Seanad debates

Thursday, 24 April 2008

1:00 pm

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire and I wish to share time with my constituency colleague Senator Wilson.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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St. Mary's primary school in Virginia has an enrolment of 355 students. The school was originally built to cater for 150 students. Since being built, St. Mary's has never had an upgrade. The school uses ten portakabins, two of which were paid for by the parents in the parish at a cost of €58,000. The total cumulative cost of the rent of the portakabins to date is €98,473. I have itemised the details on this and can supply them to the Minister. The total cost of installation of portakabins to date is €65,638. The grand total of the cost of portakabins to date is €222,111. Another portakabin for the staff is due for installation for the 2008-09 school year.

Based on the projected demographic profile of the area, we expect that further portakabins will be required in 2010 and 2012. Based on current spending and the new costs associated with these projected requirements, we calculate that the total outlay for installation and rent will have risen to approximately €1 million by 2014. The 2006 census showed the population in the school catchment area was 3,188. This is an increase of 34.5% from 2002. It is projected to exceed 4,000 by 2010. A total of 633 residential units have been constructed in the area since 1 January 1999. As of 30 June 2007, a total of 108 residential units were under construction and 403 planning permissions were outstanding.

After a meeting of the parents' association in December 2006, St. Mary's national school was placed on a list for future school development to have 16 classrooms with ancillary rooms. This meant ten classrooms would be added to the existing six classrooms. That was followed by a ministerial announcement on 5 April 2007. On 22 May 2007, a technical team from the Department of Education and Science visited and inspected the school.

On 11 June 2007, there was a meeting in the Department outlining the steps to build the extension which will take approximately 30 months to complete. Between September and November 2007, there were weekly telephone calls and at the end of November, the project progressed up to another stage. On 26 November 2007, e-tenders opened for statements of interest from architects, quantity surveyors and engineers for 30 days. On 26 December 2007, the Department extended the e-tender process to 7 January 2008. There were 95 applicants. The matter was to be progressed as quickly as possible in order to keep things moving. A committee was appointed to provide a short-list of professionals and letters were sent to unsuccessful candidates. On the day those letters were sent to unsuccessful candidates, the committee was told to contact the Department of Education and Science and seek documentation for the next stage — the awarding stage, narrowing the candidates down to one professional in each field.

Despite several telephone calls, the Department of Education and Science will not forward the required information to progress to the next stage. The school has been told the project is on hold. At what stage is St. Mary's national school? What does it need to do to move to the next stage? When does the Minister envisage it will achieve that?

The school's electrical system requires upgrading due to the extra cabins. The water system does not have the required capacity and also requires upgrading. Children have reported that portakabin classrooms are cold during winter. As a member of the teaching profession for many years, the Minister will appreciate my next point. Play areas have been reduced due to the cabins. Children are not allowed to play on grassy areas during wet weather which means 355 children now play on greatly curtailed tarmac areas and they are not allowed to run.

During the last general election campaign, the parents were told the building was imminent, so there is some local anxiety at the present situation. I look forward to a positive answer from the Minister. Will she indicate how the school might progress to the next stage?

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister and thank Senator O'Reilly for sharing his time. There is an urgent need to appoint a design team to progress the provision of permanent accommodation for St. Mary's national school, Virginia, County Cavan. As Senator O'Reilly pointed out, St. Mary's currently has 350 students enrolled in the school which was originally built to cater for 150 students. There have been no upgrades to the school since it was initially built. I understand there are ten portakabins in use, two of which were paid for by the parents and the parish. Another portakabin is due for installation this September.

The population of Virginia in the 2006 census was 3,188 — an increase of 34.5% from the 2002 census. It is projected to exceed 4,000 by 2010. The status of residential units in Virginia as at 30 June last year was as follows: constructed since 1 January 1999, 633 units; under construction, 108 units; and outstanding permission, 403 units.

As the Minister is aware, our colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, has made ongoing representations to her and the Department of Education and Science in an attempt to speed up the provision of this very urgent project. Councillor Shane P. O'Reilly and members of the board of management of St. Mary's national school, in particular, Mr. Sean Dowd, have been in constant contact with me in regard to this issue. There is frustration among the parents of the children attending the school and I urge the Minister to progress this urgent request as quickly as possible.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir O'Reilly and Senator Wilson for raising this issue. I am very conscious of the story in regard to St. Mary's national school in Virginia because of the enormous expansion in the numbers in the school and the development of the area around Virginia. It is for that reason we indicated last year that we would appoint a design team.

The Senators will know €4.5 billion has been allocated specifically for fast developing areas and for the school building programme generally. It is in that context we are trying to undertake as many refurbishments, extensions, replacements of school buildings, etc.

Bearing in mind the need of St. Mary's national school, I can confirm the process of appointing the design team has commenced. The appointment of the team will enable the school to progress. That process has now started so I do not anticipate much further delay in that regard.

Moving through the system must always be done in the context of whatever money is available. However, I recognise St. Mary's has considerable need and it has been drawn to my attention not only by the two Senators here but particularly by the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith. It is our intention to give the school top quality accommodation as soon as possible.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for her reply.