Thursday, 21 February 2008
Schools Building Projects
I raise once again on the Adjournment of Seanad Éireann the urgent need for the Minister for Education and Science to intervene and ensure there will be early progress in the development of a new national school at Rahan near Mallow in County Cork. I first raised the matter of school development problems at Rahan national school during the summer of 1987 and it is extraordinary that almost 21 years later the same topic is before Seanad Éireann for discussion. This shows how slow progress has been and how disappointing the responses of various Governments through the years.
Rahan is a very successful and popular national school in the rural hinterland of Mallow. It has become a victim of its own success because from an accommodation perspective, the facilities are inadequate. The school is dependent on prefabricated accommodation and there are insufficient leisure and sporting facilities, which makes life very difficult for teachers who must strain against the odds to provide the educational resources required.
Through fund-raising in conjunction with the church authorities, the community has generated enough money to purchase a suitable site for a new national school and the Department is aware of this, as are local planning officials from the council. The site is deemed suitable from a planning perspective but it is still a green field and there has been no progress on a new building.
Matters came to a head some weeks ago when a rat infestation caused parents to withdraw pupils from the school for a few days. The story made headlines in the national television and radio media. Problems facing parents, teachers, pupils and the board of management have reached such a level that despair has set in. Meetings have taken place locally and there is a strong demand for local politicians to respond and make our views firmly known to the Minister of State and his Government colleagues. I believe a meeting took place in Tullamore between the departmental inspectorate and school management representatives. We welcome all this but must now move beyond words into actions.
The priority is a new school at the earliest possible date but I am realistic enough to accept it will not be built next week or next month. Whenever building begins it will be some time before the school is completed but I would like to see a decision made soon to build the new school. In the interim there are accommodation issues that need to be addressed urgently and I appeal to the Minister of State to assist in this regard.
It is 21 years since this issue was first raised in Leinster House and while prefabs and emergency accommodation probably made up the subject matter at the time, a new school is now required at Rahan, Mallow, County Cork. I ask the Minister of State to respond as favourably as he can and impress upon the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, the importance of resources to build the new school being provided in the very near future. Can he ensure in the interim that the pupils at Rahan need not learn in rat-infested facilities and will have at least the basic standard of accommodation due to all pupils in this country in 2008? I look forward to the Minister of State's reply and his strongly making the case to the Minister that the community of Rahan has waited long enough.
I thank the Senator for raising the matter as it affords me the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin. I want to outline to the House the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and the position regarding the provision of a new school at Rahan County Cork.
Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary schools 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 need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. The Government has shown a focused 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.
Under the lifetime of the national development plan almost €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 refurbishment projects over the next few years.
Rahan national school is a co-educational primary school with an enrolment of 91 pupils at September 2007. The school staff consists of a principal, three mainstream class teachers and one permanent learning support and resource teacher.
The school has submitted an application to the Department for capital funding towards the provision of a new school and the long-term staffing figure on which accommodation needs will be based has been determined and notified to the school authority. It has been agreed that appropriate accommodation should be provided to cater for a long-term projected staff of a principal and eight mainstream assistants, plus appropriate ancillary accommodation.
Applications for large-scale capital funding are assessed and banded in accordance with published prioritisation criteria. These criteria were agreed following consultation with the education partners and the progression of individual projects is considered in the context of the multi-annual school building and modernisation programme.
Following a recent meeting with officials from the Department, the school authorities of Rahan have applied for the replacement of the existing temporary accommodation. This application has been approved by the Department.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter and allowing me to respond on behalf of the Minister. He raised some issues relating to the school and I will bring them to the attention of the Minister in the coming days with a view to progressing the project.
The Minister of State mentioned that applications for large-scale capital funding are assessed and banded in accordance with published prioritisation criteria. Where does Rahan stand in that process? Has this assessment taken place and where is Rahan national school on the list for the banding scheme? This information could help solidify my response to the local community, removing it from the realm of the merely aspirational. I understand the Minister of State may not be able to answer now but perhaps he could get a response when he meets the Minister. Perhaps I could receive a letter on the matter from the Minister.