I welcome the Minister of State. Longford Community Resources is a joint Leader partnership company covering the entire county. Surveys undertaken in Longford indicated a great need for a rural transport service in the county, particularly the northern part, which is a CLÁR-designated area. In 2002 the north Longford transport working group was formed, which consisted of representatives from each community in the region, public health nurses, Leader and other State agencies providing services in the area. All worked together to prepare a rural transport plan which subsequently received funding of €95,000 for implementation by ADM through the rural transport initiative of the Department of Transport. This funding came from the National Development Plan 2000-2006.
Since the new transport routes were set up, the transport services have received a wonderful response from local communities. More than 1,500 elderly passengers have used the service with great enthusiasm; it enables isolated rural people to travel to go shopping, attend medical appointments, visit banks and solicitors and renew friendships, all of which increases their health and independence and improves their quality of life. Use of the services has been monitored, and more than 95% of users hold free travel passes, 80% are female and 20% male. In addition, 93% of users are over 65 years, which proves the service is of enormous benefit to north Longford.
I have received many inspiring letters from some of the service's elderly passengers which outline what the service means to them. It has given many elderly people in the area a whole new lease of life. They look forward to weekly trips to Longford and Granard as they meet friends and neighbours on the bus and can catch up with local news. Meeting friends for a cup of tea in a neighbouring town can be a highlight of their week.
The rural transport scheme is an important social outlet for vulnerable old people who often feel isolated and excluded from modern life. A letter sent on behalf of pensioners in the Dromlish-Ballinamuck-Granard area states how much they appreciate the bus service: "This service is a godsend. We can visit the shops, the library, health clinics, banks or solicitors without any worry or problems."
Grave concerns have been expressed to me about future funding by the Minister of State's Department which is needed to maintain this important service and many elderly people with reduced mobility have pleaded with me to contact the Minister on their behalf. This service has changed their quality of life for the better and in the interests of the elderly I plead with the Minister of State to ensure full funding is restored to the rural transport scheme in north Longford. The Minister of State launched this scheme himself and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has looked into the scheme also. I know the Minister of State brought the manager of the Longford service to his own county to try to start a similar service in Donegal.
The service gives value for money and I appeal to the Minister of State to retain it for the elderly people of Longford, which is a rural county with limited services. This service has given the elderly a new lease of life and I plead with the Minister of State to ensure the funding is in place for it. Earlier this year Longford County Council backed me in a resolution supporting the service and I am sure people from Longford have been in contact with the Minister of State in this regard. I await the Minister of State's response with bated breath and hope it is positive.