National Sustainable Mobility Forum – Portlaoise, 23 May 2024 – Report

The Irish Cycling Campaign was delighted to be invited to the excellent National Sustainable Mobility Forum that was held in Portlaoise on 23 May 2024. Even better, our Chairperson Neasa Bheilbigh was invited to address the audience of 200+ delegates as part of the panel on “Community Action on Sustainable Mobility”. 

The National Sustainable Mobility Forum is an annual event which aims to engage with stakeholders on progress related to the Sustainable Mobility Policy in support of walking, cycling, public transport, and shared mobility in Ireland. Originally established in 2023 under the national Sustainable Mobility Policy and related Action Plan (SMP), the first Forum was held in Athlone around a year ago (and we reported on it here) .

The event in Portlaoise was also well attended with senior figures there from government departments, agencies and local authorities, plus representatives from community and user groups. Having such a large room full of academics, officials, advocates and community reps – all brimming with expertise gathered over many years and all strongly supporting the message that active travel is hugely valuable to our society – was a great achievement for the Department. 

Neasa, speaking on behalf of the Irish Cycling Campaign but also the Galway Cycle Bus – Bus Rothaíochta na Gaillimhe, spoke about the enormous physical, educational and wider social benefits of enabling children to cycle to school with their pals. It’s very much an inclusive and sociable activity, and the positive differences to the alertness and the enthusiasm of pupils in the classrooms after they have cycled in is very obvious to the teaching staff. She urged all of the decision-makers in the room and the wider stakeholders to put a special emphasis on creating the conditions for all school children to be able to walk and cycle to their local schools. The greater the extent and quality of the cycle-networks provided, the bigger the positive impact it will have on the health of students and, more broadly, on educational outcomes. 


For Will Andrews from Irish Cycling Campaign’s Executive Committee, his highlights included the following: 

  • Minister Eamon Ryan pointing out the necessity for future governments to keep the 10% allocation of the national transport budget to cycling (meaning then 20% for walking and cycling), and the 2:1 ratio of public transport to roads spend;
  • Dr. Robbie Egan, behaviour change and attitudes researcher in Trinity College Dublin, when outlining his overview of the SMP, describing how negotiations within families affect transport mode choice – a good reminder that choice of mode of transport isn’t just about individuals’ journeys;
  • Niamh Murphy of I-PARC, the Irish Physical Activity Research Collaboration, talking about running a large-scale study of the transport habits of 4th and 5th class students, and then 4th and 5th year students, pre- and post-active travel funding. She mentioned that there was a positive change in transport habits towards active travel after the funding, but I’d be very interested to see further results;
  • Finally, there was a great phrase from Eugene Conlon of the sustainable energy community (organised by SEAI). He spoke about bringing stakeholders along the journey to supporting active travel – some are reluctant, it has to be acknowledged – saying what’s needed is to ‘inform and inspire’, which to me is a very powerful summary of Irish Cycling Campaign’s advocacy task.

For Damien Ó Tuama, our National Cycling Coordinator, the prominence given to the youth and community representatives – those most likely to be impacted by the changes envisaged – was very welcome. The presentations given by the younger attendees, framed as ‘Dystopian’ and ‘Utopian Newsflashes of the Future’, were particularly striking. Without the rapid decarbonisation of transport – and other sectors – over the next few years, that generation will have polycrises to deal with, not just one or two.  

Elaine Baker from the Cloughjordan Cycling Group (and wearing other hats as well) spoke from the floor to highlight the lack of independence ‘enjoyed’ by adolescents in rural Ireland, where they are so dependent on seeking lifts from adults for so many of their everyday journeys. But where does that leave families who do not own a car or want to own one? In the absence of regular public transport services in some / many parts of rural Ireland – while acknowledging that it is now improving in some areas – shared cars provide part of the solution. However, we really need extensive and safe cycle networks linking homes to villages and towns and the various places that adolescents want to travel to independently. 

It’s very hard to summarise such a rich day’s discussions covering so many aspects of  the mobility jigsaw, but overall one is beginning to sense the urgency that is needed in transitioning over to public transport and active travel solutions – and in reducing the dominance of private cars in our public spaces and private lives. 

The conversations will continue and Irish Cycling Campaign will be at the table.   

Irish Cycling Campaign Submission on Primary Wellbeing Curriculum

Earlier today (Fri 07 June 2024), Irish Cycling Campaign made a submission in response to the public consultation on the new Primary Wellbeing Curriculum. We have posted a copy of it below. 

