Tuesday, 14 June 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
51. Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason her Department is continuing in its failure to provide a site and to grant aid a new school (details supplied) in County Mayo; the further reason her Department is willing to jeopardise the future education of the children at this school by not providing them with a permanent site and building; when pupils, teachers and parents can expect an end to this ongoing saga; when the OPW will announce the location of the new site; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19801/05]
Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin): The school referred to by the Deputy opened in September 1996 with provisional recognition. Having met the criteria for recognition and proven its viability, the school was granted permanent recognition in 2000. It is standard practice that the school authorities are responsible for the securing of interim accommodation which is grant aided by the Department, pending the securing of permanent recognition. On being granted permanent recognition, a school becomes eligible for capital funding. The rate of progress towards a permanent accommodation solution depends on a number of factors including availability of sites and the Department’s budgetary capacity to meet the level of demand.
The school is currently accommodated in prefabricated classrooms on a 0.75 acre site in the town. The rental costs of the site and classroom accommodation are grant aided by my Department at the rate of 95%. My Department is advised that the lease on the site is due to expire in June 2006. I assure the Deputy that we are acutely aware of the urgent need for an accommodation solution for this school, particularly given the limitations on the existing arrangement.
My Department is doing its utmost to achieve a satisfactory outcome at the earliest possible date. To that end, the property management section of the Office of Public Works has been actively engaged in seeking a suitable site for a new school building. Soil sampling is being undertaken to verify the suitability of a particular site. The result of the tests and final assessment of site suitability is expected to be concluded and with my Department in a week or two.
Dr. Cowley: I thank the Minister for her reply. The people of Westport took to the streets recently because they could not wait any longer. They have been waiting since 2001. A promise was made in February 2002 by the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, that the Department would provide a site and permanent accommodation for this school, but that has not happened.
As the Minister stated, the lease will expire next May and a new school must be built. I have consistently raised this matter and have been informed by the Minister that the OPW is dealing with the matter and that a site had been chosen from the seven which had been identified. The board of management has been told that the work of the OPW has been completed and the report has been handed to the Minister. We have heard nothing from the Minister. The people concerned are anxious to know what is happening.
It is two weeks from the end of the school term. A safe environment cannot be provided at the school. A damning health and safety report has shown that those five tarpaulin structures are dangerous as they are falling down around the children. The playground is also hazardous as cars must turn in the playground. Currently there are 185 pupils with a further 30 due to enrol next year. The parents want to know what is the future for the school and what type of building will be provided on the site. More tarpaulin structures would not be acceptable. The parents also wish to know if the school will be built once the site is acquired. Something must be done. There is a window of opportunity and unless something is done now the opportunity will be missed. This matter has been ongoing since 2001.
People have taken to the streets. A significant number of people attended the march in Westport and they are considering marching on the Dáil. Why should they have to do this? The Minister has the report. Can she not state when the matter will be dealt with, what kind of building will be constructed on the site and when the project will go ahead? The people concerned must be informed.
Ms Hanafin: A particular site has been identified by the OPW and soil sampling is currently being carried out there. As soon as that is complete it will be able to conclude its assessment of the site and will then be able to provide me with the details in regard to that. The lease on the school does not expire for another 12 months which provides the school with extra time to deal with its new intake of pupils.
Dr. Cowley: Will it go straight to the building programme once a site has been provided? We have been told that the OPW’s work has concluded on the site but the Minister stated it is still ongoing. The OPW stated the matter is in the Minister’s hands. The money has not been provided due to a fudging of the issue. The people need to know what is happening. The new school must be constructed and ready within a year because the lease will expire next May. The pupils must have somewhere to go. People also want an assurance that they will get more than just tarpaulin structures. Can the Minister assure me a permanent bricks and mortar school will be built instead of five more tarpaulin structures and that the building programme will commence as soon as a site becomes available?
Ms Hanafin: My information is that soil sampling is being undertaken. Given the difficulties that have been experienced in Mayo in recent years regarding soil it might be very wise of the OPW to carry out soil sampling before we would even consider putting a building on a site. I recognise the needs of the school. The building programme for the next five years has a capital allocation of €3.5 billion. A number of school projects are ongoing. Once a site has been acquired in this case, it is my intention to add this school to the building programme.
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