Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Further and Higher Education

9:30 pm

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I am not disappointed by the Minister of State's presence but by the fact that the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is not here. The Minister of State will have heard me mention the urgent need for a new building for Cavan Institute on many occasions in this Chamber.

I am at a loss to understand why we have not seen movement from the Department on this. This is a college that has exceeded itself and that is a victim of its success. It was built for fewer than 500 students in 2006 and now there are over 1,100 students attending it. The college has gone above and beyond the call of duty in being relentless in its efforts to attract students and to do so by providing a broad spectrum of courses. The facilities it has are wonderful but it needs a greenfield site. This building has been on the building's list since 2015. It is not the only college of its kind; I have done some research and there are other education and training boards, ETBs, with the same type of problems. There is no logical reason, when it has been approved and sanctioned and when due diligence has taken place, that it has not been given the green light.

I appreciate that the Minister was in Cavan some months ago and announced modular buildings would be provided. In my mind modular buildings are temporary and they do not provide the longevity, continuity and stability that a college and its staff need for their future. I know there is a push in the Department for further education and training, FET, colleges around the country and this is an ideal location for such a college. I do not want to harp on about this but it has been on the buildings list from 2015 until this point and not a sod has been turned. The college does not need to look for a site; it is on a greenfield site which is ideally located in the centre of the town. There is nothing to stop this project except commitment from the Government to do this.

I did a little exercise because I know that this college, as I said, far surpasses its capacity. It is in a position where it is having to rent buildings around Cavan town just to be able to provide the facilities that it needs. Having done a tot on four of the premises that are being rented, I have to tell the Minister of State the amount being spent is staggering. Almost half a million euro per annum is being spent to rent temporary facilities. That has been going on for a number of years.

We are at a point where we need a commitment, not only because it is there in black and white that this building has been approved but because we need a start date. We need to know when this new building will be started and, more importantly, when it will be finished. The staff deserve it. The principal deserves it. The deputy principals deserve it. The drive and enthusiasm within that college is second to none. They are exemplary in the courses that they provide. As I said, it has far exceeded its capacity to deliver but it is doing it, and in rented premises. As I have alluded to, one of the buildings is costing €250,000. Another is €55,000 and another is €85,000. That is all rent that could be so much better used in terms of having a permanent facility.

I hope that the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has given the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, some good news to bring back to me tonight.

9:40 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Niamh Smyth. I am taking this on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris. The Deputy and I both know if there was good news the Minister, Deputy Harris, would be here. It would not be wee Anne from Galway delivering it. I am taking the Topical Issue all the same nonetheless.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it gives me the opportunity to set out for the House the position with regard to Cavan Institute and further education provision for Cavan town. Cavan Institute was established, as the Deputy said, in 1985 and has provided a high-quality educational service to the people of Cavan and beyond ever since. Under the management of Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board, CMETB, the institute has played a central 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 on Main Street in Cavan, and was formerly known as Cavan College of Further Studies. Cavan Institute has multiple rented locations across the town.

In March 2012, CMETB acquired a former Army barracks, a large site of 18 acres, with a view to refurbishing and adapting the site and its buildings to create, as the Deputy rightly said, a further education and training, FET, campus. Development of the barracks site provides an opportunity to centralise FET service provision, create opportunities for expansion and eliminate the need for various rented temporary accommodation around Cavan town. CMETB has secured funding to progress the development of a new FET centre of excellence in supply chain logistics and procurement. This will support the development of business transformation and workforce skills in Cavan, the north east and nationally. I suppose the location has been chosen in recognition of Cavan's status as a Border town.

This project is part of a €3 million investment for local projects under the Border enterprise development fund, which is an economic stimulus package established for the Border region, and with additional funding from SOLAS and the Department. It is proposed to locate the new training centre at CMETB's FET campus. The project is a direct response to current industry requirements and emerging skills needs in the region, with a vision to have a positive impact on the region's competitiveness, job security and employment growth.

CMETB requested capital investment to relocate its FET 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. Funding was approved in August of this year by the Department for works associated with delivery of this interim accommodation. I suppose the use of the word "interim" in the Minister's script is an acknowledgement of what Deputy Niamh Smyth has referred to is an interim arrangement. The project is currently being progressed by the ETB, with discussions ongoing with the modular unit provider.

I will take on board everything that Deputy Niamh Smyth has said. The Deputy has raised some valuable points in relation to the cost of the buildings leased. As a former chair of Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board, I would say that sometimes we have to look at what is left on the leases. Maybe that is a stumbling block, as to what length is left on the leases and whether they are able to come out of the leases. In all fairness, they have a site. There is a willingness from the Government to come totally on board. Other than the fact that we have issues regarding containers or whatever, I do not understand why we are not progressing it further.

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is not the Minister with responsibility for this but I would appreciate it if she would bring my remarks back to the Minister, Deputy Harris. It is my understanding that there is now a call-out to education and training boards, ETBs, for strategy assessment reports on new college buildings that were approved seven or eight years ago. What are we asking the ETBs to do? Are we asking them to do a rerun of the process of validating their required need? That is crazy. I make the case that due diligence and approval of this new building occurred years ago and they have been left in limbo with no building.

I note that the response that has come from the Department talks about the Army barracks out on the Cavan Road. It is difficult for the Minister of State to know when she is not from the area. We are talking about multiple areas and multiple campuses. We are not talking about an all-in-one campus, which should be the case. In my mind, the location of the current Cavan Institute is ideal. It is in the centre of the town. I would like somebody from the Department to tell me that is not ideal for the extension, expansion and delivery of a new building for Cavan Institute.

Modular buildings do not cut it in this day and age. The teachers, the staff and the principal have been more than patient. They have had to reinvent themselves.

The Minister of State asked a question about leases. It is my understanding - the Department can come back and tell me differently - that the leases are expiring at present and decisions have to be made. I want to see the right decision made. No more taxpayers' money of nearly half a million euro should be wasted annually because some of the buildings they are renting are not fit for purpose and are in a poor state.

As I said, the principal, the teaching staff and the students attending Cavan Institute have been patient but they deserve their new building. The next time I want to hear a start date for the new building.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I will take on board everything Deputy Niamh Smyth has asked. I recognise, as the Deputy said, the commitment of the principal, the teaching staff and the parents of the students who are attending there. In relation to the Deputy's ask about the development of the greenfield site which she has clearly articulated, needless to say the Deputy has her work done there in relation to where the leases are at, etc. I will present that to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and perhaps he might be able to meet with the Deputy to discuss progressing the project further.