Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Roche: I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise this issue which has reached crisis point. North-east County Wicklow has witnessed an extraordinary expansion in population in the past 20 years. The population in the Greystones, Kilcoole, Delgany, Newcastle and Newtownmountkennedy areas has grown out of all proportion. I remember moving to Greystones in 1971 when it was a small sleepy village; it is now a large thriving town. Greystones has one second level school, St. David's, which serves the children of the hinterland. However, there is no second level school in Kilcoole to serve the children of Newcastle and Newtownmountkennedy.
As a result of an earlier Adjournment debate here, some changes were made to allow children from the Newtownmountkennedy, Newcastle and Kilcoole areas to be bused to the schools in Wicklow town which had spare capacity. However, in the past two or three years we have witnessed an extraordinary increase in house building in Wicklow town, in the greater Greystones area and in Bray which has led to an increase in population. There is virtually no space available in any second level school between Wicklow town and the Dublin border. Although Department of Education officials will insist at the beginning of each academic year that there may be some places available in one school when the recruitment process is completed, there are no spaces available in the majority of schools. Parents are denied the choice to send their girls to a girls school and their boys to a boys school because of the lack of spaces.
A decade ago Wicklow County Council bought an 11 acre site in Kilcoole, adjacent to the industrial estate, on behalf of Wicklow vocational education committee. That site was earmarked because the council representatives from all parties insisted that it should be bought for the building of the second level school. Last year, as a result of the building of the Druid's Glen golf course, the original site changed hands because Wicklow County Council sold it to the developers. It made a nice profit on the transaction which it used to purchase a ten acre site for the second level school in Kilcoole. Wicklow County Council has exhausted its patience waiting for the Department of Education to sanction the school. It has now formulated plans to build much needed social housing on that site. It is in negotiation for other lands, some of which may be earmarked for the building of a second level school.
There is a crisis in second level education in north Wicklow. The population is rapidly  expanding in Wicklow town. The schools in Wicklow town, which were able to take the students from Newcastle, Newtownmountkennedy and Kilcoole, will not be able to do that in the next two or three years. The school in Greystones is already full to and beyond capacity. The second level schools in Bray are not capable of taking in the additional population as a result of the expansion of house building activities in north Wicklow. In 1985 it was decided in principle that there would be a new second level school in the Kilcoole area. It is now 1996 and, as yet, Wicklow vocational education committee has not been given the green light for this school project. It has asked for an urgent meeting with the Minister for Education to discuss this issue.
I hope to get some indication that progress is at last being made because, if not, I will be back here in six months time. We have seen the population figures for north-east Wicklow and the type of demographic movement there. The population trend in second level education in other parts of the country does not apply in north-east Wicklow. In places such as Greystones, Newcastle, Newtownmountkennedy and Kilcoole, there is a real educational crisis.
There has been bureaucratic indifference and indolence on this issue from numerous Administrations dating back to the late 1980s and the response to requests from the locality has been negative. A generation of young boys and girls in the area is being disadvantaged. That is not good enough. The challenges the children of Newtownmountkennedy, Newcastle, Greystones and Kilcoole face in entering third level education are the same as those of children in other parts of Ireland. This and previous Administrations, including Fianna Fáil Governments, have not cherished the children of that part of Ireland equally. We guarantee Irish children that they will be cherished equally. The children in north east Wicklow are being disadvantaged. I ask for progress on this. I wish to see the green light for that second level school. I hope we do not have to wait until another election is imminent to obtain another promise on the issue. We should have progress now.
Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton): I thank Senator Roche for arguing his case so cogently. I represent the Minister for Education and will undertake to inform the Minister of the Senator's observations which possibly amplify what is dealt with in the reply. I will bring it to her attention that certain pupils cannot obtain placement, particularly those who wish to opt for single sex schools, and that there is a lack of space in schools.
Kilcoole is in the Bray-Greystones catchment area of Wicklow. The majority of pupils in the area attend post primary schools in Greystones and Bray but some also attend post primary schools in Wicklow town. In 1994, the Minister for Education approved a revised transport arrangement to provide full transport for pupils  in the general Kilcoole area to Wicklow town as well as to schools in the Bray-Greystones catchment.
In January 1985, the former Minister for Education, Mrs. Gemma Hussey, approved a new second level school for Kilcoole and Newtownmountkennedy in view of the then anticipated growth in population in the area. County Wicklow vocational education committee made arrangements to purchase a ten acre site at Kilcoole from Wicklow County Council for the proposed school. In 1988, however, it was decided not to proceed with the proposed school as existing schools were in a position to cater for all pupils seeking places. The Department withdrew its sanction for the purchase of the site. It is understood that the site is not now available and that an alternative site has been identified by the local authority which I understand is now being assigned for social housing.
In late 1989, County Wicklow vocational education committee sought the Department's approval for the exchange of the site owned by Wicklow County Council at Kilcoole for the site and buildings then used as the vocational school in Rathdrum which were to become vacant. The Department formally instructed the vocational education committee in December 1991 that it was not in a position to sanction the proposed exchange and that the Rathdrum site must be disposed of as soon as it became vacant. This is currently being disposed of to the council.
There are seven post primary schools in the general area, including a fee paying school and an all Irish school in Bray, one in Greystones and four in Wicklow town including the east Glendalough school. Previous reviews carried out by the Department indicated that these schools between them can cater for the demand for pupil places. The planning section of the Department will shortly commence a review of the post primary school needs of the general area from Bray to Wicklow town. The key factors which will influence the need or otherwise for a school for Kilcoole will be the capacity of the existing schools to continue to cater for the area, demographic trends and new housing developments which I understand are significant, and this reflects what the Senator said. When this review is completed and assessed, the Minister will be in a position to decide whether a post primary school is needed for Kilcoole. In the meantime, it would not be prudent for the Department to sanction the purchase of the site.
Mr. Roche: I understand the Minister is handling, in his own courteous way, a brief which has been written by another Department but if he were from the Department of Education, I would give him a sharp response. The person who wrote that brief should be shot. That is an appalling response.
Mr. Roche: This is a plea not just from me but from the Minister's party colleagues on Wicklow County Council and vocational education committee. If Senator Ross were present he would wish to be associated with it. This is a real  crisis and I ask for the Minister for Education to be informed of our views.
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