Seanad debates

Thursday, 13 November 2008

1:00 pm

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak on this. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Haughey, to the House to discuss this matter.

I have raised the issue of Scoil Bharra on the Adjournment on a number of occasions over the past year and will not go through the full background again as I know the Minister and the Department are well aware of the situation. However, there are two points I wish to stress. The school is a thriving, successful school located in the heart of a community in my constituency. The school delivers this success despite that it has been located in prefabs and temporary buildings for almost all of its existence. These temporary buildings are located on the grounds of a GAA club.

Despite the exceptionally difficult circumstances in which the school has to operate, it has managed to deliver a successful experience for students, parents and the community. A recent visit to the school brought home to me the extent of this success as well as the difficult environment in which it must operate. I was brought to the room used to help students with special needs, which also acts as a store for cleaning equipment. It is obvious that teaching young people in a temporary and unsuitable environment is far removed from what we preach in terms of looking after them. Even though the school is in a deplorable situation, the teachers and pupils have done a wonderful job in creating a great environment.

As the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science is aware, the capital funding programme for schools will be revisited in the context of the current economic environment. It is essential that we do all we can for this school, which is successful despite its temporary location and poor environment, in terms of clarifying when it can expect a new building and presenting concrete plans on how it can realise its hopes. God only knows what level of success it could deliver if it got a fairer deal.

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 this House my Department's plans for long term accommodation for Gaelscoil Bharra in Cabra, Dublin 7.

Gaelscoil Bharra is a fully vertical co-educational primary school teaching through the medium of Irish. It has a current enrolment of 221 pupils and a staffing complement of a principal, eight mainstream class teachers and one learning support teacher. It is currently accommodated in temporary classrooms on a site owned by Naomh Fionnbarra GAA club. It receives rental grant aid for three classrooms, while the remainder are in the ownership of the Department. The Department intends providing the school with a new building comprising eight classrooms and ancillary accommodation appropriate to a school of this size. As the school is located in a built up area, the problems associated with acquiring a site for this development cannot be underestimated. However, the Department is examining the possibility of developing the existing site even though it is restricted in nature.

Once the site issue has been resolved, the development of a building project for the school will be considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme. As the Senator will be aware, all applications for large-scale capital funding, including Gaelscoil Bharra, are assessed by the modernisation and policy unit of my Department. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings, site capacity etc. and leads ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under the published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects. These criteria were devised following consultation with the education partners. 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. In other words, a proposed building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it.

There are four band ratings in total, of which band one is the highest and band four the lowest. Band one projects include the provision of buildings where none currently exists but where there is a high demand for pupil places, whereas a band four project makes provision for desirable but not necessarily urgent or essential facilities. Each band rating has a number of subcategories which more specifically describe the type of works needed and the urgency attaching to them.

The project for Gaelscoil Bharra has been assigned a band two rating, which is the second highest band rating possible. This positions the building project for the school to be advanced as soon as the site issue has been resolved and the requisite funding is made available. I assure the Senator that the Department acknowledges the need for a solution to Gaelscoil Bharra's accommodation needs and is committed to working to achieve a satisfactory solution at the earliest possible opportunity.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. However, it is similar to other replies I have received regarding the school. I seek clarity on when the Department will be able to resolve the issue of the site in order to proceed with the building project. The school badly needs this help.

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 appreciate the question but I am not in a position to give a definite answer to the Senator, other than to restate the Department's commitment to achieving a satisfactory solution. Much depends on factors such as funding and when the Minister intends to make new announcements. I will bring the Senator's comments to the attention of the Minister and the Department's building unit with a view to seeking a solution as soon as possible.