Seanad debates

Thursday, 7 July 2011

6:00 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for coming and congratulate him on his appointment. He will make an excellent Minister of State and it is great for someone so young to rise so quickly. He is a good man and I know he will do good work.

I am bringing this motion before the House in order to be helpful. I have often found the Department of Education and Skills to be lacking in terms of forward planning, although it is improving to some extent, and as such, I do not consider it has got this latest announcement quite right. The Minister announced the establishment of two new second level schools in County Meath, one in Navan and other in Ashbourne, to be established between 2012 and 2017. If the school in Johnstown, Navan is not established this year, we will have a major crisis. I thought we would have one last year when the school had not been established fully. It needs to be built by 2012 at the latest. We will need another secondary school in Navan by 2017. However, this will not do anying to solve the problems in the constitutency of Meath East that I used to represent in Dáil Éireann; it will merely solve the serious problems in Navan. I welcome the announcement of the establishment of a second level school in Ashbourne. There is already a secondary school located there, but it is operating at capacity, as are many schools in surrounding areas.

These are not the only areas in County Meath which have seen substantial increases in population. In my submission I mentioned Stamullen, Duleek, Laketown, Bettystown and Mornington. Laketown, Bettystown and Mornington make up the second largest conurbation in County Meath in which a secondary school was recently established. The population of the St. Mary's electoral division of County Meath has increased from 9,044 to 10,772, an increase of 1,700 since the last census. It is situated near Drogheda, where it is proposed to provide a secondary school, but I do not know whether it will be able to cope with this increase. It will be interesting to see what percentage of that figure is made up by children because there are three children in my house and two children in my next door neighbour's, while the couple across the road also have two children. I suggest most of the increase in the population is accounted for by children which will lead to serious problems if we do not deal with the matter soon.

The Julianstown electoral division in County Meath which covers Laketown, Bettystown and Julianstown has seen its population increase from 8,289 to 9,588. I am interested in seeing the final figure and again suggest most of the increase is accounted for by children.

The population of the electoral division of Duleek in which there is no secondary school has risen to 5,177. If we add the population of the electoral division of Ardcath, 1,911, we see there has been another substantial increase in population. This is not the result of new houses being built or people moving in, as there has not been much development since 2006 in these towns. In fact, there are houses in Duleek which have been unoccupied since 2006. In addition, the population of the Stamullen electoral division which covers the town of Stamullen and the villages of Gormanston and Clonalvy has increased from 3,844 to 4,683. There will be a crisis in these towns, none of which is mentioned in the Minister's announcement on the establishment of new secondary schools.

The position on primary school accommodation is probably not as severe, but we are keeping a watching brief in the area. Children living in Stamullen could possibly travel to Balbriggan, but that would not be ideal. Children living in Duleek could possibly travel to Navan, but the problem there is at crisis point. Therefore, we need another secondary school in east County Meath to deal with the severe shortage of spaces.

I would like to make one final point. A school was announced for Kingscourt, County Cavan, on the border with County Meath. It is a very good town and this is a worthy project, but there is a fantastic secondary school in Nobber, only five miles away. In what is a lightly populated area I cannot see why there is a need for two secondary schools. Therefore, I call on the Minister to review the position. My party Whip and colleague in County Cavan will not be too happy when I say this, but I need to speak what I believe to be the truth.

7:00 pm

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I thank the Senator for his gracious and kind comments which are greatly appreciated. He might drop me a note on the issues he has raised because we should engage on what is a genuine undertaking on his part.

I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter as it affords me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position regarding the provision of new post-primary schools to cater for demographic increases. The Department's most recent statistics indicate that the number of pupils at second level is projected to increase by 24,900 from the current level of circa 317,400 pupils to 342,300 by 2017. The projections indicate that pupil numbers will continue to rise until 2024, when it is expected there will be in the region of 383,000 pupils in the second-level system. That represents an increase of 65,700 pupils over the current levels.

The Department is utilising a geographical information system, GIS, to identify the areas in which there will be a requirement for significant additional school provision at both primary and post-primary levels over the coming years. This detailed analysis is now being finalised and action plans are being drawn up for each priority location in order to determine how to meet the additional school accommodation requirements for each area for the next four to five years.

It is within this context that the Minister recently announced that up to 40 new schools are to be established within the next six years, comprising 20 new primary and 20 new post-primary schools. Of the 40 new schools, 17 will be in the Dublin area, with a further 12 in the commuter belt of Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and Louth. Six new schools will be established in Cork, three in Galway and one each in Wexford and Cavan. Included in this announcement are new post-primary schools for Navan, Drogheda and Ashbourne, which will greatly enhance second-level provision in the wider area referred to by the Deputy. In addition, the Department recognised a new post-primary school for east Meath, located in Laytown, in 2008-09. The school is currently located in temporary accommodation beside the site on which the permanent new school is under construction. The new permanent school building, which will provide accommodation for 1,000 pupils, is expected to be ready in July 2012. This school caters for children from the east Meath areas of Laytown, Bettystown, Stamullen and Julianstown. I thank the Senator again for raising this matter.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister. I did not expect an answer that was much different from that. I acknowledge the Department's work in the area and the provision of Coláiste na hInse, which was mentioned. However, the reason I raised this issue is that I do not feel the Department has got it fully right. I ask that it reconsider in particular whether there is adequate second level provision in the Slane and east Meath electoral area, including the towns of Duleek, Stamullen, Laytown, Bettystown and Mornington and the south edge of Drogheda, which is in County Meath.