Wednesday, 3 October 2012
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Shane McEntee. I understand Senator Cullinane has agreed to allow the matter raised by Senator Conway to be taken first.
I thank my good friend and colleague, Senator Cullinane, for facilitating me as I am under a little pressure. I raised the proposed amalgamation of three secondary schools in Ennistymon, County Clare, last April. The town has a secondary school population of 670 pupils which is split between three schools, a vocational school, a convent, Scoil Mhuire, and a Christian Brothers school. All three schools have been given a commitment that the amalgamation of the three schools will proceed. The teachers and parents were informed almost 30 years ago of plans to merge the schools. I attended one of the schools in the late 1980s and early 1990s and even then amalgamation was a political and educational issue. The commitment must be met to ensure the quality of the teaching staff in the schools in question is nurtured and proper facilities provided.
Students must tramp from one school to another in pouring rain and unacceptable conditions. Given that the three schools are located in different parts of the town, students taking science subjects must travel to one of the schools, students studying humanities must visit a second school and students taking mechanical drawing or woodwork must travel to another school. Pupils are criss-crossing the town every day in all sorts of inclement weather. The amalgamation must, therefore, be prioritised.
In 2005, the then Government announced the school would be built by 2010. While sites have been identified, little further progress, if any, has been made.
There was a meeting of the chairs of the boards of management, the principals and the trustees of the three existing post-primary schools which, unfortunately, I could not attend because of prior commitments in Dublin. It is becoming an important issue that needs to be dealt with. It would be a good investment because, not alone would it create construction jobs in the short term, it would ensure a quality education service in north Clare for the long term. That, in turn, would mean facilitating a proper investment in our young people?s future. I hope the Minister has some positive news in that regard.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills. I thank the Senator for once again raising this particular matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects, as well as providing the Senator with the up-to-date position on the application for major capital funding for the proposed community school in Ennistymon.
The Department of Education and Skills is forecasting the number of pupils in post-primary schools will expand by over 25,000 by the beginning of the 2018 school year. It is expected that numbers at post-primary level will continue to increase until at least 2024. To be in a position to cater for the growing population of schoolgoing children, the delivery of new schools, together with extension projects to existing school buildings at both primary and post-primary levels, has to be the main focus for capital investment in the coming years.
The three post-primary schools in Ennistymon have agreed to amalgamate to form a new community school. I commend the work of those schools, the staff, boards of management, their patrons and the wider community in that regard. It is intended that a new school building to accommodate the new community school will be developed. The acquisition of land to have a site suitable for the development of a building for the new community school is being progressed by the Department of Education and Skills through the Chief State Solicitor's office in conjunction with the current landowners. The land in question is in addition to lands already in the Department?s ownership.
When taken together, there will be sufficient land to meet the overall site requirements of the new community school. It is not possible to give a definitive timeframe within which the acquisition will be finalised. However, I can assure the Senator the Department of Education and Skills is working to ensure the site is acquired as quickly as possible.
Once the site has been secured, the building project will be considered for progression in the context of available resources. To ensure every child has access to a school place, the delivery of major new school buildings, together with extension projects to existing schools to meet the type of demographic demands to which I have referred, will be where capital investment in schools is concentrated in the coming years. The five-year programme announced earlier this year is focused on meeting those demographic needs. It was not possible to advance all applications for capital funding concurrently. However, I can assure the Senator that work is ongoing in the acquisition of land to ensure that a suitable site is available for the proposed new community school building. I again thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position regarding the proposed new community school in Ennistymon.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. I hope we will see progress with this project in the coming months as opposed to years. When the land acquisition has progressed, hopefully the funding from the Department will be ring-fenced to ensure construction of the new school will occur as a priority.