Thursday, 15 June 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Neville: I thank the Chair for giving me the opportunity to raise this issue which is of great importance to the people of Pallaskenry, County Limerick, where there is a need to construct extra classrooms and toilets as well as a cloakroom and store in the local national school. As the proposal has been with the Department for five years the issue should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Pupils are being catered for in two classrooms in prefabricated buildings which are totally unsuitable and in which a remedial teacher also works. They have been in use in the school for 14 years and prior to that for a further eight years. It is unacceptable to allow children to be educated in such buildings which everyone accepts are unsuitable. It is also unfair on teachers who cannot work properly in such conditions. While moneys were made available in 1997 to improve the buildings they are still totally unsuitable. The external walls are rotting, there is dry rot in the classrooms and the buildings are cold in winter and warm in summer. In warm weather classes are obliged to move outdoors because of the intense heat. There is no insulation and no toilet. As a consequence pupils are obliged to cross the main schoolyard, which creates enormous difficulties in wet weather. Pupils must cross from the permanent structure to the prefabricated buildings in similar conditions for remedial teaching. I am sure the Minister will agree that this is also unsatisfactory. The current staffing of the school is a principal and seven assistant teachers.
In 1996 the board of management wrote to the Department seeking approval for the replacement of the prefabricated buildings. A full review of enrolment trends was undertaken by the  planning section following which it was considered that the school's medium to long-term accommodation requirements were six permanent classrooms, a general purpose room and ancillary accommodation. In August 1996 the Department informed the board of management that it considered that the provision of an additional classroom, a general purpose room and ancillary accommodation would satisfy its needs.
Pallaskenry is a satellite town. Its population has quadrupled in the past 20 years and will continue to increase as there are proposals to provide a sewerage scheme which will lead to enormous housing development and as a consequence a big demand for educational facilities. Council housing estates have been built in addition to developments initiated by Aughinish Alumina. There have also been private developments. It is an attractive town into which many more families will move for the reasons mentioned.
We should pay tribute to the teachers for continuing to work in such unsatisfactory conditions and parents for their tolerance. Demonstrations often take place outside the Houses of the Oireachtas. The people of Pallaskenry will not do this, they will protest in a quiet and dignified fashion in an effort to have the school completed.
A sum of £20,000 was spent on the prefabricated buildings in October 1997. The Minister's officials in Tullamore gave me a guarantee at the time that if this was accepted by the board of management and parents it would not interfere in any way with the construction of the new classrooms required.
The parochial house adjacent to the school is now up for sale and, if required, a strip of land can be made available to the Department for the proposed extension. The Minister's officials should advise the board of management if this would be of assistance. I understand the church authorities would be sympathetic to such a request.
Dr. Woods: I am glad that the Deputy has given me the opportunity to outline to the House my Department's current position regarding the provision of improved accommodation at Pallaskenry National School. At present, the school has a staffing level of principal, five assistant teachers and a shared remedial teacher. The school's facilities consist of four permanent classrooms, a general-purpose room currently being used as a classroom and a three classroom prefabricated block.
An application has been received in my Department from the management authorities of the school seeking grant assistance towards replacing the prefabricated structure with a permanent facility. A technical inspection of the school building was carried out recently and a report is currently being prepared. When it has been fully considered, my Department's building unit will be in contact with the school authorities.
The Deputy will appreciate that there are a very large number of schools building projects on  hand within my Department. In view of the priority which the Government has given to reversing the neglect of our primary schools evident previously, the spending Estimates show primary school building and renovation funding increasing by an unprecedented 186% from the 1997 budget allocation. In addition, we have significantly reduced the burden of fund-raising faced by schools and communities throughout the country.
I assure the Deputy that the application by the management authorities of Pallaskenry National School will be dealt with as speedily as possible. I thank him again for giving me the opportunity of outlining the current position to the House. I appreciate the points he has made. Once we receive the report I will try to have it progressed as speedily as possible.
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