I was referring last evening to the number of schools which were built in a specific period compared with the number built since the foundation of the State. The number of new school buildings which the Minister for Education envisaged in his statement to the House recently was, I think, 67. The Parliamentary Secretary has started well this year, and in the first couple of months, the money expended was a goodly sum. I take it that refers to the buildings completed within the recent past. We should do everything possible to accelerate the school building programme, bearing in mind the children who are affected by present conditions which we do not wish to see perpetuated. I admit that every endeavour is being made to get on with that programme. For that reason, I am glad there is an increase in the technical staffs.
I wish there were some way by which this work could be expedited. From the time it is decided to build a school, there is a long time lag before building starts. That is inevitable. When it is decided that a school should be built in a particular area, immediately, without waiting for the various preliminaries which must be concluded, the planning of the actual building itself should be commenced. I understand that one of the factors which delays the programme in that respect is that when the actual building has been planned, the assembling of the various bills of quantities and so on takes time. The Parliamentary Secretary will admit, therefore, that it is not uncommon sometimes to find that three years or more elapse before building operations commence.
I mentioned previously that we should not be so conservative in regard to the numbers we build for. We build schools to accommodate the averages which pertain in the locality at the time. It is a well-known fact that generally the school-going population trend is as much affected by the proposed location of the school as by anything else. Anything like an industry contiguous to the area will increase the school-going population, or even the possibility of an industry coming to the area. We ought to err rather on the side of allowing extra space in the schools than on building them exactly to the agreed number of square feet per pupil for the existing population so that we will not later on be compelled to alter the buildings to provide extra rooms.
There are a few minor points in regard to schools to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention. The two-teacher school is pretty widespread throughout the country. In a school like that there are bound to be days on which the second teacher may not be there. At the moment no provision is made in planning for a communicating door between the two classrooms and it is extremely difficult for the remaining teacher to supervise properly and adequately the pupils in the second classroom. He is under obligation to supervise and ensure their safety at all times. I suggest that, in all future planning, provision should be made for a communicating door. That would make for convenience and safety.
The outsides of most schools at the moment are finished with heavy casting. From the point of view of the safety of the children this is not the best finish. There is danger of injury if children, through natural exuberance, fall against the wall. Children's faces could be injured. Even if it is necessary to use rough casting, surely the lower portion of the walls could be finished in smooth plaster. At the moment the new schools look beautiful but, as time goes on, they will lose their freshness and, if a smooth finish is used, I think it would be much easier then to give them a face lift. Probably the Parliamentary Secretary has a good answer to justify the type of finish that is being used at the moment.
Recently I noticed link fencing around part of the boundary of some new schools and, on the inside, white thorn is planted. I do not think that is wise from the point of view of the safety of the children. The interiors are excellent and the scheme of decoration is very effective. The blackboard arrangement, however, leaves something to be desired. At the moment the blackboard is placed on both sides of the fireplace and it is also continued across the top of the fireplace. Perhaps the idea is that that portion should be used as a notice board. I think that, as well as having a blackboard, there should also be maps provided. These are a most essential part of the equipment of any school. In conjunction with the Department of Education, I suggest steps should be taken by the Board of Works to have a map case fixed permanently for display purposes.
In the infant schools there is need of a timber rail, or some kind of rail, on which to display pictures. Pictures form a very important part of the teaching equipment in infant schools. I suggest the Board of Works should in future provide such a rail. I know it is easy to mention these matters. Action is something else. I suggest that there should be a supervisory staff so that, as building progresses, essential details can be added. The supervisory staff should be out through the country wherever building is going on. In the long run that suggestion, if implemented, could save money. It would also save time and the necessity later for remedying defects long after the building has been completed.
There is provision for a great deal of building in relation to other Departments. There has been for some years now a pretty extensive building programme for the Department of Agriculture. Remembering the important part agriculture plays in the economy of the country it is both essential and desirable that such building should be undertaken to improve conditions generally. The building of research and experimental stations is very much to be desired.
I was taken aback to discover that it is contemplated moving the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Health to a new site. At the moment the Department of Social Welfare is housed in Aras Mhic Dhiarmada. That is one of the most modern buildings we have. Córas Iompair Éireann must have a good deal of accommodation all over the city. I admit that the Department of Health may find itself cramped in the Custom House. References have been made here from time to time to the fact that Aras Mhic Dhiarmada is rented. Is that building now fully completed? In the recent past I know it was not. I cannot understand why the Department of Social Welfare should enter the picture just at the moment. There are other projects which are more essential in my opinion.
