Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 September 2023

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

School Accommodation

10:00 am

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, who has responsibility for special education and inclusion. There is little to no capacity available for national school places in Ballinasloe town. What is the strategy from the Department of Education for school places for children in Ballinasloe now and for the next five years? What happens when home tuition grants have to be put in place? There is the cost of that alone, but there is also an issue with the lack of teachers or school tutors to perform this role.

Since I was elected a councillor for the Ballinasloe municipal district area in 2019, I have raised issues related to school capacity in the town with the Minister of State, who has been very helpful in some regards, and the Department. Ballinasloe is a growing town, which is fantastic for the east Galway and south Roscommon area, yet children are left without a school place. Families in the town are panicking and trying to book school places three or four years in advance.

The 2022 census showed that 7,361 people live in the Ballinasloe urban area. We have 554 children from newborn to the age of four in the town. Galway County Council, through its housing section, plans to allocate more than 120 units in 2023 and 2024. We can already see 70 stunning new high-spec homes close to the Tesco store, made up of three- and four-bedroom units. These are to be allocated and will be much-needed homes for families in the Ballinasloe area, in particular those in receipt of the housing assistance payment, HAP. This will open up rental property in the town. We are in dire need of it.

Given the increase in housing, it is fair to say we will have approximately another 100 children of schoolgoing age within six months in the Ballinasloe town area. Where are these children to go? I have spoken with principals and teachers in the area who are fearful of pressures in the time ahead. I have spoken with the educational welfare officer for the Ballinasloe area and the manager for the Galway-Roscommon-Mayo area. They have highlighted the real strain in Ballinasloe town. Parents are stressed. They are trying to book years in advance and trying to keep siblings together.

We have three national schools in the town. All the principals have come together in their own way. They have agreed to start enrolment on the same day next year. They have been doing this for the past few years to manage the pressure. The Minister of State will be familiar with St. Teresa's Special School in Ballinasloe town. It takes in children and young people with severe and complex needs. It is likely that we will have between 120 and 150 children starting mainstream junior infant classes in the Ballinasloe town area in September 2024. I honestly do not know where those children are going to go. Scoil An Chroí Naofa is a DEIS level 1 school with 288 pupils. I have worked closely with the school and the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, the Minister, Deputy Foley, the board of management and the principal, Ms Connor. We are delighted the decision to approve planning has been made. It was promised 27 years ago when the school amalgamated but now we have a decision for a new design for this school. It will have 300 students and 16 classrooms but there are planning conditions. I ask the Minister of State for her support to move this project forward so that the design team will work with the school to meet the planning conditions. Even so, the school will take three years to build if we get the green light for everything and priority for the budget in a streamlined way. I am talking about what will happen now and for the next three to five years.

Creagh National School, our second national school, has 440 pupils. I have worked with the principal, Ms Ní Cholleráin Bleahene and the board of management, as well as the special educational needs organiser. With the Minister of State's support, for which I am grateful, two additional classrooms will shortly open in the school. I will be very pleased to welcome her to Ballinasloe in November to visit this school, which is also at capacity. There is a waiting list of 24 pupils and two new classes. We are in dire need. I would appreciate the Minister of State's support on this.


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