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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 17 Nov 1970

Vol. 249 No. 9

Adjournment Debate: OPW Tenders.

I asked the Minister for Finance today the number of tenders required by the Office of Public Works as a minimum before consideration is given to those received. Eventually I was told consideration is given to one tender. Most people would look for another tender so I think that, although it may be given to one, it is unlikely. When further questioned the Parliamentary Secretary did not give an actual number but said that if a number of tenders were in and he looked for more he would be doing so for the good of the people and to save money. That may be but I doubt it very much. I then brought up the question of the schools in Bonnybrook which were not proceeded with quickly enough.

I am not sure whether I was told on the telephone by the Office of Public Works or by the Department of Education that they had three tenders in and that was not sufficient, they were waiting for five. I could not swear to that but, at a meeting of the residents shortly afterwards, the manager, a priest, said that he was in touch with the Department of Education and word had come from the Office of Public Works that they only had three tenders and would not go ahead until they had five.

This was said at a meeting attended by from 150 to 200 people and by Deputies from the various parties. I believe this was done by the Office of Public Works to delay the building of these schools and also to delay payment for these schools. In other words, they had not got the money but would not come out and say so. Over the past 12 months we have heard half truths and evasive answers in this House and it is about time that practice came to an end. The Parliamentary Secretary should say they are short of money and that they cannot do this work until a certain date. He should tell the people when they will do it, and not let it run on and promise something and then change it.

This started about 12 months ago. They wanted a school built with 14 classrooms. There should be sufficient planning in the Department of Education to anticipate this need. There were 4,000 houses built in this area, some of them private houses. Let us take it that there are 3,000 corporation houses for which no one was eligible unless they had four children. There may be the odd case where houses were condemned or houses fell down and families with one or two children were housed. This would give 12,000 children in this area. At the moment the national schools there cater for 1,400 children. A scheme was started about eight or nine years ago and was finished about two or three years ago. Some of the children were seven, eight or nine years of age when they arrived in the area and they have now left school and are working. Many of them got very little schooling because there was not sufficient room for them in the schools in the area.

This applies also to other areas like Ballymun. The children have to go into the centre of the city to O'Connell School, to St. Canice's, to St. Patrick's, Drumcondra, and this places quite a financial burden on the parents. Infants have to be brought to school and the parents have to travel there and back twice a day. In one instance I know of, this works out at 5s a day for the parent and 10d for the child. The parent has to pay 5s 10d per day because there are not sufficient schools in the area. The children cannot get into secondary schools on the north side of the city. Some of them travel as far as Sandymount. I am pointing out that long ago these national schools should have been planned and provided. There is no plan now. No site has been procured for secondary schools. There are 1,000 boys and girls leaving these schools every year and there are in the region of 400 places for them.

Is the Deputy referring to secondary schools?

No secondary school is provided in this corporation estate.

The Office of Public Works are not involved in secondary schools.

I am just showing that there has been no planning. In this day and age the Department of Education should be making provision for a secondary school in the area. I do not know the exact times the children go to school but each room has two classes per day. A class starts in the region of 9 o'clock and finishes at 12.30 and then another class comes into that classroom and works on. This is the situation that exists in the area.

Either the Department of Education having got the information from the Office of Public Works, or the Office of Public Works, told the manager that three tenders were not sufficient for them to go ahead. Automatically the Office of Public Works should know if the tenders are bona fide and approximately whether they are good value. As I said, I am not sure whether I was told this—I have an idea I was —but the manager was able to say he was told the reason for the delay was that they had only three tenders and they needed five.

Over 12 months ago they were asked for a school with 14 classrooms. Nothing happened. We were told it was in hand, as we are told so often by the Department of Education and the Office of Public Works. Nothing happened until the residents' association called a meeting which Deputies from all parties in the area attended, with members of the association and non-members. At the time of the first meeting I was away in Strasbourg so I got a "sub" to attend for me. At this meeting they decided to ask the Department of Education and the Office of Public Works to meet a deputation. They said if this were not done inside ten days they would have to take some action. As an Opposition Deputy I can say that every Deputy at that meeting, regardless of party, tried to stave off any hasty action. They gave ten days. The information we got when they called the next meeting was that the Minister for Education was out of the country and was not available. He opened something in Meath during that period but he could not do anything on this. Nobody met them in the Department. When they called another meeting they were told by the Fianna Fáil Deputy who was to represent the Deputation that the Departments concerned had agreed to the construction. This was only done when it was conveyed to the Department of Education and when I mentioned to the Parliamentary Secretary's Department that the residents were really going to take action and going to march on the Department with their children. At this stage, we were told that they were going to start on construction. Again nothing happened. The residents called another meeting at which all Deputies were present. A letter was handed that day to the Fianna Fáil Deputy and brought to the meeting to say that it was only a matter of days before everything was in order. At this stage the manager rang the Department and was told that they had only three tenders —he told us this at the meeting, I cannot remember whether I had heard it beforehand—and that the reason they could not go ahead was that they wanted time.

The residents then decided to have a meeting in ten days time or if the meeting did not occur that they would march to the Department of Education and bring their children and keep their children from school. The meeting was not held ten days later but about three weeks later. Again, when the pressure was on, a letter came to the same Fianna Fáil Deputy and in the letter there was a promise to start forthwith. Nobody could tell me what "forthwith" means. I know the dictionary definition but I do not know what it means when it comes from a Minister. The manager said he had got in touch with the Department and it would start within seven days. He said that if the pressure had not been put on by the residents—I am sure their Deputies put pressure on too—nothing would have been done. The residents said that unless something was done this time they would definitely move within the seven days.

