Tuesday, 20 June 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
Ms O’Sullivan: Tá mé buíoch go bhfuil cead agam an rún seo a phlé. Students, parents and the principal of Gaelscoil Sairséal are so desperate to ensure that there is definite progress in the acquisition of a site for their school before the summer break that they took the extreme measure of protesting outside the Dáil earlier today. I am sure many Members will have seen the children there. That is an indication of the situation in Gaelscoil Sairséal.
Gaelscoil Sairséal is a wonderful school with a dedicated and enlightened principal, staff, board of management and parents who involve themselves fully in the life of the school. However, they operate in atrocious conditions. The main school building was built as a courthouse 240 years ago and has dark, damp, leaking overcrowded classrooms and a tiny school yard. It was declared unsuitable for health and safety reasons for a different school many years ago. The infant classrooms are in St. Mary’s Band Hall, which has no playground and which is entirely inappropriate for use as a school, particularly for small children. There is no natural light in some of the classrooms and ventilation and heating are sub-standard. I have visited the school on a number of occasions and have seen the conditions first hand. I have also witnessed the dedication of the staff and parents to that school. It is hard to believe that the Department of Education and Children has not treated their needs as an emergency. Parents in the school have said that if they kept their children in those conditions at home, the children would probably be taken into care.
Gaelscoil Sairséal has been in temporary accommodation for 16 years, the last 12 in the current two sites. They thought a permanent site was secured in February 2001 when the board was informed by the Office of Public Works that a deal had been made with a developer to purchase a site. However, this site was lost because funds were not released in time to finalise the purchase. Parents, children and teachers were told they would have to wait again. There is now another opportunity. There are three acres of land, zoned for educational and community use, available on the outskirts of Limerick city. The school submitted an application relating to this land in January 2005. It has not yet been acquired by the OPW. I have raised this matter on a number of occasions through parliamentary questions. I have been told the OPW is aware of the site and is dealing with the developer, but issues remain to be clarified.
The real fear among the parents, teachers and children at the school is that this site might fall through their hands. They have taken the extreme step of coming to the Dáil to make their protest. They are determined to purchase the site for their school and that this will happen before the summer break. I hope the Minister of State can give me an answer that will ensure is the case.
Any further delay is inexcusable. The children simply cannot be left in these conditions. I call on the Minister for Education and Science to sanction the purchase of the site and to provide the funding to build the school without any further delay.
Mr. S. Power: I thank the Deputy for affording me the opportunity to outline to this House the proposals of the Department of Education and Science regarding the need to acquire a permanent site for Gaelscoil Sairséal in Limerick. I also apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, who is unable to be here this evening.
Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task, given the legacy of decades of under-investment in this area as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. Nonetheless, since taking office, the Government has shown a focused determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. As evidence of this commitment, approximately 1,300 building and modernisation projects will take place in our primary and post-primary schools during 2006. Over €500 million is being spent on primary and post-primary projects throughout the country. This unprecedented level of capital investment is testament to the importance the Government places on improving the quality of accommodation in our schools.
This school originated on the north side of Limerick city but had to relocate to the city centre due to accommodation issues. The majority of pupils come from the north side of the city. It is the responsibility of the board of management to secure interim accommodation until such time as the Department is in a position to provide permanent accommodation. The school is currently split between two sites. The main building is on Bridge Street. The ground floor contains three classrooms and the first floor contains three classrooms. The basement contains a staffroom, special tuition room and principal’s office. First to sixth classes are located in these premises. The infant classes are based at the other site on St. Mary’s Street. The Department of Education and Science currently grant-aids 95% of the rental cost of these premises at a total of £147,000 per annum. The school’s contribution to the rental cost is capped at €3,175 per annum.
The school is awaiting the provision of a permanent building. Its priority rating is band two. Architectural planning cannot commence until a suitable site is secured. The property management section of the Office of Public Works has been requested by the Department of Education and Science to source a site for the Gaelscoil. While a suitable parcel of land has been identified, a map of the specific area offered to the Department for sale is awaited from the landowner. This map is required in order to clarify specific suitability issues such as topography, access, availability of services and so on. As soon as the OPW receives this map, these more detailed issues can be examined. When a suitable site has been secured, the proposed building project for Gaelscoil Sairséal will be considered for progression in the context of the school building and modernisation programme for 2006-10.
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