Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Schools Building Projects Status
I thank the Minister of State. I know everybody is very busy on one of the last days, but I am raising an issue that I raised before about a year ago. Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna is a school in Knocklyon where the students and teachers have been in prefabs for 18 years. This is unprecedented and unacceptable in Ireland.Every education Minister has said that prefabs are not suitable for the education of children and that they do not expect any school to be in a prefab for longer than three years. This school has been in a prefab for 18 years. I had this matter on the agenda here before. Parents and teachers are looking for a permanent building. When I was attending a meeting in Knocklyon last Thursday night, a mouse ran across the floor. I understand this is a daily occurrence in a space where children are being educated. The Minister of State knows what that does from the perspectives of health, safety and cleanliness. It disrupts the class for a time. It is a regular occurrence. I have campaigned on this issue for almost 20 years, since I was first elected to South Dublin County Council. I do not usually raise local issues in the Seanad, but the question of prefabs is a national educational issue. I know it is now the policy of the Department of Education and Skills to have all schools out of prefabs within three years. That is a new policy. I have heard the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, speaking about that.
This case has been going on for far too long. An urgent solution needs to be found by South Dublin County Council and the Minister for Education and Skills. It is disappointing, to say the least, that delays have been caused by bureaucracy and the legalities of the purchase of this site, which is in no-man's land because the bureaucracy has taken so long. I have raised this matter with the former Minister, Deputy Quinn, and the current Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I raised it here with the Minister of State, Deputy English, approximately a year ago. I was told ten years ago that the site would be vested in the Department of Finance. Then I was told that there would be a compulsory purchase order. Now it is back to a compulsory purchase order again. It is totally unclear. I want a clear answer. If the Minister of State cannot verbally give me a clear answer here on the record of the Seanad, I want it in writing. I want to be told in simple language - A, B and C - when this is going to happen.
In May 2015, the Minister of State, Deputy English, said that the commencement of the building could not take place before the formal transfer of the land. On 22 June last, my office received a further letter from the Minister for Education and Skills which stated that the board and the Department had agreed a proposal that would possibly serve as a satisfactory solution. Today, we are back to square one. The compulsory purchase order has still not been taken. I have been told by South Dublin County Council that it will be initiated. The context is a clear commitment from the Government. The money is there. The Department of Education and Skills and the Minister have said that money is not the issue. The money will be forthcoming. The legalities need to be ironed out with the legal people in South Dublin County Council. Perhaps more pressure needs to be put on the Department of Education and Skills.
I want to see this happen in the next month. I want to see the compulsory purchase order out of the way and dealt with. Perhaps the Minister of State's last act in the Department of Education and Skills will be to get this school on the road for the people of Knocklyon and Dublin South-West by 2021. The Minister of State and the Minister for Education and Skills said that the use of prefabs for more than two years would be a rare exception. This case is a rare exception in Ireland. It has been 18 years on the go. I ask the Minister of State to highlight the reasons for this and say how and when it is going to be solved. I would appreciate it if he could give me a date and the other clear details I am seeking. It has slipped through the net. I do not like to use the word "negligence" when I am talking about officials in councils or elsewhere, but it is downright irresponsible, to put it mildly, that such delays are being caused by bureaucracy, carelessness and inefficiency.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I am sorry for keeping her waiting. I could not make it here before 2.45 p.m. I thought I was due to respond to the third Commencement matter. I apologise for the problems that were caused.
As the Senator is aware, officials from my Department have been working closely with officials from South Dublin County Council to secure a suitable site to facilitate the delivery of permanent school accommodation for Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna. Agreement in principle on the acquisition by the Department of a site owned by South Dublin County Council has been reached. That is going back quite a while now. The site in question is the current location of the school’s temporary accommodation and has been deemed to be technically suitable for the development of permanent accommodation. As has been outlined to the Senator previously, certain title issues associated with the site were identified as part of the standard conveyancing process. As the Senator will understand, it is critical for these issues to be resolved before the Minister takes ownership of the site. The resolution of title issues can sometimes be complex. Unfortunately, this has proven to be the case in respect of the site for Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna.
South Dublin County Council has worked closely with the Department of Education and Skills and the Property Registration Authority for some time in an effort to achieve a satisfactory outcome. The complexity of the issue has meant that the site acquisition has been delayed significantly while officials work towards a resolution. Officials from my Department have discussed with their counterparts in South Dublin County Council possible mechanisms which could provide a satisfactory resolution to the title issues and thereby facilitate the land transfer. Officials from my Department have been informed that South Dublin County Council intends to initiate a compulsory purchase order process as soon as possible, subject to legal advice which is under discussion with a law agent.My officials have also been informed that representatives of the council have arranged to meet the school's board of management next week to update it and discuss the matter.
Once the acquisition of the site is finalised, it is the intention of my Department to initiate the architectural planning process for the provision of a new school building. Officials from the Department will continue to work closely with officials from South Dublin County Council to progress matters in the context of the pressing need to advance the project for the provision of permanent accommodation.
I again thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline the current position to the Seanad. The matter has been ongoing for a long time. I would have assumed that it would have moved on at this stage, but it has not. At this stage the only way to move the issue forward involves compulsory purchase orders. The council has tried to do all it can to avoid having to do that, but it looks as though progress will involve that. There is a commitment for that to happen. I can make sure the Department keeps the Senator informed of the situation over the next couple of weeks.
I was told about eight years ago that the county council would go down the route of compulsory purchase orders. I was informed that it had to go down the route of vesting in the Department of Finance because it was impossible to have compulsory purchase orders. I have been told about legal advice for the past ten years, which seems to involve people sitting on their backsides. As I said, this is not the fault of the Department of Education and Skills. I have never before seen that Department draw up plans for a school when it did not own a site. It has gone as far as drawing up plans for the school, which is unprecedented and for which I thank it.
The Minister of State's Department will have to contact the legal department in South Dublin County Council and make sure the work is done. If it cannot be done, it should say why that is the case. I ask the Minister of State to send a letter. The Department of Education and Skills is meeting the board of management, but the board is sick of meetings. I do not know how many meetings it has had. I want the Minister of State's Department to send a letter telling the relevant bodies to proceed with the project. I again thank the Minister of State. As I said, the money is in place, something which has to be acknowledged.
An official in the Department of Education and Skills will work with council officials. That person cannot instruct them on what to do or demand that they do something. Rather, that official can work with them and ask them to proceed as quickly as possible. I ask the Senator to use her good offices and those of her council colleagues to try to put any pressure that is needed on the officials involved and stress the urgency of the matter.
This situation is very serious. I do not know what happened nine years ago regarding the compulsory purchase order. I understand the intention is to drive the project forward and build the school. As the Senator said, once the site is secured in name, there will be no delay in progressing the project thereafter.