Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Accommodation

4:00 pm

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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I dtús báire ba mhaith liom a rá leis an Aire go bhfuil an méid dul cinn atá déanta ag Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin i bhFionnghlas dochreidte ó bunaíodh í i Meán Fómhair 2005. Tá Gaeilge beo agus ag fás inti agus an-éileamh uirthi freisin. Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin on Bóthar Ghlas Naíon Road, Finglas East, is a co-educational all-Irish school registered under An Foras Pátrúnachta i gcomhair na scoileanna lánGhaeilge.

It is a primary school for pupils aged four to 12 years. It opened on 1 September 2005 using two changing rooms at the back of the West Finglas Tenants Residents Association, WFTRA Hall in Finglas west. In 2008 the school moved to the former De La Salle school building in Finglas east.

The aim of Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin is to support learning and development by providing the highest standards of education through the medium of Irish. As a Gaelscoil, Gaeilge has a central place in the life of the school. Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin is recognised as a school in a disadvantaged area of Dublin and has DEIS band 1 status.

The school has faced major challenges from the day it moved into its present building because of its condition. The windows were either yellowed Perspex or else they were boarded up. Mould, which is especially detrimental to the health of young children, was evident throughout the building.

The school received €20,000 in 2009 to rid the classrooms, corridors and toilets of mould. In 2010 the school received a grant to upgrade the heating system through a summer works scheme. However, it was refused an application for a grant to upgrade the windows.

There is evidence of woodworm in the school hall and in the attic. The yard surface is uneven and the tarmac is old and is a cause of concern as it is where young children play during break times. Children need proper facilities where they can exercise and play.

The classrooms do not have toilets in or even near them and this is very inconvenient for both teachers and the young children. A trip to the toilet for a young child has become more complicated than should be necessary and does result in the loss of teaching time.

The two-storey building has no lift, which makes it difficult for the school to accommodate children or anybody else who uses a wheelchair. It also means that all furniture, equipment, boxes for hot lunches etc. have to be carried up the stairs, which raises health and safety concerns. The Department of Education eventually bought the building in 2019, having paid more than €1 million in rent for 11 years. The school has received some grants for building improvements over the years, but this has been done in a very piecemeal fashion and is akin to putting a sticking plaster over a broken leg.

Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin is one of Finglas's success stories. It is well integrated into the community, providing employment, cultural outreach and awareness of the Irish language. It has been to the fore in assisting the families of pupils and the community during the pandemic by providing food parcels and other supports for parents and disadvantaged members of the community. The school needs a proper investment for its 300-plus pupils and 30 staff. Despite visits by departmental officials in 2019 and 2020, management is none the wiser as to the long term future of the school. It has been on a waiting list for works since at least 2010 and, according to the most current information, it is still at pre-stage 1. Huge sums of money are spent each year heating the school. Having run out of room, two prefabricated buildings were installed in 2019. A third will have to be installed to accommodate an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, unit, for which the school is in the process of making an application.

In ainneoin gach rud, tá an scoil ag déanamh jab an-mhaith ar fad agus táim an-bhródúil as an méid atá déanta acu.

4:10 pm

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as an gceist agus as an deis chun freagra a thabhairt dó ó thaobh na scoile seo. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the current position in regard to the major building project for Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin in Finglas East, Dublin 11. The project is included in my Department's construction programme, which is being delivered under the national development plan, NDP, as part of the Project Ireland 2040 framework. Under Project Ireland 2040, the education sector will receive a total of approximately €4.4 billion in capital investment over the period from 2021 to 2025. This significant investment allows us to move forward with certainty with our ambitious plans to deliver high-quality building projects, with a real and particular focus on sustainability, for school communities throughout Ireland. The investment will build on the good progress being made on adding capacity to cater for demographic changes and provision for children with special educational needs. It will also facilitate an increased focus on the modernisation of existing school stock and help to transition the school system to an era of net-zero carbon by 2050.

