Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Schools Building Projects
As the Minister of State is aware, Ballygarvan national school is in a growing area of County Cork. Its present school is grossly inadequate, and it is unfair on the students, parents and teachers who have to endure a legacy and litany of broken promises, false dawns and new beginnings. We have heard the usual story a number of times. I am disappointed that the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, is not present, as she should be here to answer to the people of Ballygarvan.
People are at the core of this discussion. The learning community of students, parents and teachers deserves to be educated, to have their children attend and to work in a campus in conditions that are acceptable in modern Ireland. The fundamental question is where we are in the process. Meetings have taken place, students are in prefabs and portakabins. I could list a litany of e-mails and letters I have received from parents. I have been at meetings in Ballygarvan where we have seen rat-infested prefabs, school books have been burned and students have had to go home to wash and put on clean clothes. The space and facilities are inadequate and this has been going on for almost ten years. The chronology has continued. When will building begin, when will it be completed and when will the students and staff move in? It is important we get the answers. Where are we on the purchase of land? The pupils, parents and teachers of Ballygarvan deserve a real answer and not just tokenism.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin. Senator Buttimer's raising this issue gives me the opportunity to outline to this House the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and the position on the building project for Ballygarvan national school.
Modernising facilities in approximately 3,200 primary and 730 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, the Government has shown a consistent 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. The Government has dramatically increased investment in the school building programme from just over €90 million in 1997 to almost €600 million this year. Under 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 Government's commitment to continue its programme of sustained investment in primary and post primary schools.
As Senator Buttimer may be aware, a developing areas unit was set up recently in the Department to focus on the school accommodation needs of rapidly developing areas. The main emphasis in 2008 is on providing sufficient school places in these developing areas, as well as delivering improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary school accommodation throughout the country.
On Ballygarvan national school specifically and Carrigaline generally, the developing areas unit of the Department has identified Carrigaline as an area of rapid development. A decision has been already taken to replace and expand the school. The new building, when complete, will be a 16 classroom school with appropriate ancillary accommodation. A suitable site has been identified for the school in question. Senator Buttimer raised this issue. The site comprises three plots of land with three separate vendors. A number of issues have arisen during the acquisition process and the Department is continuing to progress these outstanding issues in consultation with the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. When the site acquisition is complete, a building project for the school will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. While I am not in a position to give a timetable for the commencement of this project, the need for a new school building for the school in question is acknowledged by the Department. In the meantime temporary accommodation for the school has been approved by the Department as an interim measure to facilitate increased enrolments next September.
I again thank Senator Buttimer for affording me the opportunity to outline to this House the position on Ballygarvan national school. I will bring Senator Buttimer's comments on the need for new accommodation to the attention of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, without further delay.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply and I am conscious that it is not his Department. The site was identified a long time ago. We need information on when the site can be acquired and the process can begin. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Smith to bring it back to the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, that we need to put deadlines and times in place.
I understand that outstanding issues are being progressed through the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. All of us who deal with constituency work know how frustratingly slow some of these processes are. I will also bring that point to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Hanafin.