The chief executive of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is to write to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland urging him to find the money to maintain Armagh Rural Transport (ART).
The decision for Roger Wilson to write the letter to Chris Heaton-Harris MP was taken at council’s monthly meeting and was put forward by Councillor Sam Nicholson who described the service as “a lifeline throughout our rural communities”.
The service, which provides transport to elderly and disabled passengers in rural areas, is at risk of closure at the end of April as the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), which previously gave the service £2.2 million in funding per year, cannot do so in 2023/24.
Set up in 2000, ART covers areas such as Loughgall, Markethill and Tandragee.
Noting he is a board member of Armagh Rural Transport, Councillor Nicholson said he had “seen first hand” how vital the service is for people living in rural areas who have no access to any other form of transport.
“These services ensure that some of the most vulnerable in our society are able to access essential services and enables them to participate in the life of the wider community, reducing social isolation,” he said.
“This news is a great worry for users of the service as so many regard it as a lifeline in their day-to-day activities including necessary health appointments.
“This cut will supposedly represent a £2 million saving across Northern Ireland and I am sure rural councillors here will agree this is a service that is well worth retaining.2
His proposal received unanimous support from the chamber.
Earlier this month, Diane Irwin, the manager of Armagh Rural Transport, told Armagh I that underfunding had pushed the service to the brink, with further cuts having the potential to end what she describes as a “lifeline service”.
If the organisation does not receive further funding, it is likely to close, which will see 10 members of staff lose their jobs.
Newry and Armagh MLA Justin McNulty said he had requested an urgent meeting with the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Infrastructure.
“Rural constituents are contacting me, distressed at the prospect that they may be left isolated, unable to get to doctors’ appointments, or see their social circle.
“I believe that we need to do everything possible to retain this service for the people who depend on it each and every day and we have contacted Stormont departments urging them to work together to find a solution,” he said.