We note here that the consultation is open until 5pm on June 18th. This new curriculum will encompass both Physical Education and Social, Personal and Health Education and is the first revision of the curriculum since 1999. This curriculum will most likely be in effect for the next few decades in our primary school system, so it’s essential that we have a stronger focus on cycling within it.

Do please take 10 mins over the coming days to send in your own request that utility cycling and cycling as transport be given a prominent role within the final draft.

Written submissions can be sent to [email protected] from now until 5pm on June 18th. More on the background to the consultation can be read via this link.

And we wish to sincerely thank our Irish Cycling Campaign volunteers for their excellent work on the submission that you can read just below.

Dear Sir / Madam,

Irish Cycling Campaign
(formerly, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network), is the national organisation of cycling advocacy groups, greenway groups and bike festivals on the island of Ireland. We are the Irish member of the European Cyclists’ Federation.  Our vision is for an Ireland with a cycle friendly culture, where everyone has a real choice to cycle and is encouraged to experience the joy, convenience, health and environmental benefits of cycling.

We are very thankful for the opportunity to submit our observations of the new draft Wellbeing Curriculum Specification and fully support its vision to holistically empower children with skills across subjects such as Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Physical Education (PE) to live healthier, more connected and happier lives. 

Our submission has been drafted by a number of primary teachers supported by experts in paediatric health with direct experience of delivering support to children of all mobilities.


The Irish Cycling Campaign believes that cycling should be an integral component of the physical education curriculum, aimed at fostering holistic development and promoting well-being among primary school students. The inclusion of cycling aligns with the overarching aims of the curriculum, as outlined below:

1. Physical Well-being: Cycling encourages regular physical activity, contributing to the development of cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and overall physical health. Through cycling, students enhance their motor skills, coordination, and balance, laying the foundation for a healthy and active lifestyle.

2. Social Well-being: Cycling offers opportunities for social interaction and collaboration, promoting teamwork, communication, and peer support. Group cycling activities foster a sense of community and belonging, while also cultivating empathy and respect for others.

3. Emotional Well-being: Engaging in cycling activities can have positive effects on mental health and emotional well-being. Riding a bike provides a sense of freedom, independence, and achievement, boosting self-esteem and confidence. Moreover, outdoor cycling experiences promote connection with nature and community, reducing stress and promoting relaxation.

4. Cognitive Well-being: Cycling stimulates cognitive development through problem-solving, decision-making, and spatial awareness. Navigating different terrains and traffic conditions requires critical thinking and concentration, enhancing students’ cognitive skills and resilience.

5. Climate Responsibilities: Children cycling not only benefit from the activity themselves but also contribute positively to mitigating climate change. By adopting cycling as a mode of transport, students reduce their carbon footprint, thereby fostering a sense of environmental stewardship from a young age. Emphasising the climate responsibilities associated with cycling empowers students to recognize their role in addressing global environmental challenges and encourages them to make sustainable choices in their daily lives.

Incorporating cycling into the primary school curriculum reflects a commitment to holistic education, encompassing physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and environmental dimensions of well-being. By providing students with opportunities to cycle safely and confidently, the curriculum aims to empower them to lead healthy, active, and sustainable lives while fostering a sense of responsibility towards the planet.

A further point to note here is that Irish transport policy, investment plans and the mobility culture are all having to change quickly now in response to the need to rapidly decarbonise the transport sector. Therefore it important to equip school children with the skills to be able to use the transport infrastructure networks of the future – i.e. those ‘active travel’ routes which are being developed extensively countrywide as part of the National Cycle Network Plan, CycleConnects plans, BusConnects bus and cycle network plans and the metropolitan cycle network plans such as the Greater Dublin Area Cycle Network Plan. Training in being a competent bicycle user at a young age will help pupils to confidently navigate the multi-modal transport systems which will become increasingly common in Ireland (and indeed abroad) over the coming years. Becoming a competent cyclist is a skill for life in a rapidly changing world.    

Requested Amendment:

The Irish Cycling Campaign is recommending the following changes to the Table 9: Description of Physical Education activity areas contained within Section 6D: PE Activity Areas on pages 43 and 44 of the Draft Primary Wellbeing Specification to strengthen the place of cycling as both an enjoyable activity and a key travel mode for children in our primary school system.