As the Deputy will be aware, the brief for the Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin project provides for the development of a 16-classroom school, with an additional two classrooms for pupils with special educational needs, including the refurbishment of the existing school buildings, minor demolitions, construction of a new school extension and all associated works on the school's existing site at Glasanaon Road. The major building project for Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin will be delivered under the Department's accelerated delivery of architectural planning and tendering, ADAPT, programme. Under the programme, a professional external project manager co-ordinates and drives the design team to achieve the best possible timeframe for the delivery of projects through the stages of architectural planning, tender and on to construction.

The tender process to appoint a project manager has just been completed. The first step to be undertaken by the project manager will be the tender competitions for the appointment of design teams for a number of school building projects. This will include the appointment of the design team to progress the project for Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin. The Department will shortly advise the school authorities of further developments in regard to these appointments. Upon appointment, the design team will proceed to stage 1 of architectural planning, that is, preliminary design, whereby the team will assess the site and current school buildings and prepare their initial sketch schemes. The scope and extent of works to be carried out will be established during this early stage. My Department is currently engaging with the school's patron to explore the potential for providing interim accommodation on the school site to facilitate the establishment of a special class for the 2022-23 academic year.

I appreciate all the points the Deputy has made, which are to his credit. I want to be clear that this project is now moving in a positive direction in terms of the appointment of a project manager and the other steps that will follow in suit.

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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Táim an-bhuíoch den Aire as an bhfreagra sin, ach tá rud éigin ann nach bhfuil soiléir domsa. Luaigh sí go bhféadfadh sé a bheith cúig bliana sula gcuirfear tús leis an obair sin. The appointment of a project manager is a great move forward but I am worried about the timescale for organising the design team and moving on from there. I would not like to see this drag on. I was involved in the founding of Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin in the WFTRA Hall, along with Seán Óg, who was involved in Gaelscoil Naomh Foinnbarra. At the time, there was no Irish language school in Finglas, despite its large population. It was an absolute shambles and a shame. Since then, however, Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin has gone from strength to strength and there is a huge demand for places. As I said, there are prefabricated buildings in place and we are seeking an ASD unit, but these are interim measures. We want to see the proper buildings being constructed. I hope the project will be prioritised, as the Minister said, and will move quickly. The Gaelscoil is one of the great successes for the Irish language and for people in Finglas and the areas it serves.

I cannot say enough about the people who have been involved in the school. There has been massive input by the local community, volunteers and others to get this project off the ground to where we are now. People talk about the Gaeltacht and other areas. Ballymun is located beside us in Finglas and there is lots of Irish spoken there. Ballymun has three Gaelscoileanna and we have one now in Finglas. I really hope this project moves quickly. It will be a dream come true for me if it does happen.

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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Tuigim cé chomh deacair is a bhí sé go dtí seo agus tá a fhios agam freisin go bhfuil géarghá ann an scoil a chur chun cinn go tapa. I absolutely understand all the Deputy has outlined and I appreciate the enormous tribute that is richly deserved by the community, which has worked so hard to advance the school and promote it. Indeed, credit is due also to the community for the manner in which it has embraced the school and ensured it has thrived, as the Deputy outlined. I appreciate how important it is to everybody involved in the school that the project be advanced as a priority.

I thank the Deputy for his graciousness in acknowledging the positive step forward that is the completion of the tender process for the appointment of a project manager. The project is part of the ADAPT programme, as I indicated. The next step is the appointment of the design team, which will incorporate a consultant architect, civil structural engineer, building services engineer, quantity surveyor and others. Once it begins, that process will take approximately 12 weeks. The design team will then begin stage 1 of the architectural planning, which will encompass the site investigation, including the condition of the existing school buildings, which is an important consideration, site suitability, the initial sketch scheme and all of that. The next steps will be submission of a pre-stage 1 report to the Department for review and sign-off to develop an agreed design option, followed by the submission of a summary stage 1 report to the Department, based on the agreed preferred design option, for review and approval.

I am absolutely determined that this process will move as quickly as possible for all of the reasons the Deputy rightly outlined. I commend everybody involved in growing and nurturing this very significant school.