Adjournment Debate. - Ballyogan (Dublin) School Project.

I thank you, Sir, for permitting me to raise the subject matter of Questions Nos. 197 and 198 of 10 March last on the Adjournment.

Ballyogan Estate is a recently built Dublin County Council housing scheme of approximately 200 houses. It was to have been the first of a series of public and private developments which would ultimately result in a new suburb of approximately 1,500 homes serviced by local shops, schools and so on. For a variety of reasons the other developments have not yet gone ahead. This new housing estate is virtually isolated from the rest of suburban south Dublin.

A primary school was planned for the area but this has not been built. To date the Minister has given no indication as to whether he intends to proceed with its construction. Meanwhile, the 200 homes have been occupied over the past six years by young families with children of primary school age. There are now approximately 300 primary school pupils in the housing estate, sufficient to justify a ten-teacher school. The nearest primary school, in Sandyford, can absorb a small number of these children. The vast majority have been placed in primary schools at Balally, two and a half miles away; Dundrum, three and a half miles away; Kilternan, three miles away, Cornelscourt and other south Dublin primary schools.

Transporting the children to these schools poses a huge problem in that two-thirds of the families are dependent on social welfare and very few have private transport. The public bus service to the estate is inadequate. In any event the parents would be reluctant to allow young children to travel, unaccompanied, to places like Dundrum where there is a bad traffic problem. It is too costly for parents to travel with their children. For example, one parent accompanying three to school would cost £26.50 per week, an impossible sum for a family on social welfare or in receipt of low wages.

The parents have organised private buses to transport the children to school. These buses accommodate a total of 165 children. Approximately 40 or 50 children travel by Dublin Bus to various schools, these usually being the older children. The remainder either walk or are transported privately to their schools. The cost of financing this transport is an intolerable burden for the parents, the scale of charges ranging from £4 for one child to £10.50 for four children. Parents on social welfare or in receipt of low incomes in some cases spend up to 10 per cent of their weekly income on school transport, an intolerable burden on them.

The Minister recently made some arrangements with Dublin Bus to give free transport to the children attending Sandyford national school on the scheduled No. 44 bus service. This has been welcomed by the parents concerned. However, it caters for a minority of the children only, the majority of them still attending schools for which their parents must bear the transport costs. When the Minister was making the arrangements for transport to Sandyford school he indicated that he was prepared to examine a possible extension of the free transport scheme to cover these unique circumstances.

First, the Minister should make a clear statement of what are his intentions with regard to the construction of the proposed primary school at Ballyogan since, if that school were provided, the problem of school transport would not then arise. Second, I should like him to give the House an assurance that he will provide some interim relief for the parents, perhaps by subsidising the private arrangements the parents have made to have their children transported to school. This is a unique position because of the relative isolation, albeit in a suburban area, of this housing estate which is badly serviced by public transport. The parents cannot have their children transported to school other than by engaging in what is a very costly exercise for them. They have to do this because the Department of Education still have not provided a primary school in this area where it was promised when the housing development was going ahead.

I thank Deputy Gilmore for having raised this matter.

Ballyogan is one area of County Dublin which was earmarked for major housing development in the mid-eighties. In that light the Department of Education considered that the provision of a national school would be required. However, in the event a comparatively small amount of housing only was provided in the late eighties, with no firm indication when further, projected, large-scale housing developments would proceed. For example, of some 1,000 houses planned 198 only have been built.

In such circumstances the Department were placed in a dilemma: to have proceeded with the building of what would have been a major, costly school project, giving rise to under-utilised, unnecessary accommodation, at a time of financial constraint, could not have been countenanced. At the same time the Department were very aware of the difficulties faced by the families who had moved into the area in securing primary education for their children. A majority of parents opted to send their children to school in Dundrum while other children attend schools in Sandyford, Balally and Kilternan. However, present indications are that further significant housing developments, public and private, are about to take place in the Ballyogan area. According to information supplied by Dublin County Council there are now, in the Ballyogan area, some 400 houses under construction and in excess of 3,000 more in course of planning.

At present two primary school sites have been reserved by Dublin County Council and the question of what provision is to be made is under consideration in my Department. Every effort will be made to reach a decision as soon as possible.

The position in regard to school transport in Dublin, and indeed in other urban areas, is that the school transport scheme is not operable in such areas, it being basically a rural scheme, since children in urban areas normally live within two miles of their nearest school and have public transport available to them. Under the terms of the school transport scheme the minimum distance for eligibility is two miles — in the case of children under ten years of age — between their home and the nearest school; in addition, a child must be attending that school. Children over ten years of age must live at least three miles from their nearest school in order to be eligible under the terms of the scheme. With the exception of transport to schools for children with mental and physical disabilities, no special school transport buses operate in Dublin. Therefore, children deemed eligible for transport under the scheme must be accommodated on public service buses.

The special arrangement whereby children in the greater Dublin area wishing to attend their nearest all-Irish or Protestant school is done by accommodating those children on scheduled services. The Department have been in touch with Bus Éireann in the provision of school transport. Arrangements have been made to enable children from Ballyogan estate who are under 10 years of age and who attend Sandyford national school, their nearest school, to get free transport on the scheduled No. 44 bus to that school. I understand that the pupils in question have now been issued with free tickets.

With regard to other children from Ballyogan estate who go to national schools in Dundrum and Balally, the granting of free transport in these cases is outside the scope of the school transport scheme as it stands as these schools are not their nearest school. Bus Éireann are currently ascertaining the basic facts about the number of pupils going to schools in these areas. When the particulars are available in relation to these children, which I hope will be soon, the question of providing a suitable extension of the scheme to suit the circumstances of the case will be addressed immediately. Bus Éireann are also considering what might be done to help facilitate children attending Kilternan national school and will approach Dublin Bus regarding the possibility of the No. 44 bus doing a loop into Ballyogan before continuing to Enniskerry.

I can assure the Deputy that every effort will be made to provide suitable school transport facilities in the Ballyogan area.