Thursday, 10 February 2005
Schools Building Projects.
It is with a deep sense of frustration that I raise this issue. Children in the Donabate-Portrane area urgently need a post-primary school on the peninsula. The Department of Education and Science is well aware of the position and a decision to proceed with a school in the area is overdue. It is now a matter of urgency as we are approaching a crisis.
Over the years the Department has taken the view that the second level requirements of students from Donabate and other towns and villages such as Lusk and Rolestown and Ballyboughal can and should be met in established schools such as Loreto College, Balbriggan, St. Joseph's, Rush, Malahide community school and in Swords, Fingal community college, St. Finian's College, Christian Brothers and, to a lesser extent, Loreto College. In recent years, this list has extended to include St. Mary's, Baldoyle, and Portmarnock community school.
In September 2003, I had reason to raise in the House the circumstances of 160 second level students who travelled by rail from Donabate to schools in Portmarnock, Malahide and Baldoyle. Students carrying schoolbags were forced to jostle with other commuters to try to get through the doors of trains which were already packed by the time they reached Donabate. Some children were left on the platform when the train departed and on at least one occasion a student was thrown off the train on to the platform by a frustrated adult commuter endeavouring to get to work. While this sad situation has improved with the provision of additional train carriages, a repetition of such events is inevitable given the increased number of people using the rail service and the fact that no further capacity will be available on the trains for the next four years.
The population of Donabate, like most other towns in Fingal, the fastest growing area in Ireland, has increased substantially in recent years — Donabate's population is expected to increase from 5,000 to 25,000 over the next ten years. A recent door to door survey carried out by Donabate-Portrane second level school committee indicated that on the basis of the existing primary school population, 725 second level places will be required by 2007.
The boom in housing development in Fingal, without the necessary infrastructures, such as schools, is causing distress and havoc for parents. The schools which children attended over the years, such as Balbriggan, Malahide and other schools, are full of students from their immediate catchment areas. "Students from Donabate need not apply" is the message parents get when they phone the schools. That is a reluctant policy of the schools boards of management. It is patently obvious, therefore, that a crisis is quickly developing.
The Minister and the Department are fortunate in that a suitable site can be acquired from the local authority, Fingal County Council, for this school. In fairness to the council, the need for a second level school in Donabate has been identified and provided for in the development plans for the area. Following repeated representations on this issue, I received the standard reply that a new school planning model will be piloted in five areas, including north Dublin, encompassing Donabate. I have no doubt I will get the same response this evening. I am concerned that this planning model — to date we have received no indication when its interim report will be available — will be used as an excuse not to take, or to delay, the decision urgently required for Donabate to commence the planning process for a second level school.
It is important we do not delay this model process because, on the basis of previous reports, I believe a further consultation process could be set in train and it could go on for another year. Let us make a decision. It is patently obvious that there is a need for a school and let us give it the go-ahead. It could take another five years to provide it but let us get it started.
I thank Deputy Ryan for raising this matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the House the overall strategy of the Department of Education and Science to address the future requirements in both the primary and post-primary sectors in the Donabate area.
At the outset, it is important to note that the school planning section of the Department works closely with the four local authorities in the Dublin region in monitoring demographic changes and assessing the likely impact of planned new housing developments. A dedicated forum, the Dublin school planning committee, chaired by the school planning section of the Department of Education and Science interacts with the Dublin local authorities in this regard. This forum comprises representatives of the patron bodies of primary schools.
The Dublin school planning committee acts as an initial point of contact where local authorities can signal to the Department and the patron bodies anticipated demand for school provision. Detailed discussions regarding reservation of sites and scale and timeframe for developments also take place at this forum. The issue of the provision of a post primary school for Donabate has been discussed at this forum.
A decision on the need for a new school in any given area will involve further separate detailed consultations with a local authority regarding the likely timescale for the actual delivery of the housing developments together with an ongoing assessment of the capacity of existing schools to meet anticipated demand. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that this process is well under way with the local authority in regard to the Donabate area.
In addition, as the Deputy will be aware, a new school planning model involving published area development plans is being piloted in five areas over the current school year. Donabate is included in the pilot scheme as part of an overall plan for the north Dublin, east Meath and south Louth area. This particular area was chosen in recognition of its rapidly developing nature and the pressure which is being brought to bear not only for post primary school places, but for primary places as well. The need for a new post-primary school is also being considered in the context of this plan.
The purpose of this new approach to school planning is to ensure that, in future, the provision of school infrastructure will be decided only after a transparent consultation process. In this regard, parents, trustees, sponsors of prospective new schools and all interested parties from a locality will have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the process.
Arising from this process, an individual plan will set out the blueprint for the future of educational provision in an area which will be the touchstone against which all decisions in relation to capital investment will be made for the next decade. The draft plan for north Dublin, east Meath and south Louth area is nearing completion in the school planning section of the Department and the Department of Education and Science hopes to be in a position to publish it shortly.
I assure Deputy Ryan that the Department is keenly aware of the developing nature of the Donabate area and is anxious to ensure that its educational infrastructural needs are met in a timely manner. The Minister for Education and Science is confident that the planning process in train will provide a strategic response to those needs.