Seanad debates

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

10:00 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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I am raising the issue of Gaelscoil na Camóige in Clondalkin village. I regret that I must table this Adjournment matter, but the position of the school is critical. It has immediate needs surrounding two classrooms that the board of management recently decided could no longer remain open. This meant that young children had to carry their desks and chairs across the yard to temporary accommodation. There are serious questions as to how these children and classes will be accommodated in September. This is an immediate crisis for the school, parents and children. Will the Minister convey to the Department the serious concerns of the parents and teachers and everyone associated with the school?

I understand discussions are taking place between South Dublin County Council and the Department of Education and Science. We need the Department to clarify what will happen. Will another site be found? Will the Department pay for prefabs on another site? Will it help with the procurement of a site and co-operate with the parents and management to ensure another site will be found and that funding will be made available to replace those prefabs that need to be replaced?

The future of the school is a more considerable issue. The prefabs in the school are extremely old. Health and safety reports point to all sorts of problems, ranging from dampness and fire hazards to emergency exits opening the wrong way. The general state of the building is poor and this is of major concern. The quality of the teaching in the school is wonderful and the parents are very happy about it but the prefabs are far too old to continue using them for more than 200 children.

Before the previous general election it was said there would be a new campus. The most recent reply on this issue I have from the Minister states it is the Department's intention to provide the school with a new building and that agreement has been reached to provide a new building on a VEC-owned site. This was said before the general election. There is meant to be a large new gaelscoil campus but a serious question mark hangs over it. Will the project, costing €10 million to €12 million, go ahead? If so, it will be fantastic and the site will be great for the school. Parents certainly want it. However, this would be some years down the road and in the meantime there will be a major problem.

The school's third and fourth class classrooms are being closed for health and safety reasons. The school, in its current condition, cannot guarantee it will be able to accommodate children in these classes in September. This is the immediate issue and it requires an immediate response from the Department. It must respond to the crisis facing the school in terms of the two classes, costs, the supply of prefabs and engagement between parents and the Department on finding a suitable site. The longer-term question concerns the location of the school and when a new building will be provided.

Photo of Michael FinneranMichael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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I am happy to respond to the debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, who unfortunately cannot be in the House this evening. I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and also to outline the current position on Gaelscoil na Camóige, Clondalkin.

Modernising facilities in our existing building stock, in addition to responding to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth, is a significant challenge. The Government is determined to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of the curriculum.

The allocation for school buildings in 2009 is €614 million. This represents a significant investment in the schools building and modernisation programme. This funding for the building programme, at a time of great pressure on public finances, is a sign of the very real commitment of this Government to investing in school infrastructure and will permit the continuation of progress in the overall improvement of school accommodation.

All applications for capital funding are assessed in the planning and building unit of the Department of Education and Science. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, the condition of buildings, site capacity etc., 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.

Projects are selected for inclusion in the schools 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 overall, of which band one is the highest and band four the lowest. Band one projects, for example, include the provision of buildings where none currently exist but where there is a high demand for pupil places, while a band four project makes provision desirable, but it would not necessarily relate to urgent or essential facilities. I refer to a library or new sports hall.

The position on Gaelscoil na Camóige is that this school is a fully vertical, co-educational primary school catering for children from junior infants to sixth class. The school has a core staff comprising a principal and eight mainstream teachers. It also has the services of two resource teachers. The school authority is renting temporary accommodation which is located on the grounds of Áras Chrónáin. Áras Chrónáin occupies the southern part of the site and is a centre for Irish cultural activities in the Clondalkin area. Áras Chrónáin is also the trustee of Gaelscoil na Camóige and the site and prefabs are owned by Muintir Chrónáin.

The school's enrolment on 30 September 2008 was 228 pupils, an increase of 6%, or 12 pupils, on the September 2007 enrolment. It is the Department's intention to provide Gaelscoil na Camóige with a new building. In this regard, agreement has been reached to provide the new building on a VEC-owned site. The next stage is the appointment of a design team for the project. However, given the competing demands on the Department's capital budget, it is not possible at this stage to be precise about when the design team appointed.

The school authority had contacted the Department regarding the condition of one of the prefabs it is renting. It has been advised that the landlord should provide accommodation of a suitable standard. Last week the school authority contacted the Department outlining proposals for accommodating third and fourth class pupils from September 2009. The Department is in ongoing contact with the school regarding its accommodation needs from September 2009 and is providing advice and assistance.

The progression of all large-scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction, is dependent on the prioritisation of competing demands given the funding available under the Department's capital budget. The project for Gaelscoil na Camóige will continue to be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual schools building and modernisation programme.

I thank the Senator for affording me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position regarding the school building project for Gaelscoil na Camóige. I noted the Senator's comments on parents and others and I will forward them to the Minister.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister of State convey to the Department of Education and Science the urgency of this case? There is nothing in the Minister of State's reply saying the new site will be made available soon. It is a reiteration of the old position. There is no news on when the new building may become available. Will the Minister of State ask the Department to engage constructively with the parents and board of management to find a solution, at least for the two classrooms closed down at present, so the children can be accommodated from September onwards?