Seanad debates

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

National Vision Policy

School Accommodation

8:00 pm

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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Scoil Ghormáin Naofa in Gorey, County Wexford, is a standard two-classroom school built in 1950, similar to many older schools throughout the State. Today there are 128 pupils on the roll, who are largely accommodated in six prefabricated buildings, one of which functions as a disabled toilet. The school has six teachers and two resource teachers. The number in junior infants increased from 15 in 2010 to 22 in 2011 and is expected to increase further, to 26 in 2012, 30 in 2013 and 2014, and 32 in 2015. The cost to the Department of the prefabricated accommodation is in the region of €40,000 per annum.

When the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, was Labour Party spokesman for education, he was blistering in his attacks on the Department for paying out these types of costs. Scoil Ghormáin Naofa is seeking devolved funding for an extension of four classrooms and the refurbishment of the original 1950 two-classroom facility. I understand the building cost per classroom is now €70,000. This is a reasonable request. Members of the community have told me that once this funding is received, they will do whatever is required to ensure a new, modern facility is constructed. They will not return to the Department requesting additional funding. All they are seeking is four times the classroom grant plus the refurbishment cost for the original building. This represents value for money, which is an absolute requirement for any such projects in the current circumstances.

I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. I thank Senator Michael D'Arcy for raising the matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the House the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and to clarify the current position in regard to the application for major capital funding from Scoil Ghormáin Naofa, Castletown, Gorey, County Wexford.

The school has a core staffing level of a principal and four mainstream teachers, together with two support staff. This staffing level is based on the school's 2010 enrolment of 126 pupils. The school authority submitted an application for major capital funding for an extension and refurbishment works to the Department. As part of the assessment 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. A building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it. There are four band ratings overall, of which band 1 is the highest and band 4 the lowest. The project for Scoil Ghormáin Naofa was assigned a band two rating.

The Department of Education and Skills is forecasting an increase of more than 43,000 primary pupils and 24,900 post-primary pupils by the start of the 2017-18 school year. In order to meet the needs of our growing population of school-going children, the Department must establish 40 new schools, as well as extending a number of existing schools in areas where demographic growth has been identified. The delivery of these new schools, together with extension projects to meet future demand, will be the main focus of the Department's budget for the coming years.

While enrolments at Scoil Ghormáin Naofa have increased by 21% in the past five years, it is not envisaged that the school will be extended to meet the demographic growth to which I referred. However, the Department accepts that the school has temporary accommodation which, while it is relatively new, will in time need to be replaced should enrolment remain at current levels. The school has benefited from various grants amounting to in excess of €90,000 in recent years to carry out various improvement works.

It is not possible to advance all applications for capital funding concurrently. All school building projects, including a project for Scoil Ghormáin Naofa, will be advanced incrementally over time within the context of the funding available. However, in light of current competing demands under the Department's capital budget, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time. I thank the Senator again for the opportunity to reply to the matter.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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That was an appalling answer. I know the Minister of State did not write it but if I was her, I would have been embarrassed giving me that answer, and I do not say that lightly. If she was in the position I am in, she would not accept that answer. The bulk of the page and a half of the reply is about something else. There is one small fact contained in it, indicating an increase of 21% over the past five years. It is not acceptable to come to the House with an answer like this. That is what the other guys did and that is why they were put out of office. Is this how matters on the Adjournment Debate are to be answered by the Department? I am not blaming the Minister of State as she is delivering the message and I am not going to shoot the messenger on this occasion, but I ask her to go back to whoever gave her that reply and tell that person that it is not acceptable to me.

It is a disgrace to throw that reply up in front of somebody at this stage of a debate. The reason the other guys were put out of office was because they treated this Chamber with disdain by giving replies such as the one I got. It is not acceptable. I ask that this Adjournment matter be taken next week again and that I get a proper answer to it.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 20 October 2011.