Seanad debates

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Commencement Matters

Schools Building Projects Expenditure

10:30 am

Photo of Kathryn ReillyKathryn Reilly (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. On 30 September 2015, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, was in this House to speak on the budget. On health, education and social protection he said, "Our commitment to our citizens in these areas requires that we consider these trends into the future and make plans accordingly." Later in his speech, on the education brief, he spoke of, "our prioritisation of special education needs".

Last week, the Government announced €3.8 billion in capital funding for education. The document "Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021" notes on this funding that, "The key objective of this investment is to meet the demographic demand for school places, which will impact on the primary and post primary school sector during the period of the Plan and feed through to the further education and third level sectors thereafter." The purpose of this capital allocation under this plan at primary level is to fund the delivery of a further 19,000 primary school places required by 2018.

From previous Commencement matters that I have raised, I am acutely aware that in terms of funding allocation priority is afforded to where "population growth has been identified and that there is a demographic challenge facing the education system".Over the past couple of months I have repeatedly raised in this House, including as recent as last week, the 24% increase over the past five years in enrolment at the Holy Family school in Cootehill, County Cavan. The school is not included in the five-year construction plan announced in 2012. All going well in terms of progression of this project to the conclusion of Stage 2B, detailed design, including completion of the tender documents, will this school be allocated funding for the provision of new accommodation? I am aware that increasing demographic demand is a consideration in terms of funding allocation but there is a real and pressing need for new accommodation at this school given, as I said, enrolments there have increased by 24% over the past five years. The parents of children attending this school do not have the luxury of being able to pick and choose where their children go to school. As I have repeatedly stated, the catchment area stretches beyond the town and village to the county boundaries. As such, there is a demographic need for provision of this new accommodation. Taking into account the need for wheelchair and other specialised equipment in the school, increasing enrolments and the fact that current space is being utilised to maximum capacity, it would be impossible for anybody to deny that in providing funding for this project we would be addressing the challenge facing the education system.

What are the priorities of the new capital investment programme? Will projects outside the five-year construction plan be allocated funding under the new capital investment programme and, if so, what criteria will apply in respect of eligibility for that funding?


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