The Fermanagh Community Transport (FCT) service could close as early as May 1 following the announcement that the Department of Infrastructure (DFI) has made no guarantee of funding for Northern Ireland’s Rural Community Transport providers.

The stance by the DFI has been slammed locally by the manager of the Fermanagh Community Transport service, Jason Donaghy.

If funding is not approved, this will have a wide-ranging impact on those who use the service.

Describing the profile of service users, Jason said: “95 per cent of our members and users have a seen or unseen physical disability, so between themselves and their families the anxiety, the worry, the stress that this caused – it was the last thing we wanted to happen.

“The reason the service was established was market failure, because of the recognition of the depth and breadth of rural transport poverty. The private sector cannot meet that need, and Translink, through Ulsterbus, cannot meet that need.”

Hitting out at how this funding cut would disproportionately affect the community in Fermanagh, Jason said: “The 1,000 people we represent in Fermanagh are worth every bit as much as any disabled or elderly person in any urban area, they can’t become the easy targets [for a funding cut].


“They are already folks who tend not to have a very high voice, because they’re hidden in the rural areas and dispersed.

“Some 40 per cent of the population in Northern Ireland are in rural areas, but in Fermanagh, it’s 75 per cent.

“We are hit harder because we have the lowest population density outside the Highlands and islands of Scotland.”

One concern for Jason and service users is the knock-on impact on other services if FCT closes on May 1.

He said: “One of the biggest fundamental things we do in our service is keeping people in their own homes, close to their families and in their communities.

“We can get them to GP appointments earlier, or hospital appointments for an earlier diagnosis, and things that really help improve their physical, mental and emotional well-being.

“The ridiculousness of this whole thing is that cutting this service is going to result in a cost of an exponential figure, by way of having to step in and address the disaster left behind.

“More people will present to A and E for emergency episodes. You could be looking at more people being admitted [which will contribute] towards the whole issue of ‘bed blocking’, or then moved on to nursing homes or residential care homes because packages can’t be got for them in their own homes.

“It really is a vicious, costly cycle.”

There has been community outrage regarding the looming deadline for the service. Jason remarked that people who he has never known to contact politicians are now contacting them.

FCT are asking people to speak up in support of the service, writing to the DFI, and to MLAs and councillors.

They are also asking that users and supporters flood social media with posts about what the service means to them.

Addressing the feeling of anxiety in the community, Jason said: “We do not want to cause anyone concern, anxiety or stress.

“On principal, we had to give people notice to think about mitigation measures, but we realise this has caused real and deep upset.

“We care passionately about the service, and that is why we have gone to get the message out there.”

When asked about the ongoing situation for rural community community transport, a spokesperson for the Department for Infrastructure said: “The Department recognises the important contribution community transport makes, complementing the wider public transport network, helping connect communities and ensuring that some of the most vulnerable people in our society are able to access essential local services and more actively participate in society.

“The Department also understands the impact it would have on the workforce and users if funding for this scheme was to stop.

“Although budgets have not been confirmed for 2023-24, the financial outlook is likely to be very challenging, and require extremely difficult decisions.”