Thursday, 8 May 2014
Tá céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Táim an-buíoch dó as teacht isteach inniu leis an gceist seo a phlé. I thank the Minister of State for attending. This is a busy time in the other House with a lot of things happening around the place, but I am glad he is here.
I wish to raise a local issue in Connemara regarding St. Paul's secondary school in Oughterard. Last week I visited St. Paul's following a request made by a number of teachers, the principal and vice-principal. I went along to see the situation from my own perspective. It is a co-educational voluntary secondary school that was founded in 1964. The school has gone from strength to strength. Oughterard is an area where the population has increased over recent years which has resulted in increased enrolment. The school has coped with the expansion as best it could. The national schools in the area have also expanded. As in any school, there is pressure for space and we understand that things do not happen overnight.
There is a very serious situation in St. Paul's secondary school at the moment. Two of its prefabs have been practically condemned for use. The prefabs were bought in 2003 as used prefabs. Since May 2012 the roofs on both of them have leaked, and extensive mould growth has occurred very quickly since the leaks have become apparent.
I understand the school has not been able to use those two prefabs - they have been locked - since an inspector from the Department visited in September of last year. The teachers who had been using those rooms have not been able to teach in them and have had to be accommodated elsewhere. This has impinged on other teachers in the school. The other rooms that are having to be used might not be as suitable for the subjects being taught as the prefabs were. The specific space that is needed by the school's special needs assistants to do their work has been impinged on. The school has had to rejig its schedules, etc. As the Minister of State is aware, the roof has been falling in. It is in a very dilapidated condition. The school authorities have asked the Department to look at this and sort it out. I hope the Minister of State will have good news for us.
Rather than delivering the speech that has been circulated, I will cut straight to the point with regard to St. Paul's secondary school. Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an Seanadóir as an gcuireadh. I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I can advise him that the school's application for accommodation to replace its prefabs has been examined by the Department. Enrolments in the school have been stable over recent years. I am pleased to advise the Senator that approval has been granted to St. Paul's secondary school to replace its existing prefab with a permanent structure, which will address its accommodation needs. The school has been advised of this decision. I also wish to advise the Senator that funding has recently been approved under the 2014 summer works scheme, with which the Senator will be familiar, to facilitate the repair of the roof of the school building. These works and the replacement of the prefab at the school should ensure the medium-term and long-term accommodation requirements of St. Paul's secondary school are met. I thank the Senator again for giving me an opportunity to clarify the current position regarding St. Paul's secondary school in Oughterard i gContae na Gaillimhe.
I thank the Minister of State for coming in. It is not often we get to thank Ministers and Ministers of State after raising an issue on the Adjournment. We normally have a go at them. I was pleased to hear the Minister of State say that "the school's application for accommodation to replace its prefabs has been examined by the Department", in view of the poor condition of those rooms, and that "approval has been granted" for them to be replaced. I welcome that decision because I think it is the right one. It will help the school to move onwards. I hope the process of getting from ministerial approval to actually getting the prefabs replaced can be completed as quickly as possible. That is the issue now.
I assure the Senator that a pragmatic approach is being taken to schools like St. Paul's secondary school which are not in the so-called five-year plan. If the case they make is strong enough and stands on its own merit, officials in the Department can exercise a degree of common sense. That is obviously the case in this scenario and, as a result, I am confident that these facilities will be replaced in an expeditious fashion.