Seanad debates

Thursday, 29 May 2003

Adjournment Matters. - School Accommodation.


10:30 am

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, for coming to the Seanad to take my matter on the Adjournment. This issue relates to Griffeen Valley Educate Together national school and I hope the response will be positive.

There is a greater issue than the one I am raising today and it was mentioned by Senator Glynn and me on the Order of Business this morning, namely, the apparent shortage of primary school places in developing areas. I am sure the Minister of State knows that Lucan is the fastest growing area in the country, according to Central Statistics Office figures. There is a crisis in terms of the lack of school places for children, particularly at primary school level, which may affect the number of secondary school places in the future, if it has not already done so.

I have met parents who have had to bring their children to primary schools outside Lucan because they could not get school places in the area. I have also heard of many other such cases from friends and relatives of those affected. Many parents have contacted me because they are concerned that when they apply for school places for their children next year or in subsequent years, they will not get a place in Lucan. Many of the children involved are due to start school next year. I have heard stories about parents who fear they will have to keep their children at home until they are five or six years of age.

I made inquiries about this matter with the majority of schools in Lucan because I wanted to know the extent of the problem. I found that large numbers of children from Lucan were being turned away from local schools which are trying their best but they are struggling in terms of the provision of school places. Many school principals are distressed because they must turn children away. The schools confirmed to me that they were turning away children in their catchment areas. They are asking children to defer their education until they are older or look elsewhere. Children have not had any success to date in finding a school place in Lucan.

Bad planning is a major cause of this problem. However, it is not the fault only of the local authorities which must provide land for housing. They should do what they have done in Adamstown where housing is developed in conjunction with the provision of permanent school buildings. It should be mandatory to provide proper school accommodation. The Department of Education and Science is ultimately responsible. Children have a right to education which is enshrined in the Constitution. Every child should have a school place, preferably in the area in which he or she lives given the transport problems, particularly in the Dublin area. Planning is an issue because the Department and the local authorities did not anticipate the number of families with children of school going age who would move to new private estates and council housing in Lucan. Part of the problem is the length of time it takes to buy a house. The situation is particularly bad for the large number of non-nationals living in Lucan.

I call on the Minister and the Department to respond to the crisis I have identified. Lucan should be treated as an emergency area. Emergency prefabricated accommodation should be provided for new and established schools which have requested it. I know many schools have requested additional accommodation, including Griffeen Valley Educate Together national school. The Department should acquire the reserved sites for schools as soon as possible and start building permanent school buildings. A lot can be done now. Emergency prefabricated buildings must be provided. If they are provided this September on the reserved site for Griffeen Valley Educate Together national school, it will be able to take in two new junior infant classes. If it does not happen, the people concerned may not have anywhere else to go. This issue requires an emergency response.

Síle de Valera (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter since it affords me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position on Griffeen Valley Educate Together national school. The school opened in September 2002 with provisional recognition from the Department of Education and Science. It is currently housed in rented accommodation in the scout den in Lucan village.

During the period of provisional recognition it is the responsibility of the school patron to provide interim accommodation which must be capable of meeting the needs of the developing school until permanent recognition has been secured and the Department is in a position to acquire a site and provide a permanent school building. Interim accommodation must comply at all times with planning, fire, health and safety and building regulations.

In view of the restricted capacity of the scout den, which has a maximum capacity of 30, the promoters were advised to develop and implement an enrolment policy in line with the capacity of the available accommodation. This approach was essential to ensure there was no overcrowding that might create a health and safety problem for pupils and school staff. In response to its impending accommodation difficulties, the board of management of the school made a proposal to the Department to lease the site which has been reserved in the Griffeen Valley area for primary education purposes from the owners and house the school in temporary accommodation on the site.

The Department is acutely aware of the need for additional primary provision in the general Lucan area and exploring various options to ensure there will be adequate places available in September. In addition, it has instructed the Office of Public Works to commence negotiations on the acquisition of a site to facilitate the construction of a new school in Lucan. The Senator will appreciate that in view of the commercial sensitivity of the site acquisition process, the Department is not in a position to comment further on the matter at this time. I thank her for giving me the opportunity to outline the current position to the House.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.10 p.m. until 2.30p.m. on Tuesday, 10 June 2003.