Tuesday, 26 April 2005
Schools Building Projects.
Question 51: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the financial support given by her Department to fee-paying schools for building and refurbishment works; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13329/05]
The Government has invested in the largest school building programme in the history of the State. Between 1998 and the end of 2004, almost €2 billion was invested in school buildings and approximately 7,500 large and small projects were completed in schools, including 130 new schools and 510 large-scale refurbishments and extensions. Funding for school building and renovation projects has increased fivefold since 1997. In 2005, €493 million will be spent on school building projects compared with just €92 million in 1997.
Of the €2 billion that has been invested in school buildings since 1999, only €14.5 million, or 0.7%, was provided to fee-charging second level schools for building and refurbishment works. Last year just over €970,000 in capital funding was given to fee-paying schools. This represents 0.29% of total expenditure on school buildings in 2004.
Almost 1,200 schools will benefit from the announcements that I have made so far this year with regard to the school buildings and modernisation programme. The list of projects approved to date includes a total allocation of €493 million, with €270 million for primary and €223 million for post-primary schools. The breakdown of projects is as follows: 122 large-scale projects to tender and construction over the next 12 to 15 months, 97 projects under the small schools initiative, 75 projects under the permanent accommodation initiative, 140 prefabs, 43 projects authorised to enter design phase, 590 summer works projects and 124 projects approved for progress through architectural planning. A total of 1,191 schools will benefit from this year's announcements.
Only ten of the building projects funded by my Department this year are in fee-charging schools. Schools building projects, whether for fee-charging schools or schools in the free education scheme, are selected for inclusion in the schools' building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need using published criteria.
Conveniently, the Minister's statistics did not tell us the percentage of this year's programme it is proposed to spend in fee paying schools. When did the policy change for both the Government and her own party? Does the Minister recall that her predecessor was considering the abolition of the payment of teachers' salaries in fee paying schools? Fine Gael certainly would not countenance such a measure but the Minister has been questioned on this issue previously in the House. Can the Minister recall her predecessor stating that the building programme would be "up the creek" if fee paying schools were to be included? It appears they are now being included to a significant degree. In light of this, will such schools take all children from a relevant catchment area regardless of their capacity to pay fees or not?
There has been no change in the policy of supporting fee paying schools. Since the foundation of the State all parties and all Governments have supported such schools, largely to protect choice and the ethos of minorities. The change of policy in Fine Gael surprises me. Despite the operation of the same policy for 80 years, Fine Gael has now decided that schools should not receive moneys for day-to-day expenses or refurbishment and building costs if they charge fees.
Basically, this will penalise the Church of Ireland ethos, the Presbyterian ethos and the Jewish ethos, as these are the only schools in the country who receive funds for capitation and day-to-day expenses. This is a major change of policy on Fine Gael's part. However, there has been no change of policy in Fianna Fáil or the Government. We continue to pay the teachers of the fee paying second level schools, irrespective of religious ethos. The Church of Ireland schools have traditionally received 100% grants for their capital programmes and continue to do so. Successive Governments, including Governments led by Deputy Enright's party, have done so and this has not changed.
As far as Catholic fee paying schools are concerned, traditionally approximately 50% has been given depending on the available funds. In or around 1999, the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, came close to signing off on such an arrangement, but it has not always been possible to do so depending on the amount of money available. However, the policy of funding the capital programmes for fee paying schools has been in place since the foundation of the State. It is Fine Gael policy which has changed, which is a serious and retrograde step for the minority religions.
In the announcement made by the Minister last week, the bulk of the money did not go to schools for minority religions. She should admit that point. There has been no change in Fine Gael policy. The Minister is in this House at Question Time to answer for Government policy but has avoided the questions I asked her. I want to clarify that there has been no change in Fine Gael policy. We have always supported the payment of teachers. I have asked the Minister where exactly she and the Government stand on that question because previously there certainly was talk of removing it. I ask again whether these schools are prepared to take all children from the catchment areas. The Minister stated something to the effect that there appears to be plenty of money available. How can the Minister explain that to the hundreds of schools which are still on the building programme with no end in sight and which do not have the capacity to generate an income by charging the parents of their students?
There will be no change in the policy of paying teachers' salaries in fee paying schools at second level. Those teachers would have to be paid, irrespective of which school those children attended.
There is no change in policy in that regard. Only ten of the almost 1,200 school projects which are being funded for building this year are for fee paying schools. A number of them are for Protestant schools which receive 100% grants anyway. The announcement made last week did not concern schools that will be going to tender or construction this week. It only concerned those moving forward to the architectural planning stage. Consequently, the amount of expenditure on them this year will be very small because it will only be for fees. We have not changed. However, the Fine Gael Party should explain its position to the minority religions.