Tuesday, 10 July 2018
Schools Building Projects Status
A debacle has been going on for well over ten years in respect of finding a site for a three-school campus. The three schools in question are Crana College secondary school in Buncrana, serving the Inishowen Peninsula, Gaelscoil Bhun Cranncha and Gaelcholáiste Chineál Eoghain. In the case of Crana College, the school is having to use up its leisure and amenity space to erect more prefabs. It is a fantastic school that recently got top marks in an evaluation by the Department. However, it is completely overcrowded. The school desperately needs a new site and has raised the matter again and again.
Gaelscoil Bhun Cranncha is another fantastic school but it is in an inappropriate location. It is based in a youth and community development building that is used for multiple purposes, which gives rise to child protection concerns and challenges. The school is grateful to its hosts for accommodating it for nearly 20 years now. In a whole-school evaluation in 2006, the inspector indicated that acquisition of a new building for the school was urgently required. That was 12 years ago and the school has been trying to do so.
Gaelcholáiste Chineál Eoghain is also located in a community facility, Tullyarvan Mill. It, too, is very grateful to be hosted there but it is not appropriate for the school's growing educational needs.
These are three schools where the parents and teachers have been generous enough to come together. One might think that would have made it easier and more cost effective, yet all these years later we still do not have a solution. Two years ago, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, announced that he was delighted to be informed that a preferred site had been identified. We thought an announcement was imminent and we would be able to go to planning, design and tendering. Recently, colleagues of the Minister of State have said they have some good news. I am hoping the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, can today officially confirm on behalf of the Government that a site has been secured and we can move urgently to the planning phase and start to get these schools ready in order that we can have a bright future for our children, teachers and parents in the Inishowen area.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton. I am pleased to outline to the Seanad the current position on the site selection process for the new school campus at Buncrana. The project in respect of the education campus in Buncrana is included on the Department of Education and Skills capital programme and this project requires the acquisition of a site to facilitate the new school accommodation. In that context, the Department has been working closely with Donegal County Council under the memorandum of understanding for the acquisition of school sites with a view to securing a location for the campus project. A significant number of site options were identified and thoroughly technically appraised by both Department and council personnel. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of all parties, the site acquisition process to date has been protracted due to technical challenges with identified site options and difficulties in reaching agreement with landowners.Department and council officials recently undertook an exercise to identify the best next steps in order to advance this site acquisition process. A number of options to progress the site acquisition process were identified and a significant amount of work has been undertaken by both council and Department officials to thoroughly appraise these to ensure value for money for the State. This exercise included the consideration of further information regarding the availability of the preferred site and, in light of this and in the context of the identified options for progression, negotiations recommenced with the landowner in respect of that preferred site option, with a view to reaching agreement on mutually acceptable terms. These negotiations are currently under way and appear to be progressing.
Should agreement on the proposed acquisition be reached, the process will advance to the conveyancing stage when draft contracts are prepared and legal due diligence is undertaken in respect of the proposed transaction. Once a site for the school is secured in State ownership the project to deliver the new school accommodation can progress to architectural planning stage.
The Senator will appreciate that commercial sensitivities attach to site acquisitions such as this and given that negotiations are at a critical point I am not currently in a position to disclose further information. On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, I assure the Senator that the school authorities are being kept apprised of the situation and will be informed of the permanent location for the campus as soon as it is possible to do so.
More than two years ago, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, announced that he was delighted they had moved to a preferred site, yet here we are two years later. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, will appreciate that the people in the Inishowen area are exasperated with the delays. If we get this deal over the line, and I wish the negotiators every success, I appeal to the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to ensure that everything is fast tracked from that point on. We have lost years in this process. We urgently need full prioritisation in terms of staff, resources, personnel, planning, legal documentation and so on. I urge that the normal delays do not apply. Once this land deal is agreed, we must urgently address the other matters and move bricks and mortar on to the site in order that children, teachers and parents have schools that befit the standard of education currently being provided there. They are fantastic education institutions and they need fantastic buildings, facilities and amenities for their children.
I will bring the Senator's concerns back to the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and I will speak with the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, also. I do not have any further information other than what I have given, so I cannot comment further on the negotiations.