Dáil debates

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Adjournment Debate

School Accommodation.

11:00 pm

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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This matter concerns some 1,000 students and 100 teachers and ancillary staff at three schools in Clonakilty. This is a case of outrageous discrimination against the people of Clonakilty by the Fianna Fáil-led Government and particularly against the young population attending Clonakilty Community College, Clonakilty Gaelscoil and the national school at Knockskeagh in Clonakilty parish. Clonakilty Community College was built for 400 students but now holds 600 and employs 60 teachers and ancillary staff. The Gaelscoil has 230 pupils and 25 staff. Knockskeagh has 110 pupils and ten staff.

What do the three schools have in common? All are in the parish of Clonakilty, are in dreadful condition and have been pawned off by this Government with meaningless promises and commitments. A second campus has been opened for the community college at the other end of the town, giving rise to major health and safety problems. I warned the Government of the danger of accidents involving young students travelling across the town. It is a great college coping with dreadful conditions. It provides adult education, post Leaving Certificate programmes, ionad lán Gaeilge and a class for moderately handicapped people. On 24 April 2002 the then Minister for Education and Science, Dr. Woods, wrote concerning the much needed extension to the college. He stated: "I am pleased to inform you that I have authorised the appointment of a design team to initiate the architectural planning of this extension." What has happened to this authorisation or did it ever exist? Was it a totally phony pre-election facade? Was it typical Fianna Fáil electioneering, handing out false commitments and promises?

Absolutely nothing has happened on the ground four and a half years on, other than that the needs of the college having grown. The student population has increased and the problem has worsened. Four and half years on, the Government gives a succession of meaningless responses with total contempt for the students, parents and people of Clonakilty in general. The Minister refused to visit when actually passing by the school despite being asked to view the problem. Her absence from the House tonight is further evidence of her contempt. She and the Government have shown absolute contempt for the problems of Clonakilty and its community college.

The case of Clonakilty gaelscoil is similar. It was founded in 1994 and given official recognition in 1997, but it is housed in temporary prefabs which, to put it mildly, have seen better days. For example, the ceilings of the toilets collapsed ten days ago, but fortunately no schoolchildren were in situ at the time.

As a parallel to the waste of the Government on e-voting machines, PPARS and elsewhere, the case of Clonakilty gaelscoil is an even worse example. This year alone, €330,000 will be paid by the Government for the rent of those dilapidated and run-down collection of leaking prefabs. Again, inquiries through Dáil questions meet with the totally opaque response from the Minister for Education and Science, who appears to have adopted a lack of transparency and a total lack of accountability as her trademark. It is said that wilful waste makes woeful want, and this is a major example. The trouble is that the wilful waste is on the Government's part but the woeful want is on the part of the scoláirí and muinteoirí of the gaelscoil, who yearn for decent conditions.

Knockskeagh national school is the third section of Clonakilty's crown of educational thorns. It was built 70 years ago and is an outstanding school operating in Third World conditions. It is included in the INTO list of substandard schools. In July 1997, the Department of Education confirmed that an OPW report indicated: "Due to the extent of the proposed works, it will be necessary to consider these works as a major building project." It also remarked that due to financial constraints — this was just after the 1997 election when all promises were off and money was being cut back straight away — the Department was not in a position to consider that major project "in the current year" of 1997.

Ten years on, nothing has happened, apart from a major part of the roof blowing off five years ago. Again, fortunately, there were no casualties at the time. There was the charade of offering to allow the school to participate in the small schools scheme, years after the Department admitted it was a major project.

The Government is telling us about its €5 billion surplus, which is a sick joke in Clonakilty. I demand on the part of the people of Clonakilty decent conditions for the schools there; an end to the absolute contempt shown by the Government to the children, students, parents and teachers in Clonakilty; and no further delay in issuing the necessary sanctions and approval for the three schools I mentioned.

Tim O'Malley (Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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I thank the Deputy for raising the matter as it affords me the opportunity to outline the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects, and also to outline the position regarding Gaelscoil Chloch na Coillte, Clonakilty community college and Knockskeagh national school.

Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools, as well as responding to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth, is a major priority for the Government. Since taking office, it has shown focused determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.

As evidence of this commitment, there will be in the region of 1,300 building and modernisation projects active in our primary and post-primary schools during 2006. This year alone, in the region of €500 million is being spent on primary and post-primary projects throughout the country, compared to approximately €90 million in 1997. I am sure the Deputy will agree this record level of investment is a positive testament to the high priority the Government attaches to the challenge of school modernisation and development.

Turning to the specific matter in hand, Gaelscoil Chloch na Coillte is a co-educational school with an enrolment of 232 pupils in September 2005. Although the September 2006 enrolment has yet to be confirmed, the Department of Education and Science understands that enrolments have increased by approximately 20% in the past five years. The school has a current staffing of principal plus nine mainstream teachers, one learning support and resource teacher and two resource teachers.

The school planning section of the Department has determined the appropriate level of accommodation to be provided will cater for a principal and 12 mainstream class teachers and appropriate ancillary activities. A suitable site has now been acquired to facilitate the construction of a new 12-classroom school, which will meet the school's long-term needs. This project is under active consideration in the Department.

Clonakilty community college is one of two schools serving the post-primary education needs of Clonakilty. These are Clonakilty community college, which is co-educational; and Sacred Heart secondary school, which is all girls. Clonakilty community college was formed in 1980 as a result of the amalgamation of the town's vocational school and St Mary's boys' secondary school and it operates under the aegis of County Cork VEC. The community college was built in 1980 to cater for 400 pupils and since then additional accommodation has been provided to cater for increasing enrolments.

Cork VEC requested that the Department review the accommodation at the college and make capital funding available for a refurbishment and extension. This application was processed having regard to all relevant factors, including enrolment and demographic trends in the area and the overall accommodation requirements of the post-primary schools in Clonakilty. An accommodation brief to cater for a long-term enrolment of 550 pupils has been agreed with the school authorities. Schedules of accommodation were revised earlier this year to ensure the appropriate level of accommodation is provided in order to meet the school's long-term needs.

Knockskeagh national school is a co-educational school with an enrolment of 105 pupils in September 2005. Although the September 2006 enrolment has yet to be confirmed, the Department understands enrolments are relatively stable at this school. It has a current staffing of principal and three mainstream teachers, one learning support and resource teacher and one resource teacher.

The management authority of this school declined an offer of funding made under the small schools scheme 2006 to provide appropriate accommodation for a four-teacher school on the basis that it could not deliver the required accommodation within the grant approved. It also raised the need to review the long-term accommodation needs of the schools as it had indications that the school population is set to increase in the medium to long term. This re-assessment of the school's projected enrolment and long-term projected staffing is nearing completion and, when finalised, a decision on how best to provide for the long-term needs will be taken.

Once again I thank the Deputy for affording me the opportunity to outline the position on these particular school projects and highlight the enormous work being undertaken by the Department of Education and Science in implementing the school building and modernisation programme to ensure infrastructure of the highest standard is available for all our school-going population.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Government has a few months left to do the business before it will be thrown out.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 December 2006.