As far as the Department of Justice is concerned, quite a number of Garda stations throughout the country are not in a desirable state of either repair or maintenance. It would be more desirable to deal with some of these and to accelerate some of the other works for which the Office of Public Works is responsible rather than indulge in the completely new step of housing the staffs of the Department of Health and Social Welfare. I quite agree that Staffs must be properly housed and it is not so very long ago since we had a Bill in this House dealing with office conditions. Nobody can say that the offices in Aras Mhic Dhiarmada are anything but ultra modern.
In regard to arterial drainage, I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary refers in his statement to its continued expansion. He says it continues to expand and progress is satisfactory. I think everybody is in agreement with that fact. Arterial drainage has been expanding as the Office of Public Works has been expanding the necessary machinery and equipment to deal with these problems. We ought to try to accelerate the programme. The Parliamentary Secretary refers to a programme that might be completed in 15 years or so. It is the "or so" rather than the 15 years that I am afraid of.
In my constituency we very eagerly await the programme, first, in regard to the operation on the Deale. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, when concluding, would give us the up-to-date information as to the progress of that scheme. I know from local contacts that it has reached the advanced stage and for that the people of West Limerick are very grateful indeed. Last year the people in the valley of the Deale had the unfortunate experience of flooding during the summer period when their crops were completely destroyed. It is not so long ago since the Land Commission had for offer in one of those areas a holding which they were letting by auction for some time. The farmers of that area sought gardens on that holding to enable them to grow root crops—a thing which they have not been able to do satisfactorily for years.
Anybody can testify to the fact that about five times during the past seven or eight years their crops have been swept away by disastrous flooding in that area. Besides, there are in County Limerick large areas of land which cannot even be adequately drained. They cannot obtain the benefit of drainage schemes. That is a very serious drawback to the agricultural economy of those areas. If the Parliamentary Secretary can do anything to expedite this programme or even bring it forward by three months, it would be very much appreciated.
The same thing applies to the Maigue. I know that the survey of the Maigue has commenced. It is a vast area and it extends into the heart of the Golden Vale, touching even the County Tipperary. Again, I certainly would not be in any way critical of any expansion of staff which would give us an acceleration of the drainage scheme programme. We would add considerably to the economy of the country if we were able to bring this land into productive capacity sooner than it can by our present rate of progress.
In that respect, indeed, the agricultural community who live along the banks of the rivers for which it is intended that the Board of Works will be responsible are anxiously looking forward to the operations of that section of the Office of Public Works. Early this year the Parliamentary Secretary received a deputation from the Limerick and Tipperary area in regard to a flooding problem. Unfortunately, the Parliamentary Secretary could not do anything for them because the programme of arterial drainage made it incumbent upon him to leave that problem aside inasmuch as it could not be classed even as an intermediate drainage. The Shannon is a tidal river. We are certainly not very far from the sea. Rivers like the Maigue and the Deale are tributaries of the river Shannon. To think that the areas I have mentioned will have to wait a very long period would be a great source of uneasiness to the people who live in these regions.
I know that the Office of Public Works has a very large responsibility in regard to the building programmes under the various Departments of State. They are passed from the various Departments for execution to this Department. Any of the Departments may at that stage say: "Well, we have passed the particular project. We have done all we can about it. It is now a matter for the Office of Public Works." The problem is then left with the Office of Public Works and that Office is responsible for projects emanating from the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of External Affairs, the Department of Industry and Commerce and so on.
At the same time it has a rather stinted allocation of moneys for the purposes with which it is to deal. I do not know whether this would be an example in reverse of centralisation towards getting the desired effect. Each of these Departments, I suggest, might have their own planning section to deal with their problems. Having planned them, they could hand them for execution to the Office of Public Works. That might contribute something to the expedition which everybody desires.
This Estimate is a most important one. The work that is being done under the auspices of this Office is a permanent record of our interest and our efficiency in regard to the various State projects where we are trying to replace deficits which exist over so many years in the past. Everybody wishes the Parliamentary Secretary and his staff well in that respect. The only fault which anybody might have with the programme is that it is too slow. It is very much to be desired that the Parliamentary Secretary would bring to that office a sense of greater urgency in regard to the programme which has to be completed.