Tuesday, 26 February 2008
Schools Building Projects
I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Haughey, for taking this Adjournment matter. Although Gaelscoil Bharra has provided a fantastic education to its pupils for many years, it is still operating out of temporary facilities. Students have been accommodated in prefabricated cabins on the grounds of a GAA club since the school's establishment. It is a difficult environment in which to be taught in any type of weather and these conditions are unacceptable.
The incident that brought home to me the urgent need to act on behalf of the school, and which I have mentioned before in the House, was when the principal brought me into the area in which tuition is provided for pupils with special needs. This is the same small room used to house cleaning materials and maintenance equipment. Significant support is required from the Government to provide this school with suitable facilities. I understand that process is in motion but that it will take a long time for it to be implemented. In the interim, the grounds on which the school is located are in need of urgent work to prevent flooding and ensure a safe environment for pupils and teachers.
We are often reminded of the importance of education in terms of economic competitiveness and social development. Those views are all well and good until one gets down to the particular. In this case, a school that is doing a great job in awful circumstances seeks support from the Minister for Education and Science for work that will ensure it is as safe as possible for those who work and learn there. I will be grateful for any action the Minister of State can take on this.
Seán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and the current position in regard to the future plans for Gaelscoil Bharra in Cabra. Modernising facilities in our 3,300 primary and 731 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. Nonetheless, since taking office, the Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of school buildings and to ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.
The Government has dramatically increased investment in the schools building programme to almost €600 million this year. During the lifetime of the national development plan, almost €4.5 billion will be invested in schools. 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. It will underpin a particular emphasis on the delivery of additional school places in rapidly developing areas while continuing to deliver on the Government's commitment to delivering improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary accommodation throughout the State. It will also enable the purchase of sites to facilitate the smooth delivery of the schools building programme, with the focus again on site requirements in rapidly developing areas.
Turning to the specific matter in hand, the Office of Public Works, OPW, which acts on behalf of the Department of Education and Science in regard to site acquisitions generally was requested to source a greenfield site for this school. On foot of advertising, no proposals were received for a greenfield site in the Cabra area. Further to this, the OPW was requested by the Department to look into building a permanent school on the existing site. Several issues have arisen in regard to this proposal for which, I understand, clarification is being sought. The school authorities will be notified immediately when progress is made.
I take on board the Senator's points in regard to the emergency nature of some of these works and I will bring that to the attention of the schools building section.
I thank the Minister of State for a comprehensive response that outlines the long-term prospects for the school. I emphasise the mid-term need in terms of the quality of the prefabricated buildings. Anybody who sees them will acknowledge that something must be done to provide alternative accommodation. I would be grateful if the Minister of State would raise this with the relevant unit in his Department.