Seanad debates

Tuesday, 6 April 2004

5:00 pm

Tom Morrissey (Progressive Democrats)
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My reason for tabling this motion is that Castleknock Educate Together school has experienced tough beginnings in temporary places of accommodation over the past four or five years. Thankfully, within the last three years it has been provided with proper temporary accommodation on a school site at Beechpark in Castleknock. That school site was bought in 1981 and there is a long history surrounding the location of a school there. Castleknock Educate Together is being located on the site in temporary accommodation. The temporary permission was given by Fingal County Council two years ago on the express understanding that this would be the site for a permanent school. That was not surprising given that the county council in the late 1990s, when I was a member, changed the development plan from housing to amenity. This was to ensure houses would not be built on the land and that it would be reserved for a school site.

In 2000 the county council compiled a list of all permanent, temporary and reserved school sites throughout the Dublin 15 area. This listed Beechpark as a reserved school site. However, on seeking information recently for an additional classroom, Castleknock Educate Together was advised that the location would not be considered as a site for a permanent school. This has thrown the parents, children and teachers into shock and disarray. The school had been temporarily accommodated in Laurel Lodge and then had to move to the Navan Road. At long last it found a home at Beechpark and now it is being told by the county council that this is not suitable as a permanent site.

I am sure this will come as news to the Department of Education and Science which has owned the site since 1981. There have been three development plans in the area during that time, all of which have allowed for a school on this site. If this is not now going to be the site for a permanent school, which the Government has provided for under the school building programme with tenders to be invited for a permanent building later this year, the Department has a serious problem as have the parents. Where will the Department find a permanent site? I hope tabling this motion will make the telephones ring in Fingal County Council and that answers will be forthcoming as to why this situation has come about at this late stage.

The building comprises a two-storey development at present. Some 260 children are in the school and a further 60 are enrolled for next September. Supporting the case for Castleknock Educate Together to be recognised for permanent status is the fact it has a five-year enrolment programme undertaken over the past couple of years to prove to the Department that it has some permanency in the area. I hope the Minister of State in his reply will allay the fears of the school's management and parents about the statement made by Fingal County Council.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Morrissey for giving me the opportunity to outline on behalf of the Department of Education and Science the position on the Beechpark Avenue site in which the Castleknock Educate Together national school is located in temporary accommodation. The Department purchased the lands at Beechpark Avenue in 1983 to provide a post-primary school in the Castleknock area. At the time of purchase the site was zoned residential. Subsequently, a decision was made to build a school at Diswellstown and the site at Beechpark Avenue was no longer required for educational purposes. A motion to change thezoning of the site from residential to amenity was put to the local authority and despite the opposition of the county manager, it was passed.

Since 1985 St. Brigid's GAA club has been leasing the site on a temporary basis. The club has been refused a long-term lease. A deputation from St. Brigid's met with the previous Minister for Education and Science and it was agreed that an area of ground would be provided at the rear of the site to allow for its continuing use as a playing field by the club and other local and community groups. More recently, the Department gave permanent recognition to Castleknock Educate Together national school and decided to situate it on the Beechpark Avenue site, initially in temporary accommodation. The Department received planning permission from the local authority for the provision of an eight-classroom school in temporary accommodation. Senator Morrissey has suggested that this permission was granted on the presumption that there would be a permanent structure. It is now somewhat surprising to learn that this permission may not be forthcoming. However, I would like to make the point that this may be a verbal report, but the Department's consultants are currently preparing a planning application for a permanent school at Beechpark. As the application has not been lodged with the local authority, that body has not given a decision in the matter. However, I appreciate the parents are in shock and disarray at the suggestion, which hopefully is no more than that, that the site is not suitable for a permanent structure. A temporary permit was granted on the basis this would be a permanent structure eventually. I thank the Senator for raising the matter, and at the first available opportunity I will convey his strongly-held views to the Minister for Education and Science with a view to progressing this project.