickets for the upcoming academic year.
The children attend New Inn boys and girls national schools. They meet the distance criteria of living more than 3.2km from their school to qualify for a school bus ticket. However, Cahir Primary School is marginally closer to the family. It is 5.4km from their home while New Inn Girls School is 5.6km and New Inn Boys School is 5.7km away. This means they only qualify for “concessionary” tickets, which are issued if seats are left on the bus after all “eligible” children are catered for.
The second family Ms Newman-Julian is representing has a daughter attending New Inn Girls School. She is in fourth class and has always received a school bus ticket up to the upcoming academic year albeit as a "concessionary" ticket holder.
Ms Newman points out the New Inn school bus passes the student's house. She lives 6.1km from New Inn Girls School, which is well outside the 3.2km minimum distance to qualify for a bus ticket.
She hasn't secured a bus ticket because Golden Primary School is 0.3km closer to her home and is regarded as her nearest local school by the authorities even though she lives in New Inn Parish.
Ms Newman-Julian said the third family has secured a bus ticket for their eldest boy who is attending New Inn Boys School, which is 3.3km from their home.
But his younger brother and sister attending New Inn Girls School, which is 2.9km from their home, have not received bus tickets this year. The eldest boy and his brother both received bus tickets while attending New Inn Girls School in 2016 and 2017 but they didn't receive them last year.
She points out that very marginal distances of less than half a kilometer are the stumbling block for the three families.
Earlier this summer Ms Newman-Julian called on the Department of Education & Skills to review the primary schools bus scheme and its qualification criteria.
She called for an increase in primary school bus places and complained that the 3.2km distance from school qualification criteria is an arbitrary cut off point based on budgets.
She has argued the parish structure must be taken into account when allocating school bus tickets.
Both Ms Newman-Julian and Cllr Ahearn welcomed Education & Skills Minister Joe McHugh's support for a €4m additional investment in the school bus transport, which he mentioned in a Sunday newspaper interview this week.
He is currently trying to secure approval from the Department of Public Expenditure for this increased investmen.
Minister of State John Halligan, who is responsible for the school transport scheme, claimed this week the Department of Public Expenditure is opposing his efforts to secure this funding. Ms Newman-Julian said she hoped common sense will prevail. She believes the extra €4m investment will provide sufficient seat space for all children qualifying for “concessionary” tickets.