Thursday, 7 February 2008
While the issue I raise may not be as vitally important as the life and death ones my colleagues who spoke before me raised, the biggest issue in my area is the lack of schools. A public private partnership for a site for schools was announced in 2005. I believe that Wexford County Council has done a deal with the Department of Education and Science on the purchase of an 18-acre site in Gorey. However, I am trying to find out what stage we are at in regard to the building of the schools on the site. We are three years further down the line and there seems to be a dearth of information in this regard. Nobody seems to know what is happening and whether there is to be one school or two schools.
I tabled parliamentary questions to the Minister for Education and Science asking when something will happen, to which the response was "shortly", which is like asking "How long is a piece of string?" I hope we will be given much more detailed answers to fair and valid questions. When will planning permission be sought? I believe there was an advertisement in the newspaper. I have been told these are almost pre-packed, pre-built schools which will be constructed on site. What sporting amenities will be available, which will be used by the general community as well as the school? Perhaps the most important question is who will be the patrons of the school or schools.
The last answer I got to a parliamentary question asking whether there would be one primary school or two primary schools on the site was that it had not been decided but, amazingly, a couple of weeks later there was a planning permission application for two schools. I am not here to badger anybody but the lack of information and the manner in which I, as a representative from the area, have been treated are not good enough. That decision had been made when I tabled that question because planning permission was applied for within a couple of weeks. I got a short, terse reply that a decision had not been made. That is not good enough and I hope the Minister will shed more light on the matter.
The same questions apply in respect of the new second level school on that site. When will planning permission be submitted? What type of school will be built? Who will be the patrons?
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 am taking this matter for the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, who wishes to thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I will outline the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and the current position in regard to the purchase of a site in Gorey, County Wexford.
At the outset, modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 731 post-primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of underinvestment in this area as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. Nonetheless, since taking office the Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.
The Government has dramatically increased investment in the school building programme to almost €600 million this year. Under the lifetime of the national development plan almost €4.5 billion will be invested in schools. This is an unprecedented level of capital investment which reflects the commitment of the Government to continue its programme of sustained investment in primary and post-primary schools.
It will underpin a particular emphasis on the delivery of additional school places in rapidly developing areas while continuing to develop on the Government's commitment to delivering improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary accommodation throughout the country. It will also enable the purchase of sites to facilitate the smooth delivery of the school building programme, again with the focus being on site requirements in rapidly developing areas.
Turning to the specific matter raised by Deputy D'Arcy, the site in question of about 18 acres in Gorey is in the process of transfer to the Department from Wexford County Council. As the Minister announced on 1 February last, it is planned to provide for two primary schools consisting of eight classrooms each in 2008. It is expected that, in time, in each of these schools the number of classrooms will be increased to 16 with a special needs unit. The Department also plans, in time, to provide a post-primary school on the site and this will form part of the master plan for the site.
I thank the Deputy again for affording me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position in regard to the purchase of a site in Gorey.