An Open Letter from Strangford MLA Kellie Armstrong to Education Minister Peter Weir on pupils travelling on the Strangford Ferry.
Dear Minister Weir,
“I have been raising the issue of limited passenger numbers and how students travelling on the ferry would be accommodated for weeks.
“Today my concerns were confirmed when only 33 foot passengers per sailing were permitted to cross.
“This meant a number of students had to wait, in some cases for another 2 sailings from Portaferry, missing connecting buses to Downpatrick.
“The issue remains unresolved meaning students will be waiting for 30-60 minutes, with little access to shelter, during the predicted Storm Francis on Tuesday 25th August.
“It is not as if this wasn’t expected.
“Schools come back at the end of August every year and social distancing has been in place for months.
“Anyone with any transport planning ability would have ensured there was a solution, recognising the number needing to cross as foot passengers and enabling students to travel safely.
“I contacted the Minister for Infrastructure who confirmed, weeks ago, her Department was waiting on your officers to clarify how many students needed to cross and sailing times.
“Some testing of buses on the ferry happened, obviously without any success.
“Your officers failed to meet the start of school deadline and as a result students are not being provided with appropriate home to school transport – a statutory responsibility of your Department.
“If students cannot travel to school because your Transport Department have failed to provide appropriate planning then I expect you to be accountable to parents.
“In the past if the ferry could not be used students were transported around by road. Why was this option not considered?
“This needs sorted as soon as possible and before all students start back to school.
“I look forward to hearing from you on this urgent matter.”
Kellie Armstrong MLA
14 South Street, Newtownards. BT23 4JT
T: 028 9181 1414.