Tuesday, 3 July 2007
This may appear to be a small issue but it is important. The Cabra West youth service has been operating for two decades in a school in an area with which the Minister of State is probably familiar as it is just across the border from Finglas. The Taoiseach gave out prizes in the school last Thursday morning. The next day the board of management told the Cabra West youth service that it could no longer expect to use part of the premises as an office.
The service has had the resource of the primary school as its headquarters from which it has operated a community employment scheme employing 19 people locally and most important, has provided a service for the young people in the area. Cabra presents many difficulties for the social services, and for young people growing up in the area, as the Minister of State knows. There is significant drug abuse in Cabra. The youth service has provided sporting and recreational clubs, and homework facilities, all of which help to keep young people on the straight and narrow.
In many parts of the north inner city and further afield, primary schools do not close their doors at 3 p.m. but provide greater resources to the community by allowing various CE schemes, youth services and senior citizens' groups to operate on their premises. It seems that this resource is being closed down. The only information the youth service has received is that it must leave the premises and seek alternative accommodation, perhaps across the road in a senior citizens' complex under development. That is not a suitable location for a youth service. Besides, there is no provision in the local authority's plans for a senior citizens' development to include facilities for a youth service.
The youth service is high and dry at the start of the summer and does not know how it will operate. It is extremely disappointing that a service that was provided on those premises for over two decades should now be turfed out at short notice and told not to return during the summer or in the autumn when the school re-opens. I want to highlight the situation whereby a service will be lost and local jobs are at risk. There will be a serious impact on the local community. I know the Minister of State is not directly responsible for the board but, in the context of the broader educational and resource requirements, is there any possibility the Department of Education and Science can make it known that it is anxious to ensure the service is retained, ideally on the premises from which it operates at present? Can it make it known to the board that it looks very kindly on the provision of services of this nature for young people?
Pat Carey (Minister of State with special responsibility for Drugs Strategy and Community Affairs, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Costello for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science. As the Deputy said, I am well aware of this project as both he and I were both members of the City of Dublin VEC and the City of Dublin Youth Service Board, which were instrumental in helping the project progress.
The issue provides me with the opportunity to explain to the House the position of the Department of Education and Science on the ownership of school properties in the State. It is not commonly understood that the vast majority of our school buildings, both primary and post-primary, are privately owned and managed institutions and that the ultimate responsibility for their usage outside of their principal purpose rests with the trustees or the board of management.
One of the issues regularly raised with the Department by local and community interests is the use of spare school facilities or the use of school facilities outside of school time for community education and recreation purposes. These requests have come from a variety of bodies including county development boards, community groups and the National Children's Office. The Department issued a circular letter to schools in 2005 urging trustees and boards of management to give serious consideration to such requests where possible. In urging school authorities to respond sensitively to this need, the Department fully appreciates that, as already stated, the decision ultimately lies with the relevant board or trustees and that the first priority at all times should be the interest of the school, its teachers and pupils.
Many schools already make their premises available to the local community outside of school hours and schools benefit from the improved relationship with the wider community. Good relations between the school and the community can be beneficial when it comes to seeking placements for work experience, outlets for community service or when schools seek to access local services and expertise. Being linked in effectively with the local community can help the school to provide a wider curriculum and range of co-curricular activities. It is for this reason that the Department publication "Looking at our Schools: an aid to self-evaluation for primary and post-primary schools", suggests that the relationship between the school and the wider community should form one of the self-evaluation criteria for schools.
The Department also acknowledges the need for trustees and boards to prioritise the interests of the principal school users and to protect their own interests. The Department has given advice to schools in key areas in this regard including the need to have a proper licensing agreement in place. With regard to St. Finbar's national school, again the Department does not own the site or the building in which the Cabra West Youth Services, CWYS, is accommodated and the Department is not privy to the school's arrangement with this group.
It is the Department's understanding that the CWYS is funded primarily by the City of Dublin Youth Service Board. The board has indicated to the Department that it is aware of the accommodation issues in question and that negotiations are ongoing with the school authority to resolve them. Given that what is in question here is a private arrangement, this is the correct procedure to address this matter and the Department of Education and Science has no role to play in it.
I thank the Deputy once again for raising this matter. I hope I have explained that, while the Department fully supports and encourages the use of school properties not in its ownership by community and other groups, the decision in these matters rests with school authorities and it is a matter for them to safeguard their own positions where such arrangements are made and to resolve any difficulties arising therefrom.
I give an undertaking to Deputy Costello to raise the matter with the Minister of State with responsibility for lifelong learning, youth work and school transport, Deputy Haughey, and with other related agencies.