Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

School bus crash prompts anger from campaigning councillors

An incident in which a school bus crashed in icy conditions on the Carrickrovaddy Road near Belleeks on Tuesday last, has prompted angry responses from local politicians who had raised concerns over the safety of the road just days before.

The accident occurred shortly before 8.00am, close to the junction with the main Newtownhamilton Road, which was closed to traffic for a time as emergency services attended the scene. 

The female bus driver sustained minor injuries and there were no children on board at the time.  The bus was en route to collect pupils for St. Oliver’s Primary School, Carrickrovaddy when it encountered black ice, which led to the crash.  The road is not generally included in winter gritting schedules, an issue that has been heavily criticized by local councillors, most recently during the spell of icy weather just four days previous.

Voicing his anger at news of the accident, Sinn Fein Councillor Barra Ó Muirí claimed the safety of pupils, parents and staff is being continually put at risk by the inaction of the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to treat “treacherous” roads.

Pointing out that he had contacted the DfI the previous Friday regarding the “atrocious and hazardous” condition of the road, he said: “The schools in this area and myself have repeatedly pleaded with the department to address the lack of salting on this road year in, year out.  I have campaigned for years for safer routes to schools, highlighting both Carrickrovaddy and Ballymoyer [primary schools] as examples of where the Department of Infrastructure are getting it wrong.  It is not good enough in 2017 that schoolchildren, parents and staff are being placed in danger by lack of salt on these roads.”

Councillor Ó Muirí says he and party colleague Megan Fearon MLA are seeking to meet with DfI section managers to discuss the safety and prioritizing of school routes on road gritting schedules.

Commenting on the accident, SDLP Councillor Pete Byrne said it was “only a matter of time” before such an incident occurred.

“The Carrickrovaddy Road is always a dangerous road during the winter months and I would continue to urge drivers to exercise caution. It is frustrating however that SDLP calls for school bus routes to be included on winter gritting schedules are being ignored,” he said.

“Last year we called on the former Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard to personally intervene on this matter and abolish the 1,500 vehicle movement test and replace it with a guarantee that all bus routes are salted. It will be unforgivable if we are met with a fatal incident involving a child later down the line and the Department has refused to change its policy regarding school bus routes.

“Cross-party support exists on this issue, it is now time for our calls to be heeded,” he added.