Seanad debates

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

4:00 pm

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Progressive Democrats)
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Rarely in my relatively short career as a politician have I received such a number of telephone calls, e-mails or letters as I have on this matter. I have been in touch with a number of very concerned parents in Glenamaddy in north-east Galway about a commitment given by the Minister for Education and Science and her Department in 2001 that planning for a new community school in Glenamaddy could go ahead immediately. A funding commitment was also given with the funding to be accessed once other aspects of the school planning process were complete.

The school was designed, a site was acquired and planning permission was sought and acquired. A tendering process was put in place and a contractor was appointed. The planning permission is due to expire in June. The people of Glenamaddy and its hinterland are becoming increasingly concerned that the commitment made in 2001 will not be honoured. We are getting to a point where the planning permission will be invalid and a new planning process must be engaged in.

Politicians often wonder why people are becoming increasingly cynical about politics and the political process. It is no wonder such cynicism exists and is growing when a commitment given in 2001 that a new school was about to be put in place has yet to be honoured in 2008.

One parent put it very well in an e-mail she sent me last week which stated:

How can the teachers in Glenamaddy community school teach science without a proper purpose built science room? How can new curricula truly be implemented? Our children will have to imagine rather than explore, investigate, experiment, test or analyse. The same is true of other subjects — art, languages, engineering. Why should the children of Glenamaddy and surrounding areas not get the education to which they are entitled in Glenamaddy?

My oldest child is in fifth class, I first heard talk of the new school bulling when she was in junior infants. I think she and the children of Glenamaddy have waited long enough.

Will the Minister of State clarify the Department's commitment to providing a new school in Glenamaddy? I would be grateful for a swift and honest response.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity of outlining to the House the Department's position regarding the provision of a new community school for Glenamaddy, County Galway.

It is proposed to build a new community school in Glenamaddy with a floor area of approximately 5,200 sq. m. to cater for a long term projected enrolment of 550 pupils. This new school is to cater for the amalgamation of St. Joseph's convent school and the vocational school. The amalgamated school is housed on the site of St Joseph's convent school in a mixture of temporary and permanent accommodation.

Tenders were originally received for the proposed new school in 2004. However, owing to delays acquiring the site under the redress scheme it was not possible to accept a tender at that time. The project was re-tendered in 2007 and a tender report for the project is being reviewed by the Department of Education and Science.

Under the lifetime of the national development plan approximately €4.5 billion will be invested in schools. Approximately €600 million will be spent this year on school buildings. This is an unprecedented level of capital investment which reflects the commitment of the Government to continue its programme of sustained investment in primary and post-primary schools. This investment will facilitate the provision of new schools and extensions in developing areas and the improvement of existing schools through the provision of replacement schools, extensions or large-scale refurbishments over the next few years.

The progression of all large-scale building projects from initial design stage through to construction phase is considered on an ongoing basis in the context of the national development plan and the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. The project referred to by the Senator likewise will be considered in that context. I give the assurance that the Minister and her Department are committed to providing a new community school for Glenamaddy at the earliest possible date.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Progressive Democrats)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. It is reasonably encouraging. I impress upon him the urgency of this matter as the planning permission runs out in the middle of this year. The planning process for serious infrastructure such as a new school is quite convoluted and the community of Glenamaddy would not like to have to start the planning process again.

With regard to the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme, during recent months when making inquiries on behalf a number of schools in east Galway departmental officials told me they were instructed by the Minister to prioritise new school building programmes on the east coast of the country. While I welcome this as communities on the east coast are devoid of any school facilities, it should not and must not be done to the detriment of schools in the west and pupils being educated in sub-standard and unsafe schools.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister is well aware of the needs of educational facilities in areas outside the greater Dublin area. This matter has been brought to her attention and she is cognisant of this fact.