Dáil Éireann - Volume 619 - 11 May, 2006
Written Answers. - Departmental Schemes.
Ms O’Sullivan Ms O’Sullivan
Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the introduction of an all-Ireland free travel scheme; the latest discussions he has had on this issue; the reason for the delay in its implementation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17383/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: The Programme for Government contains a commitment to a scheme of all-Ireland free travel for pensioners resident in all parts of the island of Ireland. The scheme would enable pensioners resident here to travel free of charge on all bus and rail services in Northern Ireland. Likewise, pensioners in Northern Ireland would travel free of charge on services in this State. In July 1995, my Department introduced the cross-Border free travel scheme. This scheme extended free travel entitlement so that free travel pass holders resident in Ireland could undertake a cross-Border journey from a point of departure in one jurisdiction to a destination in the other jurisdiction free of charge. My Department covers the full cost of cross-Border journeys made by Department of Social and Family Affairs pass holders. It also covers the cost of the southern  element of cross-Border journeys undertaken by Northern Ireland pass holders.
Under its own concessionary fares scheme, the Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland covers the cost of the northern element of cross-Border bus and rail journeys made by Northern Ireland pass holders. Some 220,000 cross-Border journeys are undertaken each year at a total cost of EUR3.3m; my Department pays EUR2.9m and the remaining EUR0.4m is covered by the Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland. The introduction of an all-Ireland free travel scheme would further extend the existing arrangements by allowing pass holders to take onward journeys free of change. The cost of an all-Ireland free travel scheme would ultimately depend upon the extent to which pass holders avail of it. My predecessor initiated discussions with the then Minister of State at the Department of Regional Development in Northern Ireland in September 2004. The proposed scheme has been discussed at the British/Irish Inter-governmental Conferences of 27 June 2005 and 2 May 2006. I have also met with the Parliamentary under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office to discuss the introduction of a scheme. In addition, officials from my Department have regular contacts with their counterparts in the Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland concerning the operation of the existing cross-Border free travel scheme. Intensive discussions in relation to the introduction of the proposed all-Ireland free travel scheme have also taken place.
There are a number of operational, financial and legal matters to be addressed. These include the need to develop a smartcard travel pass for our customers which would improve the security of the pass and which would provide accurate information on the number of people using the cards and the number of trips undertaken each year. There is also a need to introduce a new registration and authentication process for my Department’s customers. Significant progress has been made in addressing the issues and agreement has been reached with the Northern Authorities on the introduction of such a scheme. However, technical and other considerations remain to be resolved. I expect to be able to make an announcement on the matter later this year.
Question No. 48 answered with Question No. 42.
Question No. 49 answered with Question No. 26.
Question No. 50 answered with Question No. 45.
Dáil Éireann 619 Written Answers. Departmental Schemes.