Thursday, 3 March 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Healy: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue with the Minister. In 2002 the Government announced the national spatial strategy for 2002 to 2020. Unfortunately, County Tipperary was not mentioned. It got no hub or gateway. It was as if the county did not exist. Clonmel is the main town within the county and within the south Tipperary, west Waterford, west Kilkenny and east Limerick areas.
When one looks at the characteristics of gateways and hubs as outlined in the strategy, Clonmel met all requirements. The definition of a hub having a significant urban population in the range 20,000 to 40,000 set in an associated rural hinterland describes Clonmel. It has the required primary, secondary and outreach education facilities, with third level facilities provided at the Tipperary Institute. A hub also has a mix of local medium-sized and larger businesses serving local, regional, national and international markets. Guidant employs 1,100 staff and will employ a further 1,000 over the next three years. We also have companies such as Showerings, Medite Europe, Merck, Sharp and Dohme, Clonmel Healthcare and a host of other industries.
Regarding the requirements of infrastructure and transportation, Clonmel is situated on a national primary road and there is a rail link from Limerick to Waterford and on to Rosslare port. We have a regional hospital and South Tipperary General Hospital is also based in Clonmel. A range of required amenities, such as sporting and cultural facilities, are available in Clonmel, as are water services and facilities for physical, social and economic development.
These requirements describe Clonmel to perfection but, for whatever reason, it was not given hub status. Having discussed the matter with the Department and the Minister at the time, the reaction of the county enterprise board, county council, public representatives and the people of south Tipperary was to ensure Clonmel was given de facto hub status. The authorities purchased Ballingarrane estate owned by the Watson family on the edge of Clonmel. South Tipperary County Council is establishing a technology and business park on the estate. Many bodies have come on board, including IDA Ireland which purchased 65 acres, as well as private interests.
The educational element is vital to the establishment of the technology and business park. In the Minister’s reply to the last Adjournment matter, he spoke of the Government’s proposals for the integration of education with industry, research and development and their importance for future economic and social development. In keeping with this, a request has been made for the relocation of the Tipperary Institute to the technology and business park.
The Tipperary Institute has two campuses, one in Thurles and the other in Clonmel. It is the only third level institute in Europe which integrates third level education with rural and business development. I raised this matter in a parliamentary question before Christmas and was informed there was some merit in the request and a review would take place. I hope the review has been completed and a decision has been made to relocate to Ballingarrane. This is a cost-neutral exercise in that no cost is involved in the relocation of the institute to the new business and technology park. I hope the Minister has good news regarding the matter.
Mr. Martin: I am glad the Deputy has given me the opportunity to outline, on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, the proposals of her Department concerning the proposed relocation of the Tipperary institute. A Government decision of 26 July 1995 authorised the establishment of the Tipperary Rural and Business Development Institute as a company limited by guarantee. The institute was duly incorporated under the Companies Acts on 26 March 1998. The institute is now functioning with a board of directors with a wide range of expertise drawn both from the private and public sectors, in accordance with its memorandum and articles of association.
The institute opened in 1999 as an alternative type of institution to the traditional third level model, with an emphasis on integrating mainstream thirdlevel education with activities designed to promote rural enterprise and community development. It is located on two campuses, one in Thurles and one in Clonmel.
On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, I would like to outline the background to the proposed development. The existing campus in Clonmel comprises 21 acres and is owned by the Tipperary Rural and Business Development Institute, a limited company. The facility comprises a single-storey structure of over 1,800 sq. m., which consists of a lecture theatre, multi-media centre, classrooms, computer laboratories and office accommodation. The site was purchased with Exchequer funding in 1998, when I was Minister for Education and Science.
South Tipperary County Council purchased circa 300 acres — the Ballingarrane property — for the development of a large-scale technology park. The council has proposed that the TRBDI campus in Clonmel be relocated to the park. To facilitate the transfer, the council is amenable to providing a free site to the institute. The Minister, Deputy Hanafin, understands the institute is agreeable in principle to the council’s proposal. The institute believes the relocation cost to include design, construction and fit out of new facilities would be met from the disposal of existing assets. The institute submitted the proposal to the capital review and prioritisation working group, the Kelly report, on future capital needs in the higher education sector. The Kelly report recognised that the proposal has merit on the basis that it would be self-financing.
Before the Department of Education and Science can consent to the proposal, it will need to be satisfied as to the value of the assets available for disposal against the cost of the new facilities, as well as whether the issue of bridging finance arises and, if so, how the institute intends to finance bridging arrangements. The Department has been pursuing a site in the town for a primary school for some time. Discussions have taken place with TRBDI on the possibility of a site for the school being made available at its current location. All of these issues will be discussed further at a meeting that is being arranged with officials of the Department of Education and Science and TRBDI.
The submission by TRBDI to the review group also included several capital proposals concerning other campus developments in both Clonmel and Thurles. However, the review group recommended that the policy framework for the institute should be looked at again before the other proposed investment proposals could be considered. This is interpreted as being a reference to the TRBDI basis structure. The institute is currently considering its capital development proposals in the context of this recommendation. The implications of changes, if any, to the policy framework will need to be assessed carefully before substantial capital investment can be sanctioned for the institute.
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