  1. From the section labelled “Adventure” we recommend the removal of “Wheel based activities are also an important element of adventure activities incorporating a focus on the lifelong activity of cycling, alongside other wheel-based activities such as scooter and scooter board.”
  2. With this deletion we would recommend the inclusion of a new separate section titled “Cycling, Wheeling and Walking” to replace this reference to cycling.

Within this “Cycling, Wheeling and Walking” section we would suggest the following as the body of text to better support cycling within the curriculum:

Cycling empowers independence and connection in children allowing them the freedom and safety to travel to and from school in a method that both enables activity and climate responsibility. Direct teaching of cycling skills will enable them to travel in a safe and enjoyable fashion while learning to be considerate road users. 

Social cycling to school instils within children a habit of regular, daily activity within their lives. It creates a connection to their peers and their wider community further fostering active citizenship and acts as a base for a healthy and active lifestyle. 

Cycling, walking and wheeling also provide opportunities for children to be active outside directly taught PE classes and organised sports. Taken together these movement types instil a lifelong love of movement that includes children of all abilities.

Additional Observations:

  1. Teacher Training and Upskilling

Existing cycle training programs in schools tend to be outsourced to external cycle training providers. This poses challenges for many schools as they may not be in a position to provide funding for these training providers or book training providers due to timetabling issues or geographical location. 

We recommend that the Wellbeing curriculum encourages and expects class teachers to directly engage with teaching and learning related to cycling. We appreciate that there will be training needs in this area but feel that this may be achieved through the provision of Continuous Professional Development and EPV training courses and events. 

These training courses should intend to enable class teachers to ensure that the children in their class are able to:

  1. Develop the foundational skills in order to cycle safely between two points. 
  2. Carry out basic checks and tasks on a bike (move saddle height, check brakes, pump tyres).
  3. Understand the rules of the road.
  4. Develop an interest and curiosity in cycling. 

(b) Health benefits

HSE guidelines on physical activity in children say that children over 5 should have at least 1 hour of energetic play a day – ‘where they sweat and breath faster than normal’. Staying fit is imperative for a child’s growth and development to have a healthy body, develop self confidence and improve learning and attention (HSE, 2022). We argue this activity could be done on route to and from school where possible.  

Additionally, being overly car-dependent poses both direct and indirect risks to children. An Irish child’s outdoor environment is made physically more dangerous with increasing number and size of vehicles and their associated pollution. The indirect effects to health in taking sedentary transport to school is the opportunity cost of not walking, cycling or scooting to school. In effect, this is about more than teaching a child to cycle a bike; rather, it is about using it it as a transport tool and supporting this positive transition can improve baseline paediatric health and create lifelong healthy habits. According to the Department of Children in 2018, approximately 50% of children aged 10–17 reported being physically active for at least 60 minutes per day on more than four days per week, early intervention at primary school level can help develop these healthy habits.

Walking or cycling to where you are going will be good for a child and allow them to engineer physical activity into their daily lives by transport. An easy win. According to the Road Safety Authority figures show that 2 of 3 child casualties on our roads were child pedestrians or cyclists. Between 2014 and 2022 there were 56 fatalities aged 0-15 years and 852 seriously injured road users, representing 4% of total fatalities and 8% of total serious injuries. Although we believe the responsibility of reducing road danger lies with the adult driving the car, road safety awareness starts by being a pedestrian or cyclist.  Cycling is a core life skill, a building block to road safety to improve awareness, it should be part of the syllabus at primary level.

Cycling is inclusive, children with different physical and mental needs are capable of cycling a bike. This may not be the same for children during other activities. 

(c) SEN Children: Focus on Cycling and Autism

Children with autism are very often some of the most creative and detail oriented children within the classroom. They are keen observers and are incredibly resilient, accepting and honest. In addition to the huge positives children with autism bring to school and family life, they also have a number of common challenges which may include:

• Difficulty with social interaction.

• Delayed or limited communication skills.

• Sensory processing difficulties.

• Restrictive patterns of behaviour or interests.

• Delays and difficulties with motor skills development.

• Stereotypical behaviours.

• Concentration difficulties.

Some of the motor skills problems that children with Autism experience include difficulties with balance, postural stability, joint flexibility and movement speed. The secondary consequence of motor skills difficulties include avoidance of group activities including team sports and therefore decreased opportunity for physical activity and social interaction. We would firmly maintain that our cities and schools must provide support and facilities to allow all children to avail of the right amount of physical activity for optimum health and wellbeing.

