A DROMORE councillor is determined to get to grips with the icy issue of untreated rural roads, a situation seen by many, she says, as a failure to properly protect young children.
Ulster Unionist Olive Mercer has turned to the office of the Children’s Commissioner for help in resolving what she called the longstanding problem of primary school children travelling to school on untreated rural roads during spells of ice and frost.
It was a problem, she said, exacerbated by the closure and/or amalgamation of many rural schools over the years - Gransha, Carnew, Kinallen and Tullymacarette primaries among those locally - and one which annually brought a deluge of requests from worried parents.
“Historically, “ said Councillor Mercer, “almost every townland had its own primary school; however, following changes in government policy, many are now closed and others have been amalgamated and based centrally on sites offering better facilities and opportunities for children and staff.
“As a downside, each year local councillors receive a deluge of requests from parents worried about the icy unsalted rural roads on which their children’s school bus must travel.”
Mrs. Mercer said the situation also placed additional, undue stress on bus drivers as they endeavoured daily to make safety a high priority while negotiating unsalted, icy and often hilly rural roads.
“Child protection is everyone’s business,” she said, “and I am very concerned that the current legislation and guidance does not provide for most of the rural roads on which primary school children aged four to 11 years are transported to be treated as are other roads used by public transport.
“Many may view it as a failure to provide young children with adequate protection from possible physical injury or worse.”
Conceding that additional funding had to be found if the problem was to be addressed, Mrs. Mercer said she hoped for a collective effort from the many politicians certain to have been petitioned by concerned constituents.
“As most Assembly members are likely to have constituents who are unhappy and can identify with this situation,” she said, “ hopefully a collective approach can be taken to amend current guidance and ensure the roads on which primary school children travel are adequately funded and as safe as possible.”