Dáil debates

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Adjournment Debate

Schools Building Programme

2:00 pm

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I attended Dromclough national school in Listowel and have retained a strong interest in its fortunes ever since. The number of enrolments continues to increase because it is an excellent school with an excellent principal and staff. In April 2002, on the advice of an inspector, the school board of management made an application for an extension. In January 2003, an application was made for a major refurbishment and extension. In January 2006, a letter was received from the Department of Education and Skills indicating that construction of eight classrooms was approved and that a technical team would visit the school shortly. Five years later no such visit has taken place to advance the project to the next stage.

On 6 December 2007, I raised the same issue on the Adjournment. On that occasion, after outlining all the investment that has been made in the provision of school buildings throughout the State, the then Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, noted that Dromclough is a co-educational primary school with an enrolment of 194 pupils. That number has now increased to 200, from a figure of 164 in 2001. The school has a current staffing of a principal, seven mainstream assistants and three learning and support resource teachers. I made the point that the school had to convert a toilet into an office to accommodate the teachers. I am very familiar with the size of the classrooms and staffroom. The parents, children and staff really coped with the circumstances but those circumstances are very unfair.

The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Haughey, stated:

The school has submitted an application to the Department for an extension and the long-term staffing figure on which accommodation needs will be based has been determined and notified to the school authority. It has been agreed that appropriate accommodation should be provided to cater for a long-term projected staffing of principal, eight mainstream assistants and [...] appropriate ancillary accommodation.

The next step is to carry out a technical investigation of the existing building and site to determine their suitability. When this inspection has been completed the project will be progressed in the context of the school building and modernisation programme.

This has simply not happened.

Recently a serious issue arose because wheelchair access to the school could not be provided. The school must be one of the few in the country that has no wheelchair access. The school is a polling booth at election time and this will present access difficulties at the next general election, which will be quite soon. There were serious water leaks at the school recently and there was a problem with the power supply. Other problems arose also.

Some time ago the INTO submitted to the Department a list of some 150 schools in a very bad state of repair. Over time, it has discussed these schools and has tried to advance their cases. Some 120 schools have been taken off the list and there are just 30 left. The staff of Dromclough national school are asking what the building section of the Department of Education and Skills has against the school, including its 200 pupils, eight staff and ancillary staff. It is very hard to understand its reasoning. I would deeply appreciate it if the Minister for Health and Children would, in the dying days of this Government, shed some light on the procrastination over the school. I know she would respond positively to my request if the matter were totally in her hands. The circumstances of the school seem to be totally unfair. Schools that were below Dromclough national school on the list have been built but the Dromclough project has not been progressed. Perhaps we will receive an answer this evening.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Independent)
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I thank Deputy Deenihan for raising this issue. I am responding on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, who cannot be present. I thank Deputy Deenihan for his very kind remarks. Perhaps he will pass them on to Deputy Reilly, with whom I have just had a robust debate. The latter does not share Deputy Deenihan's perspective.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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We are old friends.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Independent)
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That is true. Absolutely.

Modernising facilities in our existing building stock, in addition to meeting the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth, is a significant challenge. The Government has shown 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 planning and building unit of the Department of Education and Skills assesses all applications for capital funding. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting, based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings and site capacity, leading ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects.

The staff of Dromclough national school comprises a principal, seven mainstream assistants and four permanent learning support or resource teachers. The school's enrolment at 30 September 2009 was 203 pupils, which represents an increase of 1% over the previous five years.

The forward planning section of the Department of Education and Skills has identified 43 priority areas throughout the country where significant additional accommodation will be required at primary and post-primary levels in the medium term. The indication from the forward planning section is that the Listowel area is not one where there is likely to be significant growth in demand for additional classroom accommodation in the short term.

The school authorities in question submitted an application for large-scale capital funding for an extension and refurbishment project. The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects and assigned a band 2 rating. There are four band ratings under these criteria, each of which describes the extent of accommodation required and the urgency attaching to it. Band 1 is the highest priority rating and band 4 is the lowest. Band 2 comprises the second highest priority. Documents explaining the band rating system are available on the Department's website.

It has been agreed with the school that the long-term projected staffing will constitute a principal plus eight mainstream class assistants. The next steps for the progression of the school's major project include a technical visit. However, to date, it has not been possible to arrange such a visit in light of the demands on the resources of the Department.

In 2008, two additional prefabs were relocated to the school to alleviate its immediate accommodation difficulties. The school also received an ICT grant for the prefab being used as a mainstream classroom. In October 2010, the school was included in a list of schools that were approved a grant for water conservation measures.

The progression of all large-scale building projects, including this project, from initial design through to construction, will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual schools building and modernisation programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.