Exercise of all kinds increases opportunities for social interaction and improves social motivation and communication for all children but especially for children with autism. It promotes calmness and relaxation while also having clear improvements in physical health. Physical stimulation obtained through body rocking, arm flapping and spinning can decrease with regular daily exercise. As with all school children, physical exertion helps children with autism to complete classroom tasks with increased accuracy. 

Motor Skills and FUNdamental Movement Skills

If we examine motor skills and fundamental movement skills we can very clearly focus on the benefits cycling in particular can bring to children with autism. With many of these children experiencing roadblocks in developing different aspects of their motor skills, the development of physical literacy is a key part of their schooling and life skills development. They may need more time and support to learn to cycle but once accomplished their sense of achievement is powerful. The therapeutic and emotional benefits gained are very worthwhile.

The Move Well, Move Often programme (PDST, 2017) has been rolled out in schools in recent years and has a far more skills and assessment focused take on physical literacy than previous physical education programmes. It has been adapted for use by many Special Education Needs (SEN) teachers in Irish primary schools over the past number of years for both individual and group teaching of fundamental movement skills. When looking at these skills it’s important to understand that while they may be given specific instruction during motor skills teaching with children with autism, all of these physical literacy skills are complementary and interconnected. While locomotion and manipulative skills may be easier to teach within a standard school PE hall setting, the stability skills benefit hugely from extra interventions such as cycling. 

For many children with autism regulation of sensory inputs can be a particular challenge. They may be overloaded by noisy, busy environments. Proprioceptive (body awareness) and vestibular (balance) sensory senses can often be challenging areas too. This can lead to a more limited ability to explore their environment and, in turn, less opportunity to develop their sensory systems, resilience and relationships with peers. Children with motor difficulties require activities that challenge these systems to help them to improve and develop. They need activities that challenge balance, coordination and motor planning such as cycling to help address these sensory issues. Activities such as these have a hugely calming influence on the sensory systems of children with autism. 

Social Skills Development

Social skills, difficulties with social interactions and making meaningful and lasting connections with peers is a key focus of a lot of school aged interventions. A huge aspect of the teaching of primary school aged children focuses on building and developing these skills. Children with autism have both discrete social skills teaching and social group teaching as part of their school-based interventions. Cycling to school with peers in a group or a cycle bus (a group of children cycling together in convoy to and from school under parental supervision) helps develop a sense of belonging and community with their peers that sits perfectly alongside this. The shared communal routines provide incredible benefits to their levels of social interaction, communication skills and most importantly their self-confidence. 

The importance of cycling to both children’s feelings of belonging and inclusion within a group and their mental health cannot be overstated. This is especially important as children reach adolescence where interests and behaviours develop. A shared way of moving together such as cycling gives children a sense of belonging and a common interest. It also ensures that the exercise they need to help self-regulate is an enjoyable and communal experience. Having the outlet for their feelings is an especially important part of guiding children with autism through this particular phase of their lives and having a solid peer group such as a cycling group strengthens this resilience.

We know that physical activity rates decrease from childhood to adolescence. Older individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) living in community settings have been observed to live very sedentary lifestyles. If children with ASD do not develop participation skills in active leisure time activities, they will most likely become increasingly sedentary with age placing them at risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. We must therefore strive to encourage physical activity for these children in our schools and communities.

Support children with autism to learn to cycle and provide the infrastructure to keep them cycling, and they will gain lifelong benefits for their physical and emotional wellbeing.  Of equal importance, they will have increased opportunities for meaningful daily social interactions.


We wish to thank the NCCA and its staff for what is an excellent draft specification for the new Primary Wellbeing Curriculum. We hope that you find our observations helpful and that you will consider them for inclusion in the final draft of the curriculum. If we can be of any further help please do not hesitate to contact us at any stage.


Neasa Ní Bheilbigh – Chairperson of the Irish Cycling Campaign, (Primary Teacher – Galway)

Dave Tobin – Vice-Chair of the Irish Cycling Campaign (Primary SET – Limerick)

Conn O’Donovan – Irish Cycling Campaign (Primary Teacher – Cork)

Vinnie Wall – Executive Member of the Irish Cycling Campaign (Paediatric Anesthesiologist – Cork)

Colm Ryder – Submissions Officer of the Irish Cycling Campaign 


Note that a PDF version of this submission can be downloaded / read HERE.