Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
34. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science his views on the slow rate of progress in resolving the issue of asbestos in schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6885/01]
87. Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science the estimated cost of removing asbestos from school buildings; the amount which has been provided in the estimates in 2001 in this respect; the timescale envisaged for the completion of the work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6948/01]
The rate of progress on the programme of asbestos remediation in primary and post-primary schools has been steady since it began in 1999, taking into consideration that the testing and removal procedures are quite complex and have to be undertaken by specially qualified personnel in accordance with strictly enforced procedures.  By the end of 2001 approximately 2,000 out of a total of just under 4,000 schools will have been tested. Of those schools which have already been tested, approximately 500 were found to contain asbestos. Although the presence of the material did not constitute any immediate health and safety risk, it was decided as a matter of policy, when the remediation programme began, to have asbestos removed from schools where it was detected. The necessary removal works have been carried out in approximately 370 of these 500 schools and it is hoped to complete work on the remaining 130 buildings before the end of the year.
It is anticipated at this point that the full programme of testing and removal in respect of all schools will be completed by the end of 2004. Where asbestos requiring removal is detected, either as a result of the survey or otherwise, arrangements are made to undertake the work in accordance with the relevant health and safety legislation. The entire cost of the programme of detection and removal is being borne by my Department. Total expenditure in 2000 was £6.3 million.
My Department will continue to make available the necessary finance to maintain the rate of progress. It is likely that expenditure this year will exceed the figure of £6.3 million for 2000 due to an increase in the number of schools being dealt with. Funding for the asbestos programme is provided from the annual capital allocations for primary and post primary schools. The capital allocation for 2001 in respect of school buildings is in excess of £220 million.
I should point out, however, that the current foot and mouth crisis may require a temporary halt to the testing and removal process in rural schools and my Department and the Office of Public Works will continue to monitor the situation closely and take whatever precautionary measures are necessary.
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