Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

School Accommodation

9:30 am

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I am taking this Commencement matter on behalf of our colleague, the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, who is in the midlands this morning. The Department would like to thank the Senator for raising this matter, which provides me with an opportunity to outline the position on Castlebar Educate Together National School.

I would like to first state to the Senator that officials in the Department of Education are in regular contact with Educate Together regarding the current accommodation requirements for the school in question. I can confirm that the school was established as a four-class school under the terms of the divestment process. Nevertheless, the Department has agreed that the permanent accommodation solution will provide for eight classrooms and Department officials are working to put this solution in place as soon as possible. However, in the interim, and in line with agreed terms, the school has been instructed to take cognisance of its existing accommodation capacity when managing its enrolments. The current enrolment of the school is 134 pupils. While the Department is working to put a solution in place for the long-term needs of the school, additional accommodation has been provided for the school in recent years. In July 2022, the school was approved to proceed with rental of accommodation at a premises at Newport Road, which provided two additional mainstream classrooms. The school received approval to negotiate further with the owners of the premises for additional space to include one special education tuition room, a staff room and a toilet. It was necessary to obtain planning permission for this work, and this has since been obtained.

The Department is now prepared to provide capital funding for the necessary reconfiguration of this additional space for use by the school. I can also confirm that the Department is currently engaging in a site identification process for a long-term solution here. The Senator will appreciate that site identification and acquisition is a process that may take a significant period of time but I assure the Senator that this is a priority for the Department of Education.

The Senator will be aware that the main focus of the Department's resources over the last decade and for the coming period is on the provision of additional capacity to cater for increasing demographics, particularly at post-primary level, and for the provision to meet the needs of children with special educational needs. The Senator will appreciate that the immediate priority of the Department is to provide the required new and replacement school places each year to ensure that every child has a school place, including the thousands of children newly arrived in this country.

The Department of Education has successfully supported and facilitated the enrolment of more than 18,000 children from Ukraine in our primary and post-primary schools. Under Project Ireland 2040, the education sector will receive a total of approximately €4.4 billion in capital investment over the period 2021 to 2025. There will be a rolling five-year funding envelope, which will be updated annually for the period from 2026 to 2030 within the Government's overall NDP funding envelope of €136 billion in Exchequer capital. There is €165 billion in total capital, including the non-Exchequer funding, that will facilitate building modern and sustainable school infrastructure.

This significant investment allows us to move forward with certainty on our ambitious plans and deliver high-quality building projects with a real focus on sustainability for school communities across Ireland. The Department will continue to work to ensure that the capital investment in our schools is targeted in the most efficient and effective way to support schools in meeting the education needs of their students and communities.


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