Seanad debates

Thursday, 2 October 2008

1:00 pm

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Progressive Democrats)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Haughey, and thank him for taking this matter. There is a long-standing and proud tradition of second level education in Kinvara in south Galway. It is almost two years since the Sisters of Mercy, who operated a facility for 150 years, announced to the community in south Galway that they were no longer in a position to continue to operate it. After protracted negotiations, a commitment was given by the Government to step into the breach and provide a new second level co-educational facility in Kinvara to serve south Galway. That commitment was conditional on the Sisters of Mercy agreeing to continue their role in education in Kinvara until 2012 or such time as a new facility would come on stream.

The last time I raised this issue on the Adjournment, I was informed that the Office of Public Works had been requested to begin the process of identifying and acquiring a site for the school. I hope the response from the Minister of State will give me some indication that there has been progress in this area. There is a real concern in Kinvara that unless there is definite and concrete progress in identifying the site and in starting the design and build process for the school, the commitment given by the Sisters of Mercy may not remain as steadfast as it is at present. We need to see proactive engagement on the part of the Department of Education and Science and the OPW to move this issue on. It is extremely urgent that something is done in the near future.

There is concern among the community of Kinvara in south Galway that the momentum behind the provision of this school in May 2007 seems to have dissipated somewhat. The Department of Education and Science carried out in-depth research in the south Galway area, including surveys and polls of the number of children attending primary education. Following this research, the Department concluded that there was a definite need for a such a second level facility in south Galway and that it should be based in Kinvara.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán 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 to the House the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and the current position regarding the provision of a new second level school in Kinvara, County Galway.

Modernising facilities in our existing building stock as well as responding to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth is a significant challenge and one which will be a priority for the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe.

This Government has dramatically increased investment in the school building programme 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.

It will underpin a particular emphasis on the delivery of additional school places in rapidly developing areas while continuing to develop this Government's commitment to delivering improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary accommodation throughout the country. It will also enable the purchase of sites to facilitate the smooth delivery of the school building programme, again with the focus being on site requirements in rapidly developing areas.

The position in regard to the provision of a new second level school in the northern environs of the area referred to is as follows. The Commission on School Accommodation conducted a survey of school accommodation in the area to determine the location of the proposed post primary school and to identify other locations where additional school places may be required over the next five to ten years. The commission published its report in January 2008 which recommended that a co-educational post-primary school for approximately 800 students should be provided in the area in question. When a new school has been approved, a number of procedures-processes must be undertaken and these can take some time to complete. The main stages are the identification and acquisition of a suitable site, design of the building, application-granting of planning permission, invitation to seek tenders and construction.

The further progression of the proposed project, including the acquisition of a site for the school will be considered in the context of the capital budget available to the Department of Education and Science for school buildings generally. In light of many competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative time frame for the progression of the project at this time. Officials from the Department recently met the trustees of Seamount College, Kinvara, in regard to this and other issues. The Department has appraised the Mercy Order of the situation.

Projects are selected for inclusion in the school building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need. This is reflected in the band rating assigned to a project which indicates the urgency, type and extent of work required at a school. The band rating system involves all applications for capital funding being assessed in the planning and building unit of the Department. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting, based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings, site capacity, and so on, leading, ultimately, to an appropriate accommodation solution.

As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects. These criteria were devised following consultation with the education partners. This project has a band rating of 2.2.

I thank the Senator for affording me the opportunity to outline the current position regarding the provision of a new second level school in Kinvara, County Galway.