Thursday, 14 July 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla (Atógáil) - Topical Issue Debate (Resumed)
Oideachas trí Ghaeilge
I expect Deputy Lawless, my constituency colleague, to join me. I hope he is running across the corridors as we speak. Tá an t-ádh linn scoil cosúil le Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad a bheith againn i dtuaisceart Chill Dara. Is scoil iontach í. Cuireann sí go mór le deiseanna oideachais i Maigh Nuad. I am glad to share my time and am glad that an Teachta Lawless has made it. I give my best wishes to Deputy Durkan, who is at home with Covid. He would be here if he could, as would Deputy Catherine Murphy, if she were free.
Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad is a multi-denominational secondary school that came from the heart of the community in north Kildare and from grá don teanga i gCill Dara. There is a passion in Maynooth and beyond to nurture it. It is a credit to the príomhoide, Mícheál Ó Ceoinín, na múinteoirí involved in its running and the management. It is blessed to have a parents' body that has been diligent in its communication with all Oireachtas Members about the Gaelcholáiste and the health and safety concerns they have for their children. We have been waiting for this school for 20 years in the north of the county. In this phase of the development of the school, it is operating upstairs in a shopping centre, above Dunnes Stores in Manor Mills in Maynooth, with dangerous roads for the children to cross to do most of their four subjects. They have to go up to the old school building where Maynooth Post Primary School and Maynooth Community College were. That is why I mentioned health and safety.
We have been here before in Maynooth. Transition year, TY, students from Maynooth used to do part of their education above the shopping centre in Maynooth and there was a big worry about the children going up and down. The school opened two years ago with 30 students. It now has 60 and will have over 100 this September. Parents are naturally anxious about them going up and down. I have been inundated with reports.
I am sharing time with my colleague, Deputy Cronin, and we send our best wishes to Deputy Durkan. Deputy Catherine Murphy supports the motion as well. We in Kildare tend to work together on these issues, which is a good and collaborative way to finish out the term. It is very much a team effort.
The points have already been outlined. Gaelscoil Chill Dara, which took a long time to get established, campaigned for many years to have this second level Gaelscoil established in Kildare. The current mayor of Kildare, Councillor Naoise Ó Cearúil, is involved and his father, Colm Ó Cearúil, led the campaign for over 20 if not 30 years to get it to this point. It is only in the last couple of years they have established the school. Though they have a new school, they are playing second fiddle and are receiving the hand-me-downs of the other schools. Maynooth Post Primary School moved up the road from the old school site to the new site on Moyglare Road. It is a brand spanking new school which took significant effort to get going and thankfully is up and running. The old building has been nominated potentially for the Gaelcholáiste but that is not even in place yet because many of the students are in the Manor Mills Shopping Centre, and going to and fro from the shopping centre down the stairs, across the road and into the old school building. They are the little sister or brother getting the hand-me-downs, rather than getting a building fit for purpose.
The difficulty is not only for the current students. There is a significant demand for education through the medium of Irish at second level in Kildare. That momentum and head of steam they built up and the excitement of finally getting their Gaelcholáiste approved in the area is being derailed and threatened because the lack of capacity and uncertainty means those children and families are in some cases understandably sending their children elsewhere, including outside of the county, or back into an English-language medium.
This is for the benefit of all, including the medium of Irish, families in the school and prospective families. I think progress is being made. I have been talking to the Minister, Deputy Foley. Perhaps the Minister of State can give us the latest position on that.
Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí as an gceist seo. I am taking this question on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Foley, who is regrettably unavailable. I send best wishes to Deputy Durkan and Deputy Catherine Murphy and thank the Deputies for working on this issue together. It is admirable.
I will outline to the House the position with regard to the provision of permanent accommodation for Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad, County Kildare. As the Deputies may be aware, Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad was established in 2020 as a multi-denominational Irish-medium Gaelcholáiste under the patronage of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board. The school has a current enrolment of 66 pupils for the 2021-22 school year. The school is currently located in interim accommodation in Manor Mills pending delivery of permanent accommodation.
As to the permanent accommodation solution for the school, it is intended that the Gaelcholáiste will be located in the former Maynooth Post Primary School building. Pending delivery of the school's permanent accommodation, the Department recently approved funding to Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board, KWETB, to undertake refurbishment works in the former Maynooth Post Primary School property to facilitate access to additional specialist accommodation by Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad. This accommodation includes science, woodwork and home economics rooms. The delivery of the refurbishment project has been devolved to KWETB. The Department of Education understands that this project is due to be completed within the next two months.
With regard to determining the options available in meeting the Gaelcholáiste's permanent accommodation needs, the Department of Education permitted KWETB to carry out an options study of the former post-primary school building, which is in KWETB'S ownership. In order to ensure that optimal use is made of this property and in support of the achievement of value for money, KWETB appointed a consultant to undertake an options study of the property concerned. KWETB has furnished the options study report to the Department and this is currently being assessed. The Department is examining the proposals put forward in the study and it is its intention to consult KWETB regarding the matter in the near future with a view to finalising a long-term plan for the school. I hope the Deputies will welcome that.
With regard to delivery of the school's permanent accommodation and the promised refurbishment, works have not started yet. The school has been aware of this for several months according to the parents in Maynooth. I can tell the Minister of State that you could not move anything with regard to their children's education without the parents of Maynooth knowing. It actually has not started yet. This school opened in the middle of a pandemic and it has done really well to reach a student population of more than 100 for the coming year. Students have to go to the old site for four subjects, namely, science, woodwork, technology and PE. That is a lot of travelling and they are losing approximately 20 minutes of education time with the ten minutes' walk either way. It is a lot of time to be losing. The school is severely hampered and there is no plan. A shopping centre is not the right place for a school. I hope the Minister will get back to me with regard to this work not having actually started. I would appreciate it if he could check that out and get back to me.
I thank the Minister of State for the update. As has been said, the refurbishment works are overdue and need to progress. While they will be welcome when they do take place, these works are really a sticking plaster. Some clarity on the long-term plan is needed. It is not a bad idea for the school to occupy the site of the old post-primary school but, as I have said, it is not suitable in its current condition. It would need a significant upgrade either through knocking it down and rebuilding or through a complete refurbishment of the building. The school is looking for clarity. The school, its board of management, the principal and the school team have managed well and are putting their best foot forward but they are really trying to attract pupils. This problem really arises from the school's success because it has been so popular since approval for this new Gaelcholáiste was secured. However, as I have said, that progress is threatened with derailment if parents have to decide in the next two or three years whether their children will attend school in a shopping centre or in an old dilapidated school building. Perhaps they will vote with their feet and send their children elsewhere. In the long term, that could undermine the viability of the school, which would be a shame as it is the culmination of a couple of decades' work to get it open in the first place. It is thriving but it needs that certainty. I believe the Minister, Deputy Foley, is to meet with Deputies after the break. That is welcome and would represent progress.
I am not sure whether I will get to speak again. I see I will not. I put on record my thanks to the Minister of State for help with another matter local to Kildare, in Bodenstown Cemetery, where he was very helpful to the community. I want to acknowledge that while I am on my feet. The Minister of State is on overtime tonight with all of the Topical Issue debates.
As the initial notes stated, the Department has approved funding to KWETB to undertake refurbishment works. If they have not commenced, it may be a local matter regarding getting contractors to carry out the work.
We can find out locally. It is positive that the options study was furnished to the Department. That gives a chink of light. The Department is assessing and examining those proposals. It is important that all of the Deputies keep a bit of friendly pressure on the Minister to get this really important matter advanced as a matter of priority.