Tuesday, 4 March 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, to the House. While I mean nothing against the Minister of State, who is a nice gentleman, we have yet to have the Minister for Education and Science in the Chamber for an Adjournment debate. It is unfair on a Minister of State from a different Department to answer on the Adjournment. I thank the Cathaoirleach——
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I understand that. However, it is disingenuous of the Minister not to come to the House and to have had no Minister of State from her Department present for any Adjournment debate matter I have raised on education. This is a serious matter I am raising on behalf of the people of Passage West.
I want to read into the record of the House an e-mail I received from a student of the school, Shauna Williams, who wrote to the Minister for Education and Science, as it will give the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, a greater appreciation of the issue before us. The e-mail stated:
That is a wonderful letter which encapsulates the disgraceful situation which Shauna and her classmates have had to endure. The school was sanctioned by the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, in 1999. Two schools were amalgamated, namely Scoil Cholmcille and St. Mary’s, and now we have no adequate school in the area. The parents’ association, the board of management, the principal and teachers are all upset.
I could give the Minister a litany of reasons the school should be built, including population growth, as the census of population showed a 13% increase in the past six years. I visited the school yesterday, along with members of Cork County Council. The conditions are cramped and the school is in need of a complete overhaul. The students and the teachers deserve a new school.
During my visit I was told by a person that platitudes are all they receive from Government. We are at the point of no return. The pupils, staff and parents of the Star of the Sea primary school, Passage West, deserve a new school. We have a defect and a remedy is available. All that is required is the progression to the construction phase. I will ask a brief supplementary question following the reply.
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher): I thank Senator Buttimer for giving me the opportunity to respond to this matter on the Star of the Sea primary school, Passage West, County Cork. I am responding on behalf of the Minister who is unavoidably absent.
Under the national development plan €4.5 billion was assigned to the capital requirements of the primary and post-primary sectors. Approximately €600 million will be spent this year on school buildings.
The progression of all large-scale building projects from initial design stage through to construction phase is considered on an ongoing basis in the context of the Department’s multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. I accept I am speaking in the macro sense while Senator Buttimer and all those concerned about the Star of the Sea primary school want me to refer to the school itself and where it stands in terms of the proposed new school.
Senator Buttimer is aware the school has a staffing complement consisting of a principal and 11 mainstream teachers, together with three special education teachers and two temporary language support teachers. He is also aware the proposed building project will comprise a new 16 classroom generic repeat design, GRD, school, including a general purpose hall and ancillary accommodation on a greenfield site, and that the process of appointing a design team to the school building project is at an advanced stage.
A number of stages are involved in the process. This is the first one after the decision in principle is taken. I am aware of what was said in 1999 regarding the amalgamation of Scoil Choilmcille and St. Mary’s. The school is at an advanced stage and is awaiting the appointment of a design team. I assure the Senator that the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, and her Department are fully committed to providing suitable high-quality accommodation for the school at the earliest possible date. The Minister will respond to the contents of the email which Senator Buttimer read into the record of the House. He can inform the pupil and all those involved with the school that the appointment of a design team for the project is at an advanced stage.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, for the reply. I accept it is not his Department nor his brief. In fairness to him, he has the unenviable job of giving the reply in the House, but it does not tell us when, where or how the school will be progressed. I urge the Minister of State to impress on the Department of Education and Science that we need information urgently.
The reply I received is unsatisfactory. I do not blame the Minister of State. In general, the replies we get to Adjournment matters leave much to be desired. I hope the Minister of State will go back to the Department of Education and Science and ask that we would get real replies to queries we raise regarding school building programmes. Go raibh maith agat.
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