Thursday, 29 April 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
School Meals Programme
I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,557 schools and organisations, benefiting 227,000 children. The objective of the programme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of food of good quality, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement. The Government has provided €65.1 million for the school meals programme this year.
As part of budget 2019, funding was provided for a pilot scheme from September 2019, providing hot school meals in primary schools at a cost of €1 million for 2019 and €2.5 million for 2020. The pilot involved 37 schools, benefiting 6,744 students for the 2019-2020 academic year, and was aimed primarily at schools with no on-site cooking facilities. The funds for the initial pilot programme were made available in budget 2019 and the pilot was carried on into 2020. Given that a proportion of the pilot took place during the first lockdown of the pandemic, we were not in a position to escalate the scheme as quickly as we would have liked. During the pandemic school closures, my Department continued to provide meal assistance to schools.
In budget 2021, the Government announced that an additional €5.5 million would be provided to extend the provision of hot school meals to an additional 35,000 primary schoolchildren, who were at the time in receipt of the cold lunch option. My Department issued invitations for expressions of interest to 705 primary schools in November 2020 and a total of 281 expressions of interest were received, in respect of 52,000 children. The 35,000 places were allocated to each local authority area based on the number of children applied for by local authority area as a percentage of the total. A minimum of one school in each local authority area was selected. Thereafter, a process of random selection was used for each area. As a result of this process, 189 of the 281 schools that submitted an expression of interest were selected.
Both schools referred to by the Deputy submitted an expression of interest for the hot school meals scheme. Despite being located on the same site, the schools have separate roll numbers and are two separate entities. Unfortunately, one of the schools was not selected and I appreciate this was very disappointing for school 2. The school received €42,000 for the current 2020-21 school year to provide a cold lunch and snack club for pupils attending.
The Department has contacted all schools selected for the hot school meals scheme to confirm their involvement in the scheme. Following this process, in the event that some places on the scheme become available, consideration will be given to how best we can use any excess spaces to accommodate those who wish to avail of the scheme. Any further extension of the provision of hot meals will need to be considered in the upcoming budgetary context.