Thursday, 10 July 2014
Topical Issue Debate
I thank the office of the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue and I am delighted my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, is present because we have been working together on this issue for quite some time. I am sure the Minister of State will have some positive information to impart.
Carrigtwohill was a village and is now a town between Cork city and Midleton. Because of the Cork area strategic plan, CASP, and the opening of the rail link to east Cork a number of years ago, a lot of zoning was done in Carrigtwohill, the population of the town increased dramatically in recent years and there are plans to increase it even further. There are three schools in Carrigtwohill, two primary schools - a boys school and a girls school - and a secondary school, St. Aloysius' College, which is also a girls school. They are very successful schools but, at this stage, the two primary schools are chock-a-block with students. I believe there are close to 900 students between the two of them, although the Minister of State might have more up-to-date figures, and there are prefabs stacked on top of prefabs at the boys school. The Minister of State has visited these schools, as I have, and will know they are excellent schools.
A number of years ago, an agreement was made to amalgamate the two primary schools and build one new primary school. For some time, work has been ongoing to locate a site in order to build these new schools. I understand funding is in place and everything is ready to go, except a site is needed. This has been ongoing for a long time and it is now reaching a critical point in that the schools are really and truly at breaking point because there is no space left in which to put any more prefabs and the number of children is set to increase in the next year or two.
I know the Department and the Government have decided that a new school is going to be built. I also know there are plans to build a mixed second level school in Carrigtwohill, which is badly needed. A survey was carried out among parents and I believe it is to be an ETB school, in conjunction with the Bishop of Cloyne, which is fine and is what the majority of people wanted.
What is needed now is some action on the ground. I urge the Minister and the Department to redouble their efforts to acquire a site, get planning and have these schools built. Two schools are needed, a new primary school, which is an amalgamation of the two existing primary schools, and the new secondary school. My understanding is that when this new primary school with 24 classrooms is built, it will just about accommodate current numbers so, even as we speak, we may be looking for another primary school. Perhaps the existing buildings could be used for other educational purposes.
This is now more than urgent. A very welcome extension is underway at the CBS secondary school in Midleton, a project worth over €3 million, and that school is planned to increase to 1,000 students.
It is the same in St. Colman's Community College in Midleton, where another extension is planned, and other schools in east Cork. The big issue here is that east Cork is developing. Since the rail link was established, a lot of land has been zoned, many houses have been built, many young families have moved in and many children are coming on stream who need schools and education. A lot of work is ongoing there in east Cork but Carrigtwohill urgently needs attention and needs new buildings for the amalgamated primary schools and the secondary school. Having said that, we probably need another primary school to be planned for Carrigtwohill because even if a 24-room school is built now, it will be inadequate to cater for what is there as we speak let alone what is coming down the tracks, pardon the pun, in a little while.
I am very interested to hear what the Minister of State is going to say on this. He might give us an idea of what the timescale for construction of the schools is once tendering has been completed and how big this proposed secondary school might be when it goes ahead and the plans for that. Is the Minister of State confident that the timescale laid down with construction to start in 2014-15 will happen?
I thank Deputy Stanton for raising this matter. Both Deputy Stanton and I are playing as a tag team in respect of this issue because it is pertinent to our constituency. The area referred to has been identified by my Department as one of the areas where due to demographic changes it is projected that there will be a requirement for significant additional school provision at both primary and post-primary levels over the coming years. I think Deputy Stanton first identified the precipice that has been reached in respect of those demographic issues in the first instance. Since that time, we have been working together to get these projects over the line. We have had success particularly in respect of Midleton and the Gaelscoil at Mainistir na Corann.
Building projects for five primary schools, one of which involves the amalgamation of two existing schools referred to by Deputy Stanton, are proposed for the Midleton and Carrigtwohill areas to meet demographic growth. Scoil Chlochair Mhuire and Scoil Mhuire Naofa are existing boys' and girls' primary schools currently operating on separate sites in a combination of temporary and permanent accommodation. A project to deliver a new 32-classroom primary school building in Carrigtwohill is planned to facilitate the amalgamation and expansion of these two schools, as Deputy Stanton has outlined. The Department has approved additional temporary accommodation for both of these schools to meet their interim needs for September 2014.
In addition to this particular building project, a further four building projects are proposed that involve three primary schools and one post-primary school in order to meet demographic growth in the area. There will be a new 16-classroom school building to replace an existing temporary school building for Midleton Educate Together national school, Midleton. The site acquisition is ongoing at present. I have already referred to the new 24-classroom school building to replace an existing temporary school building for Gaelscoil Mhainistir na Corann. This is going through the rapid planning process as we speak. The Deputy has also referred to the possible need for another primary school because of the demographic challenges. In that regard, a new 16-classroom primary school with patronage to be decided will be built and a new 1,000-pupil post-primary school is due to be established under the patronage of Cork ETB involving the Catholic Bishop of Cloyne.
The Department, with the assistance of Cork County Council, has identified and is currently engaged in the site acquisition process for the primary and post-primary school projects in Carrigtwohill referred to by the Deputy. Once sites are acquired, the school projects concerned will be progressed immediately through the architectural planning process. I want to assure the people of this area and Deputy Stanton that I as a Minister of State in that Department am personally overseeing those projects. The Deputy and I have discussed the commercial sensitivities around specific sites. Given that we have had some success so far in respect of Gaelscoil Mhainistir na Corann, an issue that went on into its second decade, and the fact that the planning process has now started, I am confident we will continue to give this top priority in respect of Carrigtwohill. I can assure the Deputy and the people of that area that we are working on this on a daily basis and we will continue to work, if I dare say it, as a tag team on the Government side of this House to deliver these necessary projects.
I thank the Minister of State for his response, which was very positive. The people down there will be very pleased to hear that. Again, I acknowledge the work that has gone on with respect to Gaelscoil Mhainistir na Corann where the issue has been ongoing for almost two decades and the Educate Together primary school in Midleton. I notice that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is sitting alongside the Minister of State. The Minister will know that the reopening of the rail link to Midleton is one of the reasons why we have such a huge growth in development, building, rezoning, people moving in and prosperity. It goes to show how a rail link can make a big difference to an area. The council agreed to rezone land in east Cork once the rail link opened and the rail link could not open until the land was rezoned but now we have these children who need school places.
The Minister listed about six school projects that are being planned or are ongoing in the area. Could the Minister of State give us any idea as to when we might see shovels on the ground or diggers on the site in respect of the schools in Carrigtwohill and the Gaelscoil? Perhaps he cannot do so but is there any indication as to when we might see work starting on these projects? Will work start sometime in mid-2015? It would be nice if people could know that and if the Minister of State could announce it this evening to the House and the area. We could both go down to the area together and people would be very pleased.
The Deputy and I have been through the process of teasing out the site acquisition. I suppose that it is one of the flaws in the system, notwithstanding the fact that there is a memorandum of understanding with the local authority, when one is seeking to acquire privately owned land and there is a market value on the land. There is an inherent challenge there because of the constitutional right to private property and the market value inherent therein. On top of that, if there is a number of sites that have been designated, there are certain commercial sensitivities around that.
I am confident that because we have been through the Gaelscoil Midleton process together, the same energy is being applied to the challenge in Carrigtwohill. I am confident that once the site is acquired, we can move rapidly. If I retain my position or indeed regardless of my position, I will continue to advocate with the Deputy on ensuring that we can move rapidly to getting these schools built. I cannot give the Deputy a definitive timeframe at this point but both he and the people in that area should be assured of our commitment to ensuring that we deliver within the five-year planning programme. That is the aim.