Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Schools Building Projects
I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter at short notice. This is the third or fourth night on which we are the last people in the House. I hope we have not set a precedent for the rest of the year.
My Adjournment matters relates to Scoil Íosagáin, Farranree, County Cork which has over 400 primary school students but does not have a facility for any activity other than its classrooms. The school was granted full planning permission in 2011 for the construction of a general purpose hall at the rear and within its boundary. However, the project has been included in the Department's building programme for over ten years. The school has a large number of young pupils, but it does not have the necessary resources. In the past six months there have been a number of debates in the House on the need for young people to exercise and attend school to study. If one does not have the facilities, however, it is impossible to be active. The school does have outdoor facilities, but they can only be used in good weather. During the winter months recreational activities are confined; therefore, a general purpose hall is urgently needed. I seek clarification on where the project is ranked in the building programme of the Department. When will the facilities be constructed?
I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn.
I thank the Senator for raising the matter of the proposed building project for Scoil Íosagáin, Farranree, County Cork, as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the Seanad the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects in the next five years and clarify the position on the project referred to.
I would first like to set out the context within which decisions relating to meeting the accommodation needs of schools must be considered over the coming years. Overall enrolment figures are expected to grow by approximately 70,000 students between 2012 and 2018 - by more than 25,000 at post-primary and 45,000 at primary level. Indeed, post-primary level enrolment is expected to continue to rise until at least the year 2024.
In order to meet the needs of our growing population of schoolgoing children, the Department must establish new schools as well as extending or replacing 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 capital budget for the coming years. The five-year programme announced in March 2012 will provide more than 100,000 permanent school places, of which more than 80,000 will be new school places. The remainder will involve the replacement of temporary or unsatisfactory accommodation.
The proposed project for Scoil Iosagain, Farranree, entails the construction of a general purpose room and two mainstream classrooms. The school is staffed by a principal, 22 mainstream teachers and ancillary teaching staff with 416 pupils enrolled in the current school year. The project is currently at an advanced stage of architectural planning. In the stage 2b approval letter which issued on 12 November 2012, the board of management was informed that the project was not authorised to proceed to tender at that time. Due to competing demands on the Department's capital budget, imposed by the need to prioritise the limited funding available for the provision of additional school accommodation to meet increasing demographic requirements, it was not possible to include this project in the five-year construction programme announced in March 2012.
Schools which have not been included in the five-year construction programme but which had previously been announced for initial inclusion in the building programme will continue to be progressed to final planning stages in anticipation of the possibility of further funds being available to the Department in future years. The project at Scoil Íosagáin, Farranree, remains available to be considered for progression in that context.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I am disappointed the school has not been included in the five-year programme. As I said, we have full planning permission, so there is no further waiting time in that regard. In view of the fact we have full planning permission, it should be taken up as a project which is ready to roll. We have full planning permission, have a site which is within the school boundary and have the student numbers which will be maintained into the foreseeable future and may even grow. I ask that the school be included in the programme or if another school drops out, that it be included in it.
As a former teacher, I recognise the importance of the facility for a school of this size, with 460 pupils, 22 teachers and ancillary staff. There is inclement weather, even in Cork in the sunny south. I got my secondary education in a scoil Íosagáin in the same county, namely, Coláiste Íosagáin in Ballyvourney. I realise the importance of the project and appreciate the Senator's efforts on the school's behalf. I will certainly convey his views and recommendations to the Minister.