Thursday, 29 November 2018
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister of State for attending. I was contacted by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Joe McHugh, this afternoon to say he could not be here due to a political engagement to which he committed some time ago. He asked if I wanted to leave the matter until Tuesday and said he would come in and reply at that point. However, I felt time was of the essence and decided to go ahead tonight. I appreciate the fact that the Minister got back to me, however.
Today is 29 November.
It is a significant day and that is why I wanted to address this issue in the Dáil. We have had an ongoing situation with the lack of secondary school places for young people in Newbridge. This has been going on over the last four to five years. There are many different Topical Issue matters that Deputies could raise but it is a shocking indictment on the education situation in Kildare that the last number of such matters that I have submitted have all been on education. They have been on autism spectrum disorder, ASD, places, the delays in St. Paul's in Monasterevin and this issue of absolutely needing to have a second level school in the Newbridge-Kildare area.
The reason 29 November is a significant date is that five months ago, the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, said that an announcement would be imminent on the possibility of the provision of a new secondary school in the Newbridge-Kildare area. There was some talk, which was welcomed, about the possibility of amalgamating the education and training board, ETB, school on the Curragh site and a new second level school, more than likely from Educate Together given that we have two Educate Together primary schools, one in Kildare and one in Newbridge, which are very well subscribed.
When I pressed the then Minister, Deputy Bruton, a few months later, he said that a decision would be made by the end of October. At the end of October I visited the Department of Education and Skills unit in Tullamore, together with the Minister, Deputy McHugh, and I was told by the officials that because of the issues around the buildings it would be pushed out for a month but a decision would definitely be made before the end of November and possibly in mid-November.
In fairness, I understood that there were issues with 42 schools around the country which placed a lot of demands on them, but here we are with one day left in the month of November and we are hanging on for a decision. Parents have been contacting my office all this week because they have not got places for their children in the three schools in Newbridge for September next. I have contacted the three schools and every one of them has a long waiting list for next September. This is simply not good enough.
As a country, we revere education and we put much investment into it and we say that we want all of our students to have an equal opportunity to learn, to develop themselves and to prepare themselves for life and for work. How can we do so when we have a situation where children are being turned away from schools? I am absolutely not blaming the schools. We have excellent schools in Newbridge but they simply do not have the capacity. When we look at the available figures, Kildare is one of the areas with the fastest population growth in the country and between 2011 and 2016, the number of children between the ages of 13 and 18 grew at a rate of 205% of the State's growth rate. That certainly has to indicate the absolute need for a new second level school.
I thank the Deputy. As the Deputy has already mentioned, the Minister, Deputy McHugh, could not be present and he apologises. It is due to a prior commitment between an Tánaiste and himself. I will set out for the Dáil the position with regard to post-primary provision in Newbridge and the surrounding areas.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Department of Education and Skills is currently advancing building projects in a number of post-primary schools in the south Kildare school planning area, including Newbridge, and these projects, when completed, will provide additional capacity in the region of 1,700 school places.
In Newbridge, the projects include St. Conleth's community college, Newbridge and the Patrician College, Newbridge. In surrounding areas, the projects include: Athy community college, Athy; Cross and Passion secondary school, Kilcullen; and St. Paul's secondary school, Monasterevin.
The Government recently announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years. The requirement for new schools will be kept under ongoing review and will have regard for the increased roll-out of housing provision as outlined in Project Ireland 2040. In addition to the new schools announced, there will be a need for further school accommodation in other areas in the future.
While the new schools announcement did not include a new post-primary school in Newbridge, a review of provision at post-primary school level across the school planning areas in south Kildare is well advanced and nearing completion. The outcome of the review will be finalised and made available as soon as possible.
This review will include an assessment of the extent to which projected needs in the area will be met from the additional capacity being provided by the projects already approved and how any specific additional needs will be best catered for, recognising the importance of maintaining a balance between existing and any additional school provision.
I wish to advise the Deputy that the current status of large-scale projects, including those in Newbridge and surrounding areas, being delivered under the school building programme may be viewed on the Department's website, and this information is updated regularly.
In addition, a list of large-scale projects completed from 2010 to date may also be viewed on the website.
I do not have any further information to give the Deputy at this time but I will pass her concerns on to the Minister.
I was angry before and with the greatest of respect to the Minister of State, I am twice as angry now. The ink on that paper is not worth anything and I would be tempted to tear it up, but I have too much respect for the Minister of State. I will put it in as a Topical Issue matter for the Minister again next week.
That answer is absolutely disgraceful. It does not give any sense of the priority the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, put on this issue five months ago. It does not mention anything about the commitment that was made for the end of October and for the end of November and here we are with 24 hours to go before the end of November.
Telling a Deputy in this House to check the website is an absolute insult. I check the website every day but surely I would expect that with a Topical Issue debate in this House, which God knows it is hard enough to get, there would at least be some sort of response. How am I expected to respond to the concerns of those traumatised parents who have been contacting me this week about their children not having a place to go to school? This issue will get worse and worse. The only change over the past five months, between the time the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, committed to making an imminent decision and the present, is that the situation has become worse.
What will we do in September when there are children with no school place because of the lack of foresight from the Minister and the Department? This is an urgent issue. I would not have put it down as a Topical Issue matter if it was not and I will continue to table it as such. The Government is letting down the young people of the Newbridge area and their families. The campaign that was started by South Kildare Educate Together more than five years ago to try to provide choice and diversity for our young people also has been let down. Shame on the Department and shame on the Minister.
I am given the reply and I do not have much more information to give the Deputy. However, I will express the frustration, anger and concerns that she has raised to the Minister by telephone tomorrow. I do not have any further information to add to what is in the reply.
I agree with the Deputy in many ways. In times when parents are anxious about getting children into schools and looking for places, it can become very difficult when the proper, meaningful answers are not given to a parliamentary question or a Topical Issue debate. I know that there is concern because I have spoken to somebody who I know who lives in the area and have listened to that person's concerns. Throughout the country and the city, including in my constituency, there is a need for secondary schools to be built, particularly in towns and urban areas.
I will relate the Deputy's concerns and frustration to the Minister by telephone and when she puts back in her Topical Issue matter, I will ask him if he might contact the Deputy. I apologise.