Seanad debates

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Schools Building Projects

10:30 am

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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The next matter concerns new school buildings at Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, and Scoil Chaitríona in Renmore, County Galway.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education. I take this opportunity to congratulate her and the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, on the voted capital allocations in the national development plan that have increased from €740 million to over €1 billion in 2025. Obviously cost inflation will account for some of the increase, and that is something that is increasingly problematic or worrying, but there is a commitment to continue the development of school infrastructure and buildings in this capital allocation.

Last December, I tabled Commencement debates on both of these school projects and on that occasion the Minister replied. We have done a lot of good work on school infrastructure in Galway over the last decade. In my own constituency we have new developments such as Merlin College, Merlin Woods Primary School, Gaelscoil de hÍde, Coláiste na Coiribe, Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh and the new schools in Clifden, Oughterard, Na Forbacha, Claregalway and Lackagh.

A lot of good work has been done and some extensions in places like Rosmuck and Scoil Fhursa in Galway city among others. However, a number of new projects and new schools buildings are needed, including Scoil Mhuire in Moycullen. It is my old alma materthat I attended up to 1987 so the project is very personal to me in terms of making progress. There is also Scoil Chaitríona junior and senior schools in Renmore. I seek an update on both of these projects. Scoil Mhuire in Moycullen has nearly 400 children and was put on the five-year Schools Building Programme 2016-2021. I set up a number of meetings and progress was made with the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Joe McHugh. There were also a number of meetings with the board of management. There were a lot of issues concerning the most appropriate site and the associated costs but a decision was made to rebuild on the existing school site. In April or May 2020 sign-off was given for new and rather impressive prefabs that have since been installed. They are quite modern and very large, which is a big improvement on what existed previously. From the excitement of the school being planned from 2016 onwards to still awaiting on the planning application to be lodged and all that goes with that, there is some concern. Therefore, I seek an update.

Scoil Chaitríona, Renmore, has sought a new school building for a number of years. There has been an issue with an alternative site. The school was requested to look at alternatives and when it did it said there were none. The school is located in the middle of a city so it would be difficult to find a new site. There is a green area across the road from the existing school that is in the ownership of Galway City Council. The school sought to incorporate the green area not as part of the school building but as part of a site for recreational amenities. The school sought to reconfigure the existing site but use the green space as part of the play area for the school. I seek an update on the engagement that has taken place. Again, there have been a lot of meetings and a lot of good work has been done by the board of management with the bishop's office in Galway and Galway City Council. The Minister pointed out that a full commitment has been given to get these projects over the line.The pupils, teachers, staff and parents in the Renmore area have been waiting some time for this project. If the Minister of State could give an update on that project as well, I would appreciate it.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley. I thank Senator Kyne for raising the matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline what is happening in regard to the schools he mentioned.

The major building project for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, of which I am aware Senator Kyne is an alumni so I am sure the school is delighted he is representing it here in the Seanad, is included in the Department’s construction programme which is being delivered under the national development plan. The brief for this project is, as stated by the Senator, to provide for the demolition of the existing school building, removal of the existing temporary accommodation and the construction of a new school building to include 16 general classrooms and a two-class special educational needs base on the existing site, which as Minister of State with responsibility for special education, I particularly welcome.

Stage 1, preliminary design, was approved on 27 April last and the project then progressed to stage 2a, developed design, where the design team develop the agreed design option and accurately cost plan that option to a stage where the project is fully cost planned and can be prepared to lodge for statutory approvals, including planning permission. The design team are currently completing the stage 2a submission and upon receipt and review of the stage 2a report by my Department, the stage 2a stakeholders meeting will take place between the design team, project manager, Department officials and representatives from the board of management. I understand that this meeting is scheduled for 14 October, which is only a few days away. Following the planned stage 2a stakeholders meeting later this month, my Department will advise the school’s board of management and its design team of the further progression of the project for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen. That is the position in regard to Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen. I note the Senator's comments and contribution in that regard.

As the Senator is aware, the building projects for Scoil Chaitríona Junior and Scoil Chaitríona Senior are also included in my Department’s school building programme to be delivered under the national development plan. The accommodation brief for both projects are being developed and my Department will continue to liaise with the schools in this regard. The Department has also approved an emergency works grant for roof works to the schools' temporary accommodation. We must ensure that all accommodation, whether temporary or permanent, is fit for purpose for the children and staff.

I note that both schools are under the patronage of the Bishop of Galway. As noted by the Senator, there are ongoing conversations between the Bishop of Galway and the patron in regard to all of these matters. I note the Senator's point that Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, in particular, is looking at an alternative site. The Senator also mentioned a green space owned by Galway County Council which the school wants to use as a play area. The Department is aware that I am here today so the officials will be listening to this debate and, perhaps, they may take note of that if it is not something that has been already brought to their attention.

Suffice to say, all of these schools are in the Department's construction programme in terms of new infrastructure. There are plans for all of them. I will bring back to the Minister, Deputy Foley, the message that the Senator would like all of these matters to be expedited.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I welcome the progress in regard to Scoil Mhuire, the meeting that is scheduled for 14 October and that following that meeting the Department will advise the school's board of management and its design team of further progression of the project. It is important there is progress in regard to the development of this much sought project. The concern of the community regarding the condition of the prefabs is growing all of the time, so it is important the issue is addressed.

I am disappointed with the Minister of State's response in regard to the Scoil Chaitríona projects. There is obviously a lot more needed in regard to progressing that development. The Minister of State did not provide a great deal of information in regard to the Scoil Chaitríona projects. I would appreciate it if she could seek a more comprehensive in that regard from the Department, in particular in regard to the green space and the liaison between Galway City Council and the Department in that regard.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I apologise for the misunderstanding. I understood the green space was for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, but it obviously is for Scoil Chaitríona. I will take back the Senator's comments to the Department. My understanding is that both schools are to be included in the Department's school building programme and the national development plan. The accommodation brief is being developed, but it probably needs to be done at a faster pace. I will speak to the departmental officials on that.

As I said earlier, Scoil Mhuire will also get two new special education classes. I welcome that. It can be often difficult to get schools to open special education facilities. I commend Scoil Mhuire in that regard. I note that Scoil Chaitríona Junior and Scoil Chaitríona Senior also have special education teaching posts. Most children with special educational needs are within mainstream schools. I will relay the Senator's comments in regard to the building projects for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, and Scoil Chaitríona Junior and Scoil Chaitríona Senior, Renmore, Galway, to the Minister.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House today. It is much appreciated.