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Dublin: 5 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019
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'No questions about it, the Free Travel pass is safe'

However, a review is taking place, something which Joan Burton makes “no apology” about it.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE MINISTER FOR Social Protection has signally unequivocally that the government has no intention to scrap the Free Travel pass.

“I want to say loud and clear here tonight: this Government has protected the Free Travel Scheme for beneficiaries in all of its Budgets to date, and will continue to protect the scheme,” Joan Burton told the Dáil.

“The Free Travel pass is safe.”

She was speaking during a Private Members motion from Fianna Fáil that “condemned the Government’s threats to abolish this vital and effective State support”.

Burton said that a review of the scheme, which offers free travel to those aged over 66 or in receipt of Carers and some forms of Disability Allowance, was being undertaken in the context that Ireland’s older population is likely to grow significantly in coming years.

“It is estimated that the over-65 population will rise by nearly 220,000 over the next decade to just over 800,000 in 2024,” she said, “these demographic changes will pose significant social and economic challenges for individuals, families and society in general.”

She added the cost has risen significantly, and that the government makes “no apology” for carrying out a review of the 50-year-old scheme, but one is necessary as “all elements of the public service must work together to deliver value for money and quality public services that meet the needs of our community”.

She said the scheme is “for some… a way to get to work and for others to help them attend their hospital appointments.

For many people, it is a life-enhancing support that goes beyond the term “social inclusion.

PastedImage-65480 Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea speaking this evening. Source: Oireachtas.ie

Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Social Protection Willie O’Dea said that rarely is government money “better spent”.

“The fact of the matter is, the cost of free travel scheme, €77 million, is a drop in the ocean in the overall context of government spending,” he said.

“Never have so little expenditure helped so many people.”

The Terms of Reference of this review are:

  • Clarify the scheme objectives and examine the current validity of the objectives, including their compatibility with the overall strategy of the Department of Social Protection and with national transport strategy
  • Examine the customer group eligible for free travel and, if necessary, make recommendations on the better targeting of the scheme and changes to eligibility
  • Examine the extent of the service provided and, if necessary make recommendations to adjust the serviceIdentify the data on usage which is available, deficiencies in data collection and make recommendations for improving data collection
  • Examine the issue of fraud and control and make recommendations for improvements, particularly in the context of the introduction of the Public Services Card
  • Examine the levels of funding for the Free Travel scheme in the context of overall exchequer funding for transport and the respective roles of PSO and Free Travel funding
  • Consider the interaction between Department of Social Protection, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, National Transport Authority and transport companies, their respective roles and make recommendations for the improvement to the administration of the scheme and the potential for an increased role by the National Transport Authority.

“Absolutely none”: Changes to Free Travel Pass are off the table, says Burton >

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Nicky Ryan

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