Seanad debates

Thursday, 12 May 2005

12:00 pm

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Fine Gael)
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A high standard has been set, today on the Adjournment debate, so I hope I am up to speed.

It is appropriate that we have had a debate on rural housing today. In this context we tend to talk about addressing depopulation and the decline of services, whether post offices, shops or schools. There is a connection as regards the corollary of depopulation and the decline of rural schools. The corollary is the positive aspect which arises in certain parts of rural Ireland, in particular Donegal, whereby development plans have been put in place to populate areas that were otherwise in decline. The specific area I am highlighting today is Portlean. Portlean national school is the victim of success. There has been an upsurge in the numbers of people moving to the area and deciding to rear their families in the locality.

Portlean national school is a two-teacher school with a core enrolment of around 53. Next year, however, that number will increase, and once it goes over 53 the school will require an extra teacher. At present, two teachers work in two classrooms. There is also a special needs teacher who must be facilitated in the staff room, which is not good enough. I am calling on the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, to act seriously as regards the need for a third classroom, plus a general purpose room to facilitate pupils availing of special needs education. The general purpose room will also be needed once implementation of the PE curriculum is announced, whenever that will be. However, many small schools are facilitated on a short-term basis through the provision of prefabs. This is a short-term solution, which is not good enough because two or three years down the line more space is required as enrolment increases. Portlean national school meets the criterion of the small schools initiative that works must cost between €250,000 and €400,000 similar to nearby national schools at Dromfad and Browne Knowe, which benefited under the initiative.

I ask the Minister of State to convey the strong representations of the board of management of Portlean national school for an additional classroom as a matter of urgency to the Minister for Education and Science. This can be achieved through the small schools initiative and I call on the Minister to deal with this case as a priority. It has been raised in the past through different mechanisms. For example, the Donegal members of Government have lobbied on behalf of the school. An initiative will be undertaken by professional lobbyists in the next two to three weeks. The school, staff and students require approval under the small schools initiative and I ask the Minister of State to follow up on this.

Tim O'Malley (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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I thank the Senator for raising the matter, as it affords me the opportunity to outline to the House the Department of Education and Science's strategy for capital investment in education projects and the position regarding the application received in the Department for additional accommodation at Portlean national school, Kilmacrennan, County Donegal.

Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task, given the legacy of decades of under-investment in this area, as well as the requirement to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. Nonetheless, since taking office, the Government has shown a sincere determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. Funding under the schools modernisation programme has been progressively increased in recent years to achieve our goal with a total of almost €2 billion allocated for this purpose since 1998. It is the largest investment programme in the history of the State.

Since the beginning of the year, the Minister for Education and Science has made a number of announcements relating to the schools building and modernisation programme. This year €270 million will be allocated to primary schools and €223 million to post-primary schools for building works. This represents an increase of 14% on the 2004 allocation.

The programmes supported will include the following: 141 major building projects on site and a further 28 due to commence in the coming weeks; 122 major school building projects, which will prepare tenders and move to construction during 2005; 192 primary schools, which have been invited to take part in the small and rural schools initiative and the devolved scheme for providing additional accommodation; up to 120 schools which have been given approval to rent temporary premises, pending delivery of a permanent solution to their long-term accommodation needs; 43 schools that have been authorised to begin architectural planning for their major projects; 590 schools that were recently given approval to commence essential small scale projects under the summer works scheme; and 124 schools approved to progress through the architectural planning process with immediate effect, ranging from new school building projects to extension and refurbishment projects, allowing for the continuous roll-out of projects under the schools building and modernisation programme.

The new schools building and modernisation programme 2005-09 will be underpinned not only by a significant increase in overall funding but also by major improvements in the administration of the funding. Devolving more funding to local level through the summer works scheme and the small and rural schools initiative will allow schools to move ahead much more quickly with smaller projects while also delivering better value for money.

The school authorities of Portlean national school made an application to the Department in May 2004 for the provision of an additional classroom. Enrolment at the school has necessitated a further examination of its long-term accommodation needs to ensure the provision of capital funding is appropriate to meet this need. The project will be considered under the schools building and modernisation programme.

I thank the Senator for the opportunity to outline the position of this school project and to highlight the enormous work being undertaken by the Department of Education and Science in implementing the schools building and modernisation programme to ensure infrastructure of the highest standard is available for all our school going population.