26 May 2005 Edition
Profit before people endangers safety
Monday's horrific school bus crash in Navan, County Meath, which resulted in the overturning of the bus, the death of five schoolgirls, and upwards of 40 injuries, illustrates the extent to which profit is now seen as more important than safety.
Workers in the building trade have been saying this for years, while powerful vested interests have largely tried to avoid the issue. A culture of profit before people has now become deeply ingrained in the Irish economy and is no longer a peculiarity of the building industry.
Ultimately, the lesson of the Navan crash is the dangers engendered through lack of investment in the area of public transport and a blatant disregard of safety issues in relation to school transport in this state for decades.
We can expect an enquiry now that will focus on why the bus actually crashed. Did the driver swerve to avoid a two-car collision up ahead? Was the car collision in some way caused by the bus? This is a smokescreen.
The real issue is what happened after the bus crashed. Students were packed into this bus like sardines. Seats designed to seat two were actually seating three. In addition, the aisle was also crowded with students who could not cram themselves into the seats. On top of this already extremely dangerous situation, there were no seatbelts fitted on the bus.
The issue of seatbelts is critical here. A number of recent reports, including one in the aftermath of a near miss accident involving another school bus in Meath, have recommended the fitting of seatbelts to these buses. These reports go back a number of years but their recommendations have not been implemented.
The reason for this is inescapable — money. The cost of fitting buses with seatbelts would be twofold for the bus companies. First, there is the cost of installing them. Second, the introduction of seatbelts would prevent the overcrowding of the bus as, obviously, the number of passengers allowed on would have to coincide with the number of seatbelts. This would prevent the overcrowding of the bus.
However, because this would entail the provision of extra buses, there is a cost factor which the authorities have obviously decided is prohibitive.
Transport Minister Martin Cullen, interviewed on radio on Tuesday 24 May, dodged all the questions of relevance but did claim that the bus was licensed to carry 20 people more than were actually on it. That says it all.