Seanad debates

Thursday, 29 March 2012

2:00 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom nóiméad de mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Seanadóir Healy Eames.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Tuigim go bhfuil an Aire Stáit gnóthach tráthnóna. Tá mé an-bhuíoch gur fhan sé chun freagra a thabhairt ar an gceist seo, a bhaineann le Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh i gCnoc na Cathrach sa Ghaillimh. Ceapaim go bhfuil eolas maith ag an Aire Stáit ar an scoil áirithe seo. Tá iontas agus díomá ar daltaí agus bord bainistíochta na scoile - agus ag duine ar bith a bhfuil baint acu le Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh - nach raibh an scoil san áireamh sa chlár tógála caipitil a d'fhógair an tAire, an Teachta Quinn, le déanaí. Tá go leor gealltanais tugtha don scoil. Tá go leor oibre déanta ag muintir na scoile chun scoil nua a fhorbairt in áit ina bhfuil an daonra ag fás go láidir.

Freastalaíonn os cionn 450 dalta ar an scoil in aghaidh na bliana. Tá sé sin ag tarlú le scór bliain anuas. Tá an suíomh agus an spás ar fáil ó 1998 le scoil a thógáil. Tá an Roinn tar éis an plean atá ann don scoil a cheadú. Tá cead pleanála iomlán iarraithe agus faighte. Tá an teastas tine in ord. Tá an feachtas bailithe airgid faoi lán seoil. Bhí an scoil ar an ngearrliosta a bhí ann maidir le scoileanna nua a thógáil. Bhí an-díomá go deo ar údaráis na scoile nuair a chualadar nach raibh an scoil ar an liosta tógála. D'iarr siad orm an cheist seo a ardú ar a son. Mar is eol don Aire Stáit, beidh cruinniú mór poiblí ar an ábhar seo i nGaillimh anocht, le feachtas mór in éadan an cinneadh seo a thosú. Is ar an mbunú sin atá mé ag roinnt mo chuid ama leis an Seanadóir Healy Eames, mar beidh tacaíocht traspháirtí ag teastáil leis an scoil seo a bhrú chun cinn, mar go bhfuil sé ag teastáil go géar.

As the Minister of State will know, Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh has been seeking a new school for some time. It has been in existence for 20 years and caters for in excess of 450 pupils per year. The school was promised a new school building. The site is available and the specification and plans have been approved by the Department. Planning permission was sought and granted in 2011 and the fire certificate is in order. The school's funding campaign is well advanced and the short list of tenders was completed by the Department in January 2012. The school is therefore appalled by the decision not to include it in the capital building allocation from the Department. There will be a huge public meeting tonight and the school is starting a major campaign. We are seeking cross-party support to have the school reinstated in the programme.

Will the Minister of State explain the reason that Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh was not included in the capital building programme? There appears to be an increase in the local demographic and there is a demand for the school. Why was it not included? Furthermore, what options are available to the school to appeal this decision and to press ahead to get the school it deserves? The Minister of State will probably give me economic arguments as to why this could not be done but, as he knows from previous discussions with me, I do not accept many of those economic arguments. I believe there are many political decisions being taken. One of them is the €100 million per year that is given to private schools in this country. Perhaps some of that money should have been put towards the capital programme for school buildings. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply. Beidh mé ag súil le ceist a chur ar an Aire Stáit, b'fhéidir, ina dhiaidh seo.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Ó Clochartaigh for sharing time with me. What has happened with Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh is a mystery. The Department in its five-year plan has given approval for what appears to be a new gaelscoil called Galway city west. Nobody knows the location, no patron has yet been nominated and there appears to be no evidence that the school is needed. However, Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh, with more than 450 pupils, has a site and space available since 1998. The Department of Education and Skills has approved the plans and full planning permission is in place since 2011. Can the Minister of State justify why that school is not getting its eight prefabs when the Department is planning to put a new school in an area where there is no case for one? I have contacted the Department and it cannot substantiate its case. The officials said something about social protection certificates or evidence from the Department of Social Protection, but they have not supplied it. There are five Irish schools west of the city: Boleybeg, Saint Ignatius College, Bearna, Scoil Fhursa and Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh. I have visited those schools and there is space in some of them. Why build a new school that will cost millions? I am keen to hear the answer to that question.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis na Seanadóirí as an cheist seo a ardú mar go dtugann sé deis dom a léiriú don tSeanad straitéis an Rialtais i gcomhair infheistiú chaipitil i dtionscadail oideachais thar na cúig bliana amach romhainn agus an scéal mar atá faoi láthair a shoiléiriú maidir leis an iarratas ar maoiniú mór chaipitil a fuarthas ó Ghaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh i gCnoc na Cathrach i nGaillimh.

