Thursday, 29 January 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Durkan: I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to discuss the increasingly serious problem of gross overcrowding, inadequate and dilapidated buildings and the clear breaches of health and safety regulations arising therefrom which negatively affect conditions under which pupils and teachers try to work and study in a number of primary and second level schools in County Kildare. I call on the Minister for Education and Science to provide the necessary resources to address these pressing issues.
County Kildare is adjacent to the greater Dublin population area. There is ongoing pressure for school places and utility and community services. Schools, hospitals and other essential services are to the fore in that regard. Virtually every town and village which has or does not have a primary and/or second level school, is under serious pressure to provide urgently required facilities for an increasing population.
I do not propose to name all the schools in County Kildare, but the Maynooth post-primary school, which has been understaffed for several years, is heavily overcrowded. It is currently restricting admissions. Its students and teachers work and study in conditions which are more suited to the 18th or 19th century, rather than the 21st century. The school is at the early architectural planning stage. Planning permission was granted three years ago. The community has taken all the necessary action, but the relevant action has not been taken by the Department.
I ask the Minister to give priority rating to all schools in the county. A number of schools, such as Sallins and Robertstown, which were in a serious condition, have received indications. Work will proceed on those in the current year, but it remains to be seen to what extent that will happen. However, work must be carried out on Maynooth post-primary school, Scoil Clochar Naofa in Kilcock and Tír Mochain national school, to name but a few. Kill national school requires a new building. Discussions have taken place. The Minister said in reply to parliamentary questions that consideration was being given to the acquisition of a site. However, while that has been happening for the past two years, new road proposals have been outlined which will bring heavy vehicular traffic close to the school. It would be better to relocate the school to another site as quickly as possible in view of the impending major road reconstruction work. St. Patrick's post-primary school in Naas is another example. I will not list all the schools because there are a total of 46.
In view of the severe pressure emanating from the increased population and demand for school places, will the Minister influence the Department to draw up a priority list which takes cognisance of the geographic location of County Kildare, particularly north Kildare, to the population base of Dublin? If the schools in question have to take the population overflow from the capital city, which they are doing and are willing to do, the least that can be done is to ensure that the necessary resources are provided in a structured way to meet the requirements. If that is not done, the problem will get worse. If that happens, the Minister will leave himself open to allegations that he failed to do his duty and to meet his statutory requirements. Those allegations will be valid because we have repeatedly brought this to the attention of the Minister and his Department. The Minister of State is too good at his job to refer to the website. We all know about the website. I do not want to hear about it. I want action soon.
Mr. Treacy: I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey, who has EU Presidency responsibilities this afternoon and regrets very much that he cannot be here.
Given the generalised nature of the Deputy's statement, I propose to outline to the House both the extensive actions already taken by the Department of Education and Science, and those planned for the future to address the accommodation needs of schools in County Kildare which continues to experience a population growth. This position almost inevitably places strain on existing educational infrastructure. Over the past two years, however, the Department of Education and Science has provided a massive and unprecedented €69.3 million for an extensive catalogue of capital interventions in primary and post-primary schools in County Kildare to address this issue, one of the biggest in Ireland. At primary level, the landscape in Kildare now includes two new schools at Celbridge and Killashee. A state-of-the-art, 16 classroom school with a double autistic unit is scheduled to go to construction in Naas this year together with a new eight classroom school in Rathmore, which represents very positive progress.
Major extension and refurbishment works will also proceed for schools in Sallins, Clogherincoe and Celbridge. In addition, refurbishment works and the provision of ancillary accommodation are already under way at Scoil Naomh Mhuire, Ballymany. To further develop provision in the area, there are a number of primary school projects in architectural planning for extension and refurbishment works. The details of these projects are available on the school building programme for 2004 which is published on the Department of Education and Science's website at www.education.ie.
Mr. Treacy: The Department of Education and Science is continually looking at new and innovative ways of expediting and devolving delivery of educational infrastructure. In this regard, the Deputy may be aware of two pilot initiatives being run by the Department — the small and rural school programme and the permanent accommodation programme. These initiatives are very promising and the Minister for Education and Science has decided to extend the schemes to include more schools for 2004. Included in these schools are the Monasterevin No. 2 national school and Scoil Naomh Brighde, Ticknevin. Both of these schools have accepted an invitation to participate and attended a meeting about this recently. Scoil Naomh an Chloch Mhor, Rathvilly, has also accepted an invitation for the construction of ancillary accommodation in 2004.
Further additional accommodation was provided in Kildare in 2003 by way of purchased temporary accommodation for six primary schools. Officials in the Department of Education and Science are assessing and prioritising all applications for temporary accommodation for primary and post-primary schools for 2004. The Department will soon publish a list of projects proceeding this year. At post-primary level, in Naas, a major extension project has been completed at St. Mary's College, which has increased capacity at the school to 800 pupils. An application for further additional accommodation is being assessed. In addition, a major extension at Meánscoil Iognaid Rís is in architectural planning. There is surplus capacity at St. Patrick's post-primary school and the school's management authority, County Kildare VEC, is assessing the future of the school at its existing location. Elsewhere in the county, a physical education hall has recently been completed at Scoil Eoin, Rathstewart, and a large extension of almost 1,900 sq. m. is under construction at Scoil Dara, Kilcock.
There are several post-primary projects in architectural planning for extension and refurbishment works. The details of these projects are also available on the Department of Education and Science's website. On the recent publication of the Department's building programme, the Minister stressed his absolute conviction that devolving funding, responsibility and authority to schools for small-scale capital building projects is the way forward. As a further initiative in that direction, the Minister has put in place a new €31 million devolved summer works scheme. This caters for necessary small-scale works that can be planned and delivered generally during the summer holidays when the children and teachers are at home. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of schools with approved projects under this scheme. This initiative sets clear dates for both the application and decision processes. Too often in the past a project could not progress during the summer because of difficulties caused by late notification. The new approach will bring greater clarity and certainty to the operation of the small-scale works programme and will help schools in their preparations for the execution of the works during the summer. The scheme is open to all primary and post-primary schools in the country and schools in Kildare may further benefit from funding under the scheme, subject to the prioritisation criteria governing the scheme, the level of funding available and the competing priorities for that funding.
School authorities are responsible, in the first instance, for ensuring the safety and welfare of children and others in their care. In accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, it is the responsibility of school management authorities to have a safety statement in place in their schools. Schools are obliged to identify possible hazards, assess the risks to health and safety and put appropriate safeguards in place. Primary schools are given an annual allocation of €3,809 plus €12.70 per pupil under the grant scheme for minor works which can be used entirely at the discretion of school management to address basic health and safety issues connected with the school infrastructure. In addition, the Department of Education and Science has set aside a contingency sum of €11 million to deal with emergency works in primary and post-primary schools, including emergency health and safety works, during 2004.
A key part of our strategy on capital expenditure will be grounded on the budget day announcement of multiannual allocations for capital investment in education projects covering the years 2004-08. All projects not going to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme are being reappraised with a view to including them as part of a multiannual building programme from 2005 onwards. These projects will also be reviewed in the context of a re-examination of the criteria governing the prioritisation of large-scale works in consultation with the education partners. The purpose of this review is to ensure that the criteria have optimum precision and are fully tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of the primary and post-primary sectors. When the review has been completed, a further list of priority projects will be approved to proceed through architectural planning this year. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey, expects to be in a position to make a further announcement on these matters during 2004 and is very positive about that. Overall, the ongoing unprecedented level of investment in schools in County Kildare demonstrates the Department of Education and Science's commitment to ensuring that the long-term accommodation needs of the area are met. The Government's record in this regard is second to none.
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