Dáil Éireann - Volume 592 - 10 November, 2004
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Ring Mr. Ring
110. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the plans he has to extend the free travel scheme to an all-Ireland travel pass; the number of persons this would effect and the estimated costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28181/04]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
 Mr. Brennan: Under the existing free travel scheme, pass holders who reside in the Republic of Ireland can travel free within the South. Similarly, people who live in Northern Ireland who hold a concessionary travel pass can travel free within the North. Under special cross-Border arrangements that have been in place since 1995, both southern and northern pass holders can undertake cross-Border journeys free of charge.
The introduction of free travel on an all-Ireland basis would enhance these existing arrangements by enabling southern pass holders to make free onward journeys within the North. Similarly, Northern Ireland pass holders would be able to make internal journeys within the South free of charge to them. There is considerable take up by passholders — North and South — of the existing cross-Border free travel service. Some 200,000 passenger journeys are made by passholders each year under the scheme, about half and half from each jurisdiction. An enhanced All-Ireland free travel service would bring a useful additional flexibility to the service and should help encourage even more extensive take up by passholders on both sides of the Border.
The current annual cost to my Department of providing cross-Border free travel is €2.7 million. It is difficult to estimate the cost of an all-Ireland free travel scheme in advance of its introduction. However, experience to date with the current cross-Border scheme would suggest that the additional transport reimbursement cost of introducing this measure would be of the order of €3 million per annum.
There are a number of technical and financial issues to be resolved to implement an enhanced all-Ireland free travel system. These issues will require co-operation between my Department and the Northern Ireland Department with responsibility for transport policy, as well as the relevant northern and southern transport operator companies. In September 2004, my predecessor met with the Minister of State at the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland, to explore the potential for further co-operation between the two Departments on the proposal. They discussed the options and scope for co-funding the scheme and considered various technical issues that arise.
Shortly after taking up this post, I wrote to the Minister, Mr. John Spellar, indicating my wish to move the issue forward. Contacts between the two Departments are being maintained and work is ongoing at official level on developing proposals for an all-Ireland free travel scheme.
Dáil Éireann 592 Written Answers. Social Welfare Benefits.