It may be helpful if I set out the context within which the decisions relating to meeting the accommodation needs of schools must be considered over the coming years. Total enrolment is expected to grow by around 70,000 students between now and 2018, by more than 45,000 at primary level and 25,000 at post-primary. Second level enrolment is expected to continue to rise until at least 2024. In the first quarter of last year we had the highest number of births in this country since records began. To meet the needs of our growing population of school-going children, the Department will need to establish new schools as well as extending or replacing a number of existing schools in areas where significant 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.

The five-year programme which the Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, announced recently will provide more than 100,000 permanent school places, of which in excess of 80,000 will be new school places. The remainder will include the replacement of temporary or unsatisfactory accommodation. The design of the proposed new school building for Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh has been developed based on a brief to construct an eight-classroom, two-storey extension along with a single storey general purpose hall and a naíonra. The extension is mainly intended to replace existing temporary accommodation.

The stage 2B submission - detailed design and tender documents - was recently approved by my Department. However, in light of current competing demands on the Department's capital budget, it is not possible, at this time, to give an indication of the timeframe for the progression to tender and construction of the project for Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh. Earlier today, officials from my Department met a delegation of principals from Galway city, including Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh, and explained the underlying rationale for the decisions made in respect of the provision of additional primary school accommodation on the western side of Galway city.

To ensure every child growing up in Ireland has access to a physical school place, the delivery of major school projects to meet the demographic demands nationally, as well as the demands in Galway city, will be the main focus for capital investment in schools in the coming years. The five-year programme is primarily focused on meeting those increasing demographic needs. In that context, it has not been possible to advance all school building projects concurrently. School building projects, including the project for Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh, will, where possible, continue to be advanced incrementally over time within the context of the funding available. I again thank both Senators for giving me the opportunity to outline the position.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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The reply appears to contradict a reply I received last week regarding Clifden community school, in which I was told the reason the school was not getting funding was a drop in the demographic. There is a demographic increase in the Cnoc na Cathrach area. The Minister of State said as much in his reply, so the decision does not make much sense. To build the extension to Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh and use the capacity on the land that is available makes more sense than building a new school.

However, the other part of my question, which the Minister of State did not refer to, was about the possibility of appeal. What avenues are open to the school if it wishes to reapply or have the situation addressed or if it wishes to make an appeal on different grounds for being included? I am sure that is what it will do, and at the meeting tonight that is certainly what the staff, pupils and parents will seek. An bhfuil an t-Aire Stáit in ann a rá linn céard iad na deiseanna achomhairc atá ag an bpobal maidir leis an scoil seo, mar ní dóigh liom go nglacfar leis an bhfreagra atá tugtha ag an Aire Stáit, i gcead dó?

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Where is the evidence for building a new Irish-medium school in this area when this school is seeking permanent accommodation? The children are at that school. The schools tell me that the same children are being enrolled in many different schools.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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First, to reply to Senator Ó Clochartaigh's question, there is no formal appeals process in place, and there never has been. However, there is the opportunity, as was evident this morning, to interact with not only the Minister but also the officials in the building unit in Tullamore to continue to make the case for a new school building for Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh. However, there is no formal appeals process to which the board of management can gain access.

With regard to evidence, speaking from my knowledge of how this list was drawn up, the building unit of the Department of Education and Skills in Tullamore now has access to Department of Social Protection records for child benefit and it can establish how many children in an area such as Knocknacarra or its immediate environs or even the entire western side of Galway city will need access to a classroom or school in the next few years. It knows where each child is and when the child was born. On that basis it has carried out extensive research which led it to conclude that new primary schools will be needed on both the western and eastern sides of the city.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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How does it know it will be an Irish-medium school?

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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That is a very good question. I do not know.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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This does not stand up to scrutiny. I am very concerned about what is happening.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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There is no provision for supplementary questions.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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That is my understanding of how the conclusion was reached that there will be a need for a new school. I am not aware of how the decision is made as to what the ethos of that new school will be, but I am willing to undertake further investigation to inform Senator Ó Clochartaigh and Senator Healy Eames of how it is made.