The seven days are over now. I presume something has been done, perhaps just a poster erected that construction is about to start. I have heard nothing since so something must have been done. There were over 12 months delay. This is a pre-fab building. It will take four to six months to complete it. Perhaps half of it will be completed at the end of January and the remainder later. I do not know. It is disgraceful. The Department said they did not know what schools would be required. They saw these houses going up and they knew that a family had to have four children, except in exceptional circumstances, before going into these areas so automatically they should know the number of children and practically their ages. The Department felt that any letter would do to keep these people quiet. We can see from the statement of the manager that the Office of Public Works said that they had only received three tenders but they were waiting for five. Surely all these were delaying tactics? This shows complete mismanagement and no co-operation between the Department of Education and the Office of Public Works. There is probably no co-operation between any Departments except when they want to make excuses for work not done without telling the real reason—that there is no money to do it.

All the Deputies faced a terrible barrage at each meeting because the people were dissatisfied and felt we were responsible but no Minister wanted to meet these people. He wanted to be able to sit back and forget about it. He just sent a letter to keep them pacified for a period. All Deputies, regardless of party, understood that schools were wanted. None of us attacked the Minister at these meetings. The Fianna Fáil Deputies present can tell that we did not attack the Minister. We tried to keep this on an even keel but we got no thanks whatsoever from the Minister. The residents here—I do not always believe them but I often believe them—feel that they are being treated as second class citizens. I asked a question here today about a Garda station there. It has gone up in the last year because of pressure and questions being asked. There are 13 or 14 gardaí in the station. They are understaffed and it is only with pressure they can get an odd one out. This is a new area adjoining County Dublin. They have a very poor bus service and telephone service. They have a long distance to travel to work, which is very costly. Their medical services are not adequate. There are so many other things to worry about there that it was terrible to hear a Minister at Question Time today say that he can give permission for a builder to go ahead, although he has only one tender when the excuse given by his Department was that they needed five and three would not do. This is just avoiding the issue and not going ahead with the job: If they have not got the money why do they not say so?

I should like to deal with this matter in general first and then I shall get down to the case in which Deputy Belton is particularly interested.

In general, consideration is given to tenders received and the tendering period allowed where they number one or more. The practice is to accept the lowest suitable tender received. If only one tender is received and it is from a suitable contractor at a fair and reasonable price it is accepted. They are the words I used this afternoon. This happens occasionally particularly in areas of the south-east of Ireland which are not particularly well served by contractors. If no tender is received or if those received are considered to be unsatisfactory, tenders are re-invited and, generally speaking, the aim is to seek as many tenders as possible. The invitation of tenders is arranged through public advertisements for major constructional works being undertaken by the Office of Public Works. In addition to advertising there are times, too, when we are not getting as many tenders as we would like and a number of contractors are specifically approached and asked to tender for a particular job.

Deputy Belton mentioned 12 months in relation to this school, but he was more merciful at Question Time today when he referred to a period of six months because the date stamped on the first correspondence received in the Office of Public Works in relation to this matter was the 29th July, 1970.

It was with the Department of Education for 12 months.

It came to the notice of the Office of Public Works at the end of July. The procuring of tenders for a pre-fabricated building—a boys' national school—at Bonnybrook was the responsibility of the local school manager. He did not invite any tender by means of the public press, instead, his architect obtained tenders from three firms and he sent those tenders to the Office of Public Works in September last. This project will cost something in the region of £80,000 and here I must say that the Department of Education have been very generous in granting 90 per cent of that amount which is about the maximum they would be prepared to grant in any case of this kind. Having regard to the extent of the project and since it was reasonable to assume that there would be more than three contractors in the Dublin area engaged in system building construction work, it did seem desirable to the commissioners that additional people might be given an opportunity to submit tenders. On the 28th September the architect was asked by the Office of Public Works to seek more tenders. He invited two others— that accounts for the figure of five mentioned by the Deputy—to quote and he received a tender from only one of them.

The manager was told by the commissioners on the 16th November that they saw no objection to acceptance by him of one of the tenders which had been submitted. I would like to say at this point that a period of one month elapsed between the date of receipt of the final tender and the time that sanction was given. In a job of this size a period of one month is not unreasonable. However, in this particular case I do not know yet if the planning authority have given clearance. Certainly it had not been given up to the 3rd November and, of course, until clearance has been granted by the local authority and full planning approval has been given, construction work cannot start. Let me say in general that the amount of money voted in this Estimate is under discussion in the House at the moment. It was introduced in June last. Most Deputies were satisfied with the total provision made for schools construction work. I might add, also, that the amount of money available to the Office of Public Works for this purpose has doubled in the past decade. If I get the opportunity of so doing, I shall go into this in greater detail on Thursday next.

Costs have quadrupled in that time.

The point is that within a few short years, the whole problem of shortage of schools will be overcome. Deputy Belton is talking about a matter that is local and familiar to him. It seems to me that he is a little disappointed that this approval has been granted so quickly.

As I have said, as far as I am aware, no planning approval has been given yet.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.55 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 18th November, 1970.