Fears for kids' safety after 25% cut in lollipop patrols
School crossing patrols have been slashed by a quarter across Northern Ireland in the past decade, it has been revealed.
The dramatic cut in lollipop men and women has led to concerns that children's safety is being put at risk.
Currently there are less than 400 patrols in four of the five former education and library boards.
That is a 25% reduction on the 2004/05 school year, when the same four areas had 530 patrols.
The figures were released by Education Minister John O'Dowd after an Assembly question from DUP MLA Peter Weir.
Mr Weir said he was "greatly concerned" by the minister's response.
"There has been a feeling for years that school crossing patrols are seen as the soft touch of any education board's budget, a Cinderella service that is easy to cut without harming core services," he said.
"This has been done through reassessment each time there is a vacancy, but I believe that it represents a dangerous false economy."
Four former education boards, which were replaced by the new Education Authority this month, saw a cut in crossing patrols since 2004/05.
The greatest drop was in the south-eastern area, where patrols fell from 92 to 51 - a cut of 45%.
In the Belfast area patrols dropped from 129 to 95, while in the north-east there are now 129 patrols, compared to 148 10 years ago.
The southern area saw its patrols drop from 161 to 124 over the last decade. A fifth, the former western education board, was unable to provide comparison figures from 2004/05.
Mr Weir said he feared costs were being cut at the expense of safety.
"I believe that this is an issue which needs to be examined by the new Education Authority, to ensure that we have the correct criteria for deciding where and when we have school crossing patrols, so that the small savings made are not outweighed by the tragedy of loss of life."
Mr O'Dowd said crossing patrols can be removed where a hazard has declined in significance.
He said: "Overall responsibility for road safety lies with Department of the Environment.
"However, the Education Authority also has a role to play and can set out measures in a scheme, approved by the department, to assist in the prevention of accidents to children.
"This enables the authority to provide school crossing patrols where particular traffic hazards have been identified.
"It also enables the authority to remove crossing patrols where conditions have changed over time to the extent that a hazard has declined in significance, or disappeared altogether."
Dave Nichols from road safety charity Brake said: "While we appreciate departments have faced significant financial challenges in recent years, the safety of children should not be compromised as a result."
How the school crossing patrols have declined: