Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Technological Universities

11:40 am

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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41. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he has satisfied himself with the progress on the creation of a university for the south east, if he has satisfied himself with the progress of the proposed acquisition of land for a new Institute of Technology Carlow campus in County Wexford, if either will address the third-level educational deficit faced by persons in County Wexford and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52009/17]

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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The planned amalgamation of Waterford Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Carlow into a technological university of the south east has been slowly plodding and going nowhere for two or three decades. I am sure the Minister of State might want to tell me about the progression of the Technological Universities Bill but the truth is that even a technological university will do little to address educational deficits faced by people in Wexford. Earlier this week, we learned that the proposed acquisition of land for a new Institute of Technology Carlow campus in Wexford has fallen through. Can the Minister explain what happened to this land deal given that the HEA paid a deposit 12 months ago?

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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The Technological University of the South East, TUSE, consortium has received total funding of some €0.57 million to date.

Last month a further €0.15 million was allocated to the consortium. Specific activities being progressed currently include a review of human resources processes etc.

The Deputy is aware that the Institute of Technology Carlow has a Wexford campus based in Wexford town, which offers an extensive range of award qualifications from level 6 through to postgraduate level 9 on the National Framework of Qualifications. It is important to note that the number of students enrolled at the Wexford campus in 2016 was 766. This figure should not be dismissed in any way. In addition to programmes run by Waterford IT and Carlow IT, learners can access online programmes provided by other institutions.

The Department has been very supportive of the proposed acquisition by IT Carlow of a particular site in Wexford for the development of a new purpose-built campus. Funding has been allocated to enable IT Carlow to acquire this site. The Department has now been informed, however, of a decision by the vendor to withdraw from the sale of that site. The Department is assessing the situation and will work with IT Carlow on how best to progress its development needs in Wexford.

11:50 am

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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I believe this land was with my good friends in NAMA. A price was agreed and a deposit was paid. A deal was done but somewhere along the route the loans got shifted to a vulture fund. NAMA literally sold the land to a vulture fund, despite a deal having been done with the Higher Education Authority, HEA. How can the Government allow this to happen? It is madness.

Carlow IT has gone on the record to say that since the official confirmation of the cancellation of the sale, it has been formally approached through intermediaries for almost double the agreed price for the site. A deal was done with NAMA but then NAMA said it would sell to a vulture fund and ignored the HEA. The new buyers now want double the price for the land. The Minister of State spoke about the campus in Wexford with 766 students in 2016. It is better than nothing. This is why we were eager for an extension to the campus. How can the Government allow NAMA to sell this land to a vulture fund, which is now looking for double the price? It is only recently-----

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy will have another minute to speak. If we all stick to our time then I will try to get to one more question.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Wallace. I acknowledge the frustration but, as the Deputy is aware from his background, if the deal was not signed then there was no deal. The vendor, unfortunately, has pulled out. That is where it is currently at. There is a commitment of an investment of €47.9 million, which would have 19,206 planned beneficiaries, for the Waterford and Wexford education and training boards. It is disappointing. We have put that money into further education and into the ETBs.

We are committed to a campus in Wexford. We know how important it is for the area and we know how important it is to attract companies and foreign direct investment and for our own indigenous companies to have confidence to ensure they have the staff and skills available. It is disappointing, but as I have said, the Department is assessing the situation and we will work with IT Carlow on how best to progress from now.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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This is ten years in the making. Is there a back-up plan? The HSE recently sold a huge tract of land in Enniscorthy at the old St. Senan's Hospital. I believe it is more than 40 acres. They sold it to a private developer for peanuts. Why did the State not look at that? Will the Minister of State find out for me if the HSE deal was done with NAMA or was it done with the vulture fund? Who gazumped them? Was it NAMA or was it a vulture fund? They paid a deposit. The second contract was not signed, but a deal was done. Were they gazumped by NAMA or a vulture fund?

I remind the Minister of State that the numbers of students from Wexford who go to third level education is falling and is getting worse. The area is the second worst county in Ireland in educational performance. It is a black spot. Some weeks ago the Central Statistics Office released figures that show Wexford and Longford - areas of huge disadvantage - at the bottom of the table. Just 32% of second level students go on to third level, which is a long way behind the national average of 42%. The Minister of State is aware that in her own constituency the figure is about 61%. Something has to be done.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy has asked about the HSE and I will certainly talk to the Minister for Health about that issue.

With regard to the Wexford campus I am disappointed also, but I know the importance of making sure that we have higher education institutions in the regions. This is why I am pushing the Technological Universities Bill. We are supporting IT Carlow to assess the situation in Wexford. I am aware that there are 766 students currently enrolled at the Wexford campus. We value education. Deputy Wallace does not need to convince me about the importance of education - I know exactly how important it is. We want all students right across the State, in every region and every county, to get the very best from education.