Wednesday, 22 June 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh Gníomhaigh. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire stáit, an Teachta Madigan, freisin. Tá díomá orm nach bhfuil an tAire Oideachais í féin anseo, an Teachta Foley anseo agus ba cheart go mbeadh sí.
It is a shame that the Minister for Education has not seen fit to be able to be here today. This is a matter I have put tabled on a number of occasions and the Minister of State has come to the House on a number of occasions to reply on issues relating to this school. It is a shame that the Minister is not here as this is a direct responsibility of hers in the Department of Education, rather than related to the Minister of State's brief, which concerns special educational needs. I want to put on the record the credit given to the Minister of State by the community of Gaelscoil Laighean for the work she has done in this area. I recognise that she is supportive of what the community is trying to do.
As she is very well aware, there is a major issue with Gaelscoil Laighean, a small Gaelscoil currently located in Kill of the Grange in Deansgrange. It is currently in a two-room building and the school community is extremely stressed about the space available for it to grow. The reality is that the inaction of the Department is preventing the school from growing. Until it has the space to grow, it cannot take in extra classes and pupils, despite the fact that there is significant demand for that.
The Minister of State will also be aware that for a number of years the school has sought an alternative to the Kill of the Grange site. One has now been found at Mount Anville and disposed of by the Department of Education, and is now in a position to proceed, although I recognise that there is a certain amount of time involved in creating a school on the site. However, we also know that there is not enough room in Kill of the Grange for the school to grow in the way it needs. At the moment, there are 75 students enrolled for September. It has another class coming in and it does not have the physical space to accommodate it.
As far as I can see, the Department has done absolutely nothing to progress the fact that the school needs space for the new class. The parents and community of the school identified the school site in Mount Merrion that would accommodate the school on an interim basis before moving to the site in Mount Anville. The Department did not do that work; the parents did. Notwithstanding that, permission was required to construct the tigín, or prefab building, in Mount Merrion to accommodate the school on an interim short-term basis.
It was for the Department to make an application to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council under section 5 of the Planning and Development Act in respect of exempted development status for the site so that a building could be put in place. As I understand it, that application has still not been made and there is no good explanation as to why that has been the case. There has been talk about this for months. It is a simple application. Engineers have attended the site and examined it, and I understand the application is ready or will be submitted soon. Why has it not yet been submitted?
As long as it is not in, all the parents, families and teachers connected to Gaelscoil Laighean are in limbo. They do not know what is going to happen. They cannot plan for after-school classes, which were to be made available on the Mount Merrion site. They cannot plan for commuting to and from the school in the morning. People living in Mount Merrion have taken their children out of local schools to attend the school in September and now do not know where it is going to be.
The interim proposal from the Department, which has been communicated to all parents and An Foras Pátrúnachta, is to have a site across the road in the community centre of Kill of the Grange parish. That is not acceptable. There is a busy road. It is proposed that a small school be divided between two sites, which would involve children crossing the road at lunchtime, little or big break or whatever else. More importantly, that will divide teachers and classes. It is not a real solution.
I hope the Minister of State will have some information on this. I want to know why the building has not progressed and why we have not given parents some certainty regarding what will happen with the school in September, which is just a few months away. I hope we can make progress on this issue.
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. As he knows, it is something of which I am acutely aware. I have had numerous conversations with families whose children want to attend Gaelscoil Laighean. As we know, we want a permanent building to be provided as soon as possible on the Mount Anville site. I understand the Department lodged a planning application with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council on Tuesday, 21 June, to provide interim accommodation on the Mount Anville site.
I understand that, as a contingency arrangement, the Department has, as the Senator said, submitted a section 5 application to the council to determine whether a proposal to provide interim accommodation on the grounds of Mount Merrion community centre requires planning permission or is considered exempted development. I understand it will lodge that application this week. The interim accommodation, which can be installed on either site once permission is secured, has been procured and is available to the Department for installation. I am not aware of the reason the application is only being submitted this week. It would have been preferable for it to have been done before now.
I will bring the Senator's Commencement matter to the attention of the planning and building unit and the Minister to make sure that we can expedite the building of a permanent building as soon as possible. I understand that heads of terms have been agreed and the Department is waiting on draft contracts. It is expected that conveyancing will conclude shortly.
That still leaves a gap, as the Senator said, between where we are now and when the children will attend school. I note what he said about the fact that the interim accommodation in Kill of the Grange would not have the capacity to take in any more children or expand. He mentioned after-school or afternoon classes and commuting.
I understand 39 pupils are enrolled and another 24 are expected to begin in the new the school year. I believe there are two contingency plans. One involves the Mount Merrion community centre and the second concerns the parish hall, as the Senator said. The Department has worked with An Foras Pátrúnachta to identify contingency arrangements.
The difficulty is that we know the permanent school building will not be built by September and, therefore, we need to find an arrangement that is satisfactory for the families, whether that involves the use of the parish hall in Blackrock or the Mount Merrion centre, which is near where I live. Fire and disability access certificates will be required on whichever site is available first. I understand applications are being prepared.
The views of parents are critical in ensuring that we have adequate facilities for children and that the commute and after-school activities will not be unduly onerous while the school community awaits the building of permanent accommodation. I hope the Department, which is listening to this contribution, will be able to provide some clarity on that in early course.
I accept the bona fides of the Minister of State and I acknowledge the efforts she has made to facilitate the school community. I welcome the fact that the application will be made in short order. It should have been made weeks ago. The reality is that it is unlikely I will have an opportunity to raise this issue again before the end of this session, but I am not letting this go. I may come back here in September. So help me God, if the school community in Gaelscoil Laighean has been left in the lurch again there will have to be consequences in terms of the inaction of the Department. This should have happened and it is simply not fair to the school community to leave it in the lurch like this, not knowing what is going to happen.
Those living in Mount Merrion do not know whether they will have to drive to Deansgrange in the morning with children before driving to work, wherever that might be. That is not fair on parents and households. Action needs to be taken. I dearly hope that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council will deem this to be exempted development so that matters can progress. I hope the interim site in Mount Merrion will be in place in time for September. It should be, and if it is not, we know who is to blame.
The Senator has made his views known quite clearly. As a parent, I know how difficult it must be not having clarity. We want clarity as soon as possible. I agree with his sentiments around Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.In that case, at least the parents can be told one way or the other where their children will attend in advance of September so that they can make the appropriate arrangements needed. Obviously, this is a critical issue. In tandem with that, I will put pressure on the planning and building unit in the Department to make sure that the conveyancing is wrapped up and we get the permanent building built as soon as possible, which is ultimately what everybody wants.