Thursday, 4 December 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Ba mhaith liom an rún seo a ardú thar ceann Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, pobal Ghaoth Dobhair agus páistí Ghaoth Dobhair. Iarraim ar an Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta ligint don togra seo — halla corpoideachais nua ag Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair — dul ar aghaidh go dtí an chéad chéim eile chomh luath agus is féidir. Tá caint ar halla spórt sa scoil ó 1982, nó b’fhéidir roimhe sin. Tá pobal Ghaoth Dobhair, go háirithe na scoláirí atá ag freastal ar an scoil, ag fanacht go géar leis an áis seo a bheith ar fáil. Tá níos mó ná€100,000 baillithe go háitiúil ag an mbord bainistíochta, agus pobal Ghaoth Dobhair, chun cabhrú leis an togra seo a chur ar fáil. Ar ndóigh, tá€480,000 ar fáil ón Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta. Tá deontas eile de €740,000 á lorg ón Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta. Tá cead de dhíth ón Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta an togra seo a chur ar aghaidh go dtí an chéad chéim eile — tairiscintí a lorg agus an togra a chur chuig an stad “tender”.
The issue I raise this evening relates to a physical education hall for Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair. Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair is located in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht. It is one of a small number of second level schools in the Gaeltacht that teaches through the medium of Irish. It is also one of the few secondary schools in the country with no physical education hall. That might have been an oversight when the school was built in the 1980s. Obviously, if it were being built today, the architectural planning would make such provision. However, it was not provided when the school was built and the students have been without that facility since then.
I am seeking approval for this project from the Minister for Education and Science and highlighting its urgency. The local community, in consultation with the board of management, has raised over €100,000 as the local contribution to the project. We are very grateful for the assistance given by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, at which Deputy Curran is the Minister of State. It has sanctioned €480,000 for the physical education hall. All that is now required is the approval of the Minister for Education and Science for the school to proceed to tender so the project can be taken to the next stage. A sum of approximately €720,000 is required from the Department of Education and Science.
I appreciate there are competing demands from all over the country for capital projects for school extensions, new schools, schools for developing areas and so forth. However, the case I raise should be highlighted. Physical education is critically important to the well-being of children as they develop. It assists with personal development. The children in this secondary school are prohibited from engaging in the full physical education curriculum because of the weather. They cannot train or participate in sport or physical activity outdoors when the weather is very bad, as it often is in Donegal. Therefore the physical education hall is required. That is why I highlight the matter. All we need is approval from the Minister for Education and Science to go to tender. This is what I seek to achieve and I wish to highlight to the Minister of State that this project is of great importance to the greater Gaoth Dobhair community and especially to the future of Pobailscoil Gaoth Dobhair.
Deputy John Curran: I respond on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science. I thank the Senator for raising the matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the House the Government’s strategy for capital investment in education projects, and also to outline the position on the provision of a PE Hall for Pobalscoil Gaoth Dobhair.
The Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, wishes to clarify that modernising facilities in existing building stock as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth is a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of school buildings and to ensure appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. The Government has dramatically increased investment in the school building programme to almost €600 million this year. This year’s capital programme has seen the completion of 43 new primary schools and three new post-primary schools, 29 major primary school extension and refurbishment projects and 15 major post-primary extension and refurbishment projects are reaching completion.
The Senator will also be aware that in September the Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, announced a further tranche of 25 large-scale projects to progress to tender and construction. These major projects, taken together, reflect the concentration by the Department of Education and Science this year on providing sufficient school places in developing areas, while also delivering improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary school accommodation throughout the country, and represent an unprecedented level of achievement. This year has also seen a particular emphasis on the delivery of additional school places in rapidly developing areas with the construction of 26 new schools under the fast track off-site construction programme.
This is a substantial programme of work by any standards and, while there will continue to be a focus on providing extra places in developing areas, the Department of Education and Science will also deliver improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary school accommodation throughout the country. However, the emphasis will continue to be on new schools and extensions to provide additional accommodation in rapidly developing areas.
Projects are selected for inclusion in the school building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need, which is reflected in the band rating assigned to a project. With regard to sports in our schools, the PE curricula at both primary and post-primary level have been developed on the understanding that facilities available to schools vary. Consequently, they offer a level of flexibility that allows each school to tailor its programme to the facilities available. Within available resources and overall published criteria for prioritising projects, it is the policy of the Department of Education and Science to provide post primary schools with PE halls where no such facility exists. This is considered part of the design brief for new schools and for major renovation or extension projects. The number of schools with general purpose rooms and PE halls is increasing, while practically all schools have outside exercise space. In addition, many schools use adjacent local facilities, including public parks, playing fields and swimming pools.
This project, involving the provision of a new PE hall, is at an advanced stage of architectural planning. The project has a band rating of 4.1. It is not possible at this stage to say precisely when this project will go to construction because of higher competing priorities. However, the Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, wishes to highlight the special need to provide facilities for new schools in rapidly developing areas. He has indicated that the project will be considered for progression on an ongoing basis as the school building and modernisation programme is rolled out.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, who has been in the House since lunch time, for the response on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science. I will continue to lobby the Minister on this matter. Given that the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, is in the House, I believe it is opportune to thank him and the Minister for Education and Science for the commitment of €480,000. Perhaps we could use leverage to impress upon the Department of Education and Science that the Department’s contribution of €480,000 plus the local contribution of €100,000 almost amounts to €600,000. Perhaps we could use this as leverage to allow the Minister for Education and Science to proceed with the project. The local community is very thankful for the Department’s commitment and we will continue to impress this point upon the Minister. When I next see the Minister I will extend a very warm invitation to visit Gaoth Dobhair, view the facility and to explain how urgent this project is to the local community.
Deputy John Curran: I acknowledge the comments made. I have no doubt the Senator will have direct contact with the Minister for Education and Science in the Houses of the Oireachtas. However, following the debate I will mention the comments raised.
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