my four year old on the school bus this morning,
seeing her safely seat belted in, I walked home
content in the belief that I would have her back
with me at the end of the school day. As the bus
faded out of view, my thoughts drifted to the families
of those five children who lost their lives in the
Meath school bus tragedy. At the time the accident
was unfolding I was travelling on a bus from County
Monaghan. Whenever I use that route, the bus station
in Armagh city is crammed with children waiting
to make the journey home to their families. Most
disembark at Portadown. The journey isn't long for
them. They are excitable but good-humoured. Like
many adolescents in the company of their peers they
enjoy being loud. Banter is their forte. While the
bus is seat belt equipped, the children never put
them on. It restrains their ability to hit one of
their friends a playful crack on the back of the
head somewhere up the bus or rapidly interchange
with each other as they swap the news of the day
or their plans for the weekend.
Bus Eireann vehicle involved in the Meath tragedy
was not fitted with seat belts. Believe it or not,
this is perfectly legal under Department of Transport
regulations. Some concerned observers have taken
to calling for parents to boycott the bus unless
seatbelts are installed. This confronts parents
with a difficult choice. The poorer sections of
society are dependent on public transport to get
their children to their place of learning. They
may feel it self-defeating to deny their children
education in the hope of attaining seatbelts they
may never use.
the accident have been prevented had seatbelts been
installed in the vehicle carrying the deceased children?
It is unlikely. Taking the horse to the water is
one thing, getting it to drink while there is something
else altogether. It is not as if the children are
unaware of the risks. Cigarette smoking kills more
people every year than traffic accidents. Kids know
the consequences but insist on doing their own thing
all the same. Armagh bus station has no shortage
of young smokers waiting to make the homebound journey.
Would they be any more amenable to the argument
for wearing seatbelts than they would be to one
for kicking the smoking habit?
society must be protected and that means protecting
the children of society whether they will it or
not. But how is a seatbelt rule to be implemented?
Are those who refuse to wear them to be fined? And
what use are seatbelts on a bus for 56 people if
the authorities insist on allowing almost a hundred
kids to board it? Such sardine like packing resonates
of the Hillsborough football stadium tragedy in
Sheffield just over 16 years ago. Society's system
failing society's citizens by jemmying them into
spatially inadequate locations clearly never designed
to house them.
for Transport Martin Cullen cancelled his attendance
at the European Conference of Transport Ministers
in Moscow in order to return to the country immediately.
The transport system to which he returns is shoddy,
the inevitable consequence of what Green Party deputy
leader Mary White says is 'this lopsided wealth
is the world's seventh most oil-dependent economy.
Yet rather than provide first class public services
including transport it invests public money on the
road network to facilitate the private road user.
year there was a total of 379 road traffic accident
deaths in the Republic. With greater emphasis on
roads rather than on public transport the figure
can only get worse. Irish citizens and their children
deserve much better. In the meantime get the emergency
plans ready for the next disaster. Without a holistic
approach to the transport question we are simply
counting down the days.