South Laois battle to keep bus service

A BIG crowd crammed into the Castle Arms in Durrow last Wednesday night, June 13 to voice their anger about the sudden withdrawal of Bus Eireann’s service to South Laois.

A BIG crowd crammed into the Castle Arms in Durrow last Wednesday night, June 13 to voice their anger about the sudden withdrawal of Bus Eireann’s service to South Laois.

Bus Eireann’s decision to end their Abbeyleix, Durrow and Johnstown stops takes effect from this Sunday, June 24. Brian Maher from Abbeyleix read out the Department of Transport’s policy on a public bus service.

“The objectives are ‘a well functioning, integrated service that encourages progress, development and social cohesion’. How can they stand over a decision that flies in the face of that? I say we go to Varadkar and get a meeting,” he said.

“The power to reverse this decision will come from this room,” Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming told them.

“You have done a wonderful job regarding Abbeyleix Hospital, the only thing keeping it going is the vigilance of the local community, the same with this bus route. This has to be resisted. I know the economy is tight, but companies like this are using it as an excuse to cut services. We can fight the case to Bus Eireann that this is a vital economic service and they will lose money,” he said.

Earlier this month Aircoach cancelled all their stops between Dublin and Cork, meaning a double blow for locals and visitors. A townlink service operates several times a day from Portlaoise to Abbeyleix and Durrow, but not on weekends or bank holidays.

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley said he contacted the Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar on June 5 about the issue. He read out a letter from the National Transport Authority stating that Bus Eireann have no obligation to provide public service on that route.

“We need to argue that a bus route has to be provided to major arteries and if it isn’t in the legislation, then it should be. We are concerned about people on low incomes and the elderly, as well as tourism. Bypassing a whole row of villages and towns is madness from an economic point of view,” he said.

Fine Gael TD Charles Flanagan and Senator John Whelan were not at the meeting, but have pledged support, while local cllrs all attended.

Cllr Brendan Phelan said there should be no difference between paying customers and those with passes.

“There was an agreement reached between CIE and the taxpayer. They are entitled to a service if they qualify, the same as a person who pays money. A subvention from the state goes to Bus Eireann, I ask that this won’t be supported by our TDs unless the provide a service,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, a committee was formed with the three TDs and Brian Maher, Michael G Phelan and Stephanie Phelan, and a petition was begun with 112 signatures, gathering more during the week. An online campaign is also up and running.

A meeting was due to take place yesterday (Tuesday) between Bus Eireann and TDs Sean Fleming, Brian Stanley, Charlie Flanagan, Senator John Whelan as well as Kilkenny politicians Minister Phil Hogan and Dep John McGuinness.

Another public meeting was held last night in Durrow, see www.leinsterexpress.ie for updates.