Thursday, 24 January 1991
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Neville: I should like to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, to the House to hear my case which is a very important if not emotive issue, the provision of a new primary school at Kilcornan, County Limerick.
To give the House some idea of the difficulties at present being encountered there I should say that one of the infant classes housed in a 20-year old prefabricated building must vacate the premises whenever storm conditions prevail because of potential danger to the pupils. The educational facilites available are totally unacceptable and have been allowed to continue so for far too long. I  urge the Minister and the Government to have constructed immediately a new school at Kilcornan. The conditions obtaining there at present are putting extreme pressure on pupils who might well be described as disadvantaged in comparison with the facilities available in most other areas in County Limerick. Probably it is the primary school subjected to the worst conditions in all of County Limerick, subjecting its teachers to severe stress. There are at present 127 pupils attending the school, the basic structure of which is similar to that of the old national schools constructed in the last century, dating back to the age of the horse and cart. I say that despite the fact that in the past 25 years the population of Kilcornan had doubled, on account of its proximity to Limerick city, which has meant that many people have decided to build homes in the area.
The Department of Education decided in 1976 that a new school for Kilcornan was required urgently. It was decided then to construct a four-classroom school and a general purposes room, when a fourth teacher was appointed. To accommodate the pupils then attending, two prefabricated classrooms were provided to which the local community contributed. In 1984 a fifth teacher was appointed who commenced to teach in one of the prefabricated buildings.
In 1986 the prefabricated classrooms to which I have referred had deteriorated to such an extent that the Department of Education and the Office of Public Works condemned them as being unsuitable for the provision of teaching facilities. I might add that in the same year, during a storm, the gable of the prefabricated structure blew in while there were 60 children accommodated in the structure. That led to a two-day strike on the part of teachers and parents. The Department of Educaiton promised that a new school would be built in 1987 comprising of four classrooms and a general purposes room. In the meantime another prefabricated  building was provided by the Department, with two teachers teaching with merely a curtain between classes. In 1988 the school lost a teacher on account of the change in the pupil-teacher ratio.
Because of the bad conditions obtaining in the old stone-built school constructed in the last century, when a section of the prefabricated structure became available the infants' teacher vacated the old school and moved into the prefabricated structure. The room in the old building was cold, impossible to heat, its roof was leaking and the windows rotten. Therefore, for the sake of the infants the teacher decided to move into the prefabricated building which is the structure the pupils must now vacate in the event of a storm.
In 1988 a delegation met the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Frank Fahey, with regard to the provision of a new school at which time the Minister informed them there was no more finance available for the building of four classrooms and a general purposes room, that two classrooms would be built and that there were plans to build another two classrooms in the event of the population of the area remaining as it was. That was promised for 1989. It did not happen. It was then promised for 1990 but it did not happen. I am asking the Government, for the education of the children and for the community in Kilcornan, to provide the necessary educational facilites, a new school in the area in 1991. The old classrooms in the old school are too small, the ceiling in the corridor is leaking and the toilets are badly located for hygiene purposes. The Department spent £17,500 just to keep the building from falling down. I would like the Minister of State to inform the Minister for Education that this is a highly emotive issue in the area. When I attended the birthday of a 100 year old woman in Kilcornan on Tuesday night last I met many people from Kilcornan who told me that there would be a further strike this year if money was not made  available. That is not a threat. It would not be my approach to threaten anybody. This is by way of information to the Government on the seriousness of the feelings on the issue in the area. It is a reasonable request after 16 years. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Daly): I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Education. The Minister is glad that the Senator has given her an opportunity to outline the Department's intentions in relation to the provision of suitable permanent accommodation for Kilcornan national school in Limerick. The school has 126 pupils on the roll with a staff of one principal plus three assistants. The present accommodation consists of two permanent classrooms provided quite a few years ago, and three pre-fabs, two of which are relatively new having been provided in 1987. The Minister readily acknowledges that conditions in the school are unsatisfactory and should be improved. She also accepts that an extension project has been on the stocks for a number of years and she fully appreciates and understands the concern of the teachers and pupils and those associated with the school. However, as the Senator will be aware there are a number of necessary steps associated with the architectural planning of a project of this type. It is proposed to provide a permanent extension to the school, consisting of two new classrooms, and to renovate the existing building which will provide a library and medical inspection room, staff room, stores and toilets. The Minister is confident that when the project is completed it will be a source of great pride to everybody and will meet all the school's needs.
Tenders for this project were received in the Department of Education as recently as November last. They are  being examined and the Minister is glad to report that the examination is at an advanced stage. The Senator will appreciate that this work is time consuming, because of the necessity to go through all the detailed formalities that must be gone through to advance this further. When the examination of tenders has been completed the question of allowing the project to proceed to contract stage will be considered and the decision on the matter will be conveyed to the school authorities with the minimum of delay.
The Minister fully appreciates the genuine concern of the local interests and she will ensure that the remaining formalities will be concluded expeditiously. In view of the Seantor's interest in this, the Minister will communicate with him about further developments. I will convey the concern and the views the Senator has expressed here this afternoon directly to the Minister and ask her to deal with these matters as expeditiously as possible.
Mr. Neville: Will the Minister give a commitment on behalf of the Government that work on this school will commence in 1991? I know that the time scale for doing this work makes it possible do this in 1991.
Mr. Daly: I am not in a position, as the Senator knows, to give commitments. I am very reluctant to give any commitments about starting times for any project of this nature. I will convey the anxiety of the Senator to have this project expedited and commenced as soon as possible to the Minister and I am sure the Minister will communicate directly with the Senator about this in due course.
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