A new cross-border agreement travel scheme has come into effect, giving senior Irish citizens unlimited use of bus and rail services and other transport services throughout Ireland.
Tens of thousands of pensioners from both parts of the island can apply for special passes to take trips without charge anywhere in the 32 Counties.
The scheme began last Monday and already almost 10,000 people have requested the new passes.
As well as bus and rail services, free travel is available to pass holders on certain ferry services to offshore islands around Ireland.
Under the new scheme, northern travellers can use their existing pass across the island, while a new electronic pass is being made available to southern pensioners by the 26-County Department of Social and Family Affairs.
The scheme was finalised through a new arrangement between transport providers in the Six and 26 Counties.
Up until now, over 600,000 pensioners were restricted to free travel in their own jurisdiction or journeys from one point on one side of the border to one point on the other side.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern presented the first pensioners to use the new scheme with their passes in Dublin as they boarded a bus for Belfast.
“I would encourage senior citizens to make full use of the new concessions to explore as much of the island as they possibly can through leisure breaks, visiting family or friends, or simply taking day trips to the many attractions the island of Ireland has to offer,” he said.
26-County Minister for Social and Family Affairs Seamus Brennan added: “This scheme heralds the beginning of a new era in all-Ireland travel opportunities for tens of thousands of older people on the island. It is an initiative that will remove all existing restrictions and help to build new understandings and friendships.”
Mr Brennan said it was also “a gesture of gratitude” to older people, who had contributed so much to building and shaping the “modern, progressive island we have today”.
Sinn Féin’s Raymond McCartney welcomed the introduction of the scheme, which he said was “long overdue”.
“It has been in the Programme for Government in the Dail for time now and Sinn Féin has consistently called for the implementation of the scheme in the North,” he said.
“Free travel for pensioners on an all-Ireland basis has been a priority issue for Sinn Féin for some time now and I welcome the introduction of free travel giving pensioners more mobility and independence than ever before.”