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Sunday, September 25, 2022

New bus service for Catholic students attending school in loyalist area of Belfast – The Irish Times

A new bus service has been introduced for Catholic students attending a school in a loyalist area of Belfast following concerns about their safety.

The North’s public transport provider, Translink, is providing the morning route for Mercy College after a free service funded by a charity over the past five years was withdrawn.

About 800 children attend the large post-primary school in the north of the city.

Parents had expressed fears about pupils being forced to walk through the predominantly loyalist Ballysillan area to get to class.

The Flax Trust charity, which operated the previous free service, has provided more than £630,000 (€722,000) and said it was “not sustainable for the trust to keep that going”. It added that all parties have been aware of the situation since last year.

Extensive discussions took place over the summer between the Education Authority (EA), Mercy College, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), Translink and elected representatives.

Under EA rules, pupils living within three miles of their school are not entitled to publicly funded bus travel.

Unresolved

In a letter to parents last month, Mercy College principal Martin Moreland said he was “disappointed and frustrated” that the issue hadn’t been resolved “despite our best efforts”.

“If you have no alternative but to let your child walk, I must urge that you discuss and advise your child on the safest route to and from Mercy,” he wrote.

However, it emerged this week that a deal had been agreed for the morning route.

Sinn Féin North Belfast MP John Finucane welcomed the development, saying the situation had created anxiety for many parents and pupils.

“After weeks of extensive engagements between Mercy, Translink and ourselves it is fantastic to have confirmation of the new routes. Services for additional routes and afternoon are currently being explored and we will update you all as soon as it is confirmed.”

Ballysillan DUP Cllr Dale Pankhurst also expressed his support: “I would support those services remaining in place for pupils at Mercy College. In addition, I am willing to work with teachers, senior staff, parents and governors of the school regarding any issues relating to any local context.”

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