Thursday, 13 June 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
School Accommodation Provision
I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to deal with this important matter, which I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise. The standard of primary education provided by teachers in Carrick-on-Shannon is second to none. Children attend Scoil Mhuire from all social classes and the town has become home to children of many nationalities. However, it is very evident that we must assist Carrick-on-Shannon, as a growing town, to address the urgent need for the provision of a more modern, fit-for-purpose school for the primary education of its young people.
I want to give the Minister of State some background context. Scoil Mhuire, located on the Dublin Road in the town, is the new name for school following the amalgamation of two schools, St. Mary's boys school and the Marist Convent primary school. The amalgamation took place in 2013 and both school buildings are used and are referred to as campus 1 and campus 2. There is a staff of 25 teachers, with a principal and five SNAs. The amalgamated school currently has more than 460 pupils, with numbers predicted to grow as the town population continues to grow. The existing buildings were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, with additional prefabs at both locations. Unfortunately, because of the increasing capacity problems, a space designated as a play area has been now been used to accompany prefabs for the necessary provision of classrooms. Funding is continually needed to upgrade facilities and pay for repairs to these old buildings. Maintenance poses significant challenges every year.These two main schools are 500 m apart and there is a one-way system on the road which leads to much frustration when parents try to collect the children from both locations at the same time. The physical division also leads to difficulties in communicating messages to staff and pupils at the same time.
The need for a modern school for the community has been an ongoing part of local conversations for more than ten years. I commend my colleague, Councillor Finola Armstrong-McGuire, in Carrick-on-Shannon on highlighting the issues. It is time for the necessary funding to be allocated to progress a new school development. This is what our children deserve. There are a umber of options for sites around the town which could be suitable for development and I understand that the HSE has looked at two options for a new St. Patrick's Hospital development, one of which it has selected. I would be interested to know the position regarding the one it rejected. I know the question must be put to the HSE but the site could be suitable for the location of a new primary school.
I am taking this Commencement matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, who is currently out of the country. I thank the Senator for raising the matter and I am aware that Councillor Finola Armstrong-McGuire has made many requests on behalf of this school. As a former school principal, I congratulate the people responsible on amalgamating the two schools, which can be fraught with tension. There are a lot of logistics and I say "well done" to the two principals, the staff, the parents and the children.
As the Senator is aware, the Department will invest €8.4 billion in school buildings over the lifetime of Project Ireland 2040. This investment will see a 70% increase in the school building budget which will be targeted at delivering on the twin objectives of catering for the continued increase in demographics and a greater focus on the refurbishment and upgrade of existing school stock. The Government remains committed to delivering on existing projects on the school building programme as soon as possible. In time, we want to see physical education halls to ensure children get the best experience from primary and post-primary schools.
Scoil Mhuire is a co-educational school under Catholic patronage and 457 pupils are enrolled in the school. The Department’s planning and building unit received an application from Scoil Mhuire seeking funding for a new school on a greenfield site on 5 June and this application will be considered in the context of competing demands on the Department’s budget. The immediate priority of the Department is to provide 20,000 new and replacement school places each year to ensure that every child has a school place. In the interim, it is open to Scoil Mhuire national school to submit an application under the Department’s additional school accommodation scheme, ASA, to address any immediate deficits of accommodation that the school may have. The application form is available on my Department’s website, www.education.ie.
Project Ireland 2040 is about demographics and the upgrading and refurbishing of schools. The school needs to understand that the application has just been received. It will be kept under review and should the school authority make an application under the additional school accommodation scheme or the summer works scheme, it will be processed and the decision relayed to the school authority directly.
I am delighted that the school has put in an application. Many very good things are happening in the education sector in my region and I thank the Minister of State for her recent visit to Sligo, where she announced €960,000 to support apprenticeship programmes at the Institute of Technology Sligo, which was very welcome. The Minister of State has visited Sligo on numerous occasions and there is always good news when she is in the area. I was also delighted to attend the official opening of the new Gaelscoil in Carrick-on-Shannon by the Minister, Deputy McHugh, last Tuesday week. I have presented a strong case for a new, modern school for Carrick-on-Shannon and I know the Minister will give it due consideration.
I am very cognisant of the schools in Carrick-on-Shannon and Sligo. I will talk to the Minister because I know Senator Feighan has been pushing this. In the short term, the school should apply for the two grants I mentioned.