Thursday, 30 July 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Schools Site Acquisitions
I very much appreciate the Minister's presence here this evening. She has had a long day of engagement with Deputies and Senators on a wide range of issues over the course of this day. It is now past 2 a.m. and she is still here. I appreciate that. I made a comment about a Cabinet colleague of hers not affording us the same respect, but she is here and it is greatly appreciated. For those who are interested in the topic that we are going to discuss, it shows the seriousness with which she takes the issue.
The campaign for Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together school was started several years ago. I was involved in the campaign from the start. There is great interest in the establishment of an Educate Together school in the catchment area as laid down by the Department. The Department determined that there should be a new primary school for the catchment area of Killester, Raheny and Clontarf and so the competition, for want of a better word, was started and Educate Together was deemed to be the most appropriate patron body to take on the running of that school.
All was fine. However, with the school to be opened last September, a site within the catchment area was not found. A particular site was investigated for a period of time, but my understanding is that there was an issue with planning. After a long period of time, a site was found outside the catchment area, at Suttonians Rugby Club in Sutton, to enable the school to open. As a result of that, many parents who were enthusiastic about sending their children to this school thought otherwise because the idea of travelling from Clontarf, Raheny or Killester to Sutton and back again for an infant was just not going to work out.
I am not sure if the Minister is familiar with the geography of the area. Suffice it to say that having a school even on a temporary basis outside the catchment area when it is just trying to find its feet, to embed a culture and to embed a dynamic around the school was not going to work. On the basis that it would be a year, many people felt that over the course of that year the Department would work hard to ensure that by following September there would be a physical site in the catchment area. Obviously, the pandemic has most likely interrupted that process and parents will probably face into a second year on site in the rugby club in Sutton. The agreement from the off was that it would be a two-year arrangement.
What plans and processes are in place for the Department to ensure that a temporary or permanent site within the catchment area of Killester, Raheny and Clontarf can be obtained for this school so that it can embed itself in the community which it has been established to serve? It has not been established to be located in Sutton. It has been established to serve the students of the Killester, Raheny and Clontarf catchment area. Of course, priority is given to children who reside in that catchment area. The issue is very simple. I ask for an indication of what moves the Department is making. It would be great to have it this September. If it is to be September 2021, what is the likelihood that we can have Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together school in the catchment area of Killester, Raheny and Clontarf?
I thank the Deputy for raising the matter as it gives me an opportunity to provide an update on the current position regarding Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together school.
On 13 April 2018, the Minister for Education and Skills announced 42 new schools to open between 2019 and 2022. A preliminary site identification process was undertaken in respect of any of the schools for which there had not yet been a site identified. In the first instance, this exercise sought to identify State-owned property which may potentially serve as a location to provide accommodation for the new school referenced. The Department of Education and Skills portfolio of Minister-owned property and the State Property Register were considered for this purpose.
Generally, all new schools commence operation in temporary accommodation with a view to permanent accommodation being provided for them by my Department as quickly as possible. As the Deputy will be aware, Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together national school is currently located in temporary accommodation at Suttonians Rugby Club. A permanent site option for the new 16-classroom Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together national school has been identified and it is in the school planning area. Given the commercial sensitivities associated with land acquisitions generally, I am not in a position to comment further at this time. I can, however, assure the Deputy that the acquisition of a new site for the school is a priority for my Department and the patron body will be informed of the location for the school as soon as it is possible to do so.
That is very positive. I appreciate the Minister's response. I think the parents of children who are attending the school or intend to attend the school will be very satisfied with that response. A permanent site option for the new 16-classroom school has been identified. We are not talking about a temporary site but a permanent one and it is in the school planning area. It is quite a wide area and it spans what would border Fairview all the way down to the Kilbarrack Road, which is quite a large catchment area.
I also appreciate that there are commercial sensitivities associated with the land acquisition. I appreciate that the Minister cannot go into any further detail. I appreciate the answer she has given me. This will be greatly welcomed by the school community. I ask the Minister to continue to engage with me and other representatives in the area to ensure this matter stays on the top of the agenda locally. It is crucial that if a child is from the given locality, he or she has an opportunity to attend Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together school in his or her own locality. I appeal to the Minister to continue to engage with me, the board of management, local representatives and the school community as this process continues.
I appreciate the very strong case the Deputy has outlined and his sincerity in doing so. I have no difficulty with my officials and me engaging with him and with other representatives on this matter. I appreciate the high priority the Deputy puts on it and I will recognise that.