Dáil debates

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Further and Higher Education

6:30 pm

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for attending to discuss this important issue, namely, the urgent need for a new building at Cavan Institute. As he will probably be aware, Cavan Institute provided a virtual tour of its impressive college in recent months. None of himself, the Minister, Deputy Harris, or their Department need to be convinced of the legitimacy of the argument for a new building. However, it has been on the Department of Education's construction list for almost a decade. Of course, we have seen the fantastic delivery of new schools across the Cavan-Monaghan constituency by the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley. I am thinking of the Holy Family School in Cootehill, which she visited last week to see the brand new €12 million investment there, and the recent doubling in capacity at Bailieborough Community School as well as Virginia College. Last week, she announced the doubling in size of Coláiste Dún an Rí in Kingscourt.

The same commitment to a new building for Cavan Institute is now required. If our secondary schools are doubling in capacity, Cavan Institute must be in a position to respond to that need for further education. There are demands, but as the Minister of State can imagine, the doubling in size of our secondary schools will require a tenfold increase at Cavan Institute if it is to respond to the number of students passing through them.

Cavan Institute was established in 1985 and has grown to become one of the largest post leaving certificate, PLC, colleges in the country. It is important to recognise that Cavan Institute provides further education not just for Cavan and Monaghan, but the entire Border region. A new building was built in 2006 to increase capacity to 420 students. As the students moved into it that year, though, the institute's number of enrolments was at 700. The need to increase the size of the new building could be seen. Since then, Cavan Institute has been leasing multiple premises across Cavan town to deliver 70 full-time and part-time courses because it had outgrown its new building even before it moved in.

This is a critical time. Leases are expiring and commitments are required from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to renew the leases, but I believe that the Department must make a leap of faith and commit to a new building. We do not want to see Cavan Institute and Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board, CMETB, signing up to leases for the next ten or 15 years when what they need is a new building. Some of the buildings that Cavan Institute has had to lease for teaching and learning are in a poor state of repair and not fit for purpose in these modern times.

In 2014 and 2015, Cavan Institute was approved for inclusion on the Department of Education's new buildings list and it was the intention to deliver a new building. I hope that the Minister of State can give us some idea of the timeframe for that. It has been on the buildings list for almost a decade. It has far outgrown its current infrastructure. The college was built for 420 students. Today, it has an enrolment of more than 1,100 students.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, as it gives me the opportunity to set out for her, the House and the people of Cavan and elsewhere in the Border region the position as regards Cavan Institute and further education provision for Cavan town. I acknowledge the Deputy's strong advocacy for and championing of the cause of Cavan Institute and the region. She has raised this matter a number of times in the Dáil and directly with my Department, the Minister, Deputy Harris, and me.

Cavan Institute was established in 1985 and has provided high-quality education and service to the people of Cavan and beyond ever since. Under the management of CMETB, the institute has played a cental part in developments in further education through innovative course development and top class industry-standard facilities.

The institute offers courses in business, humanities, creative practices, computing, engineering, healthcare, sport, physical therapies, beauty therapy, hairdressing and science. The institute was initially set up in Main Street, Cavan, and was formerly known as Cavan College of Further Studies. Cavan Institute now has multiple rented locations across Cavan town, as Deputy Smyth just outlined. There are issues in relation to some of those leases expiring.

In March 2012, Cavan and Monaghan ETB acquired the former Dún Uí Néill Army Barracks, which is an 18-acre site, with a view to refurbishment and adaptations of the site and buildings to create a new further education and training campus. Development of the barracks site will provide an opportunity to centralise further education and training service provision, create opportunities for expansion and eliminate the need for various rented temporary accommodations around Cavan town.

Cavan and Monaghan ETB has secured funding to progress the development of a new further education and training centre of excellence in supply chain logistics and procurement, supporting business transformation and workforce skills being developed in Cavan in support of the north-east region and nationally. The project is part of a €3 million investment for local projects under the Border enterprise development fund, an economic stimulus package established for the border region, and additional funding from SOLAS and my Department. The new training centre will be located at the Cavan and Monaghan ETB further education and training campus. The project is a direct response to current industry requirements and emerging skills needs in the region, with a vision to positively impact on the region's competitiveness, job security and employment growth.

A capital investment programme in the further education and training sector is also being rolled out. Among the priorities being addressed are funding for infrastructure and equipment to support reskilling and upskilling needs. Cavan and Monaghan ETB has requested capital investment to relocate its further education and training operations from Main Street and Cootehill Road to the barracks site and also for the creation of the supply chain, logistics and procurement centre of excellence, both by means of modular units. SOLAS recommendations for capital funding in respect of each project are under active consideration in the Department with a response to issue at the very earliest opportunity.

The Department and I are very conscious of the urgency, for which the Deputy has made the case succinctly today. I thank her for again raising the matter and for her advocacy for the project. I advise her the Department is concerned to ensure the accommodation needs for further education and training provision in Cavan are addressed.

6:40 pm

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State and appreciate his very comprehensive reply. I have to make the comment and observation that modular units are a temporary measure. We can all acknowledge that. They just will not cut it in leaving Cavan Institute on a building list any longer. The modular units will house music, beauty therapy, make-up artistry, science, information technology, IT, sports, leisure, sports therapy programmes and many of the practical subjects. Urgency for a permanent building is what is required here. The 2006 building was built for a capacity of 420 students; Cavan Institute is now at 1,100 and growing year-on-year.

I have to acknowledge the principal of Cavan Institute, Ann Marie Lacey, who, in her distinguished principalship, has been a huge driving force for her students, staff and the parents of students who attend the college. We see terrific work currently under way by John Kearney, the chief executive of Cavan Institute, in the delivery of ETB schools right across the county and constituency. He needs this exact type of investment and commitment to be able to deliver what is needed for Cavan Institute.

Will the Minister of State commit to visiting Cavan Institute? I am a big believer in "seeing is believing" and while it is wonderful we have that 18-acre site at the Army barracks, we need to develop it into a top-class facility, which is nothing less than Cavan Institute, and its staff and students, deserve. The staff are providing wraparound services for student support and that, again, is a disjointed operation in the sense they are in different buildings around the town. That cannot continue. It can only be imagined how that college could flourish if it had the right infrastructure. I ask the Minister of State to commit to visiting Cavan Institute and to examine the issue of any further modular buildings because they will just not cut it. Cavan Institute needs its new building.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am very happy to take up Deputy Smyth's invitation to visit Cavan and the barracks site and, indeed, any other sites which she deems appropriate, in order to press the case and help assist in the delivery of what is required. The development of the barracks site for Cavan Institute will enable delivery of a range of post-leaving certificate, PLC, programmes, including, but not limited to, music production, science, beauty, sports, animal care, sports therapy and general skills programmes. The new further education and training centre of excellence in supply chain logistics and procurement will focus on areas such as robotics, 3-D printing, the Internet of things, blockchain technology, big data analytics and drone technology. A canteen, sports facilities and open office space will also be available on campus to all learners and staff, all of which are required in modern society to enable modern industry.

SOLAS had originally approved the modular units, which the Deputy mentioned, in 2019. The Cavan and Monaghan ETB has been working towards its development since then. Unfortunately, Covid-19 and the associated construction restrictions, coupled with the global steel shortage, has significantly impacted the delivery of this project. The current target date for completion is the end of this year, 2021. I hope that information will be of assistance to the Deputy. I would be glad to accompany her on a visit to Cavan.