Unfair, blinkered and daft – three words used by Senator Paudie Coffey to describe the suggested scaling back of the rural school bus scheme as proposed by Dublin Fianna Fáil TD Chris Andrews.

Responding to the urban deputy’s call for a reduction in the existing service, Senator Coffey said any such plan would leave many children in county Waterford unable to get to school.

“Deputy Andrews’s mindless proposal shows just how out of touch the Government has become,” claimed the Portlaw native.

“And it doesn’t make any sense for two reasons. One: most urban areas already have extensive public transport networks, while most rural areas do not.

“And two: scrapping school buses in rural areas would force more parents to drive their children to school, driving up pollution levels and adding to congestion. – totally contradicting stated Government policy on reducing carbon emissions.”

Added Senator Coffey: “It would also add considerably to household bills. Brian Lenihan has already pushed up the cost of school transport by over 200 per cent. Fianna Fáil’s proposal to abolish school transport in rural areas is unthinking and inconsiderate.”

The Senator said a review of the existing service was of greater urgency in comparison to Deputy Andrews’s suggestion.

“The service we have now has been in existence since the 1960s,” he continued.

“It doesn’t reflect modern population trends, meaning that areas such as Clonea Power, Annestown and Bonmahon in Waterford are divided by the boundaries with children unable to gain automatic access to school bus services to nearby schools.

“They should also invest in a more modern school bus fleet and traffic management systems in all schools to improve safety for our children.”

Meanwhile, Senator Coffey has described the rules governing the timing for the spreading of slurry as “bureaucratic” and were responsible for “doing more harm than good to the environment”.

He explained: “The Nitrates Directive required the Department of Agriculture to set up closed periods for the spreading of slurry based on regional growth rates of grass, taken over many years.

“The last minute derogations to the closing period issued by the Minister for Agriculture were in recognition of the variances in weather conditions and the difficulties in complying with the regulations as they currently exist.”

The recent dry spell provided farmers with the most practical time to spread slurry, according to Senator Coffey, who could have spread it on areas of adequate grass cover without damaging the environment.

“The calendar dates used to calculate the closed period have created an inflexible system that does not respond adequately to the conditions on the ground,” he stated.

“I am calling on the Minister for Agriculture to urgently review the criteria used to calculate the closed periods for slurry spreading and to ensure flexibility for derogations depending on suitable weather conditions.

“The Department’s inaction will create unnecessary burdens on farmers while harming the environment instead of protecting it.”