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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 7 Dec 1993

Vol. 436 No. 7

Adjournment Debate. - Dunboyne (Meath) School Needs.

It has been decided to provide a second level school in Dunboyne. This was originally decided in 1986 by a former Minister for Education, Gemma Hussey. The negotiations to purchase a site were commenced by another former Minister for Education, Paddy Cooney. This decision was suspended in 1987 but was reactivated by Deputy Noel Davern when Minister for Education. It was confirmed to a deputation from Dunboyne by the Minister, Deputy Bhreathnach, during the summer. Indeed, the deputation was led to believe that there would be rapid progress in building the school.

The problem now is that the Minister is saying she is not going to make a decision on the management structure for the school other than in the context of the White Paper on Education. As we are aware from the lengthy discussions that took place at the Convention on Education at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham recently, the issues involved in this White Paper are extremely complex and it may be some time before the details are finalised at Cabinet level. It would be a disaster for Dunboyne if the decision on the management structure for the school was to be held up until the White Paper is finalised. At this stage it is impossible for the Minister, or anybody else, to foresee how long it will take the Government, or indeed, any Government to reach final decisions on this issue. I know from experience in preparing a White Paper for Government that it always takes about a year longer than expected and that is an under-statement.

The trouble is that if a decision on the management structure for the Dunboyne school is not taken no progress can be made. There is a proposal before the Minister from the Catholic bishop to provide a diocesan school. The bishop owns a site which he is prepared to provide free for such a school. He is also prepared to provide a contribution towards the cost of the building. If the Minister is willing to make a decision now and not wait for the White Paper she will be able to allow work on the school to start straightway because she will not have to provide any money to buy a site as it will be provided free.

On the other hand, if she waits she may have to buy the site eventually, if she decides to go for the community school option, but either way by postponing the decision on the management structure she is postponing the decision on the acquisition of a site. As we are all aware, the first thing one has to do is to make sure one has a site for the building. Until the issue of the management structure is decided the issue of the site cannot be decided and without a decision on the issue of the site nothing can be done. It is my hope in raising this issue that I will able to persuade the Minister of State at the Department of Education to agree that the Minister should accept the proposal for a diocesan school.

I am aware that arguments will be advanced against this on the grounds that the people of Dunboyne will be denied the opportunity to go for other options but I should point out that a community college is available to pupils from Dunboyne in Dunshaughlin, that a community school will be available in Ashbourne while there is a vocational education committee managed school in Maynooth. The nearest diocesan or voluntary secondary school available to Dunboyne people is in the centre of the city of Dublin or in Navan or Trim. There is, in fact, a wider choice of other management structures available closer to Dunboyne than of diocesan management structures. In providing a diocesan managed school in Dunboyne the Department of Education would be simply providing a better range of choices for people in the Dunboyne area.

Most important is the urgency of starting to build. There are pupils who, literally, will have nowhere to go in September unless this school is started. I have on my books, so to speak, in my capacity as a local TD, a child who left school in particular circumstances and now cannot be admitted anywhere in the area. No school is prepared to take this child because he happens to be over the age of 15. That is just one example of the sort of situation that is current in Dunboyne. There are parents who just do not know where they can send their children next September.

If the Minister could agree to accept a diocesan structure, the site is there and it would be possible, if necessary, to erect prefabricated buildings there to cater for an initial class from next September, pending the building of a 400-pupil school. If, on the other hand, the Minister holds back until a White Paper is produced and makes no decision on the management structure, nothing very much can be done about the site apart from considerable expenditure by the Department and it will probably be impossible to cope with the problems next September. I hope the Minister will be able to tell the House now that a decision is being taken.

The last point I want to make, if I am not trespassing on the time of the House, is in regard to the Estimates that have been agreed by the Cabinet. We do not know how much is available for school building next year, but the Minister does. The Minister knows if she can provide this school. I believe she can and that we will hear news here tonight that the Minister has agreed to a diocesan school. If that is the case, work can commence very quickly.

I wish to thank Deputy Bruton for raising the matter and I acknowledge the efforts he has constantly made to have this matter resolved.

Dunboyne is located within the greater Dublin post-primary catchment area for accommodation and full transport purposes. In general, post-primary pupils from the Dunboyne area attend Dunshaughlin community college, Coolmine community school and Maynooth vocational school. Other second level schools which cater for pupils leaving primary schools in Dunboyne are the Dominican Convent, Cabra; St. Declan's CBS, Navan Road, and schools in Dublin city.

The Deputy will be aware that in August 1991, consultants from the service industries research centre of UCD were commissioned to undertake an independent study in the Huntstown-Hartstown - Dunboyne - Castleknock areas in order to determine whether a new second level school was required in the area and, if so, the required size and most appropriate location. The findings of the study indicated that there was an immediate need for a new post-primary school in Hartstown, to be followed by a new school in Dunboyne. Accordingly, priority was given to the new school in Hartstown which was subsequently opened in September 1992, when accommodation for approximately 100 pupils was provided. The remainder of the required accommodation at Hartstown is being provided in two phases. It is intended that the school will eventually provide a total of about 1,000 pupil places.

In relation to a possible site for the second level school for Dunboyne, the suitability of the former Good Shepherd Convent, Dunboyne, for the establishment of a secondary school under diocesan trusteeship was considered initially. Following architectural assessment of the building it was decided not to pursue this proposal. A site, adjacent to Dunboyne community centre and in the ownership of the diocese is considered a suitable location for the proposed new school.

It was expected that the new school would be a community type school and accordingly an offer was made to the Catholic Bishop of Meath, Dr. Smith, for the purchase of the site. In response to the offer for the site, Dr. Smith seemed to indicate his preference for a diocesan secondary school. Department officials met the Bishop subsequently and he confirmed this interest.

The significance of the type of management for the school with regard to the site is that in the case of a community type school the site would be acquired by the Department whereas with a secondary school the diocesan authorities would be responsible for the provision of the site.

The question of the type of management for the proposed school is under consideration in the context of the White Paper on Education. No final decision has yet been taken. It is not anticipated that there will be any undue delay in the matter. I accept that time is of the essence in this case and that the issue of the site should be settled as soon as possible. I will ask the Minister for an early response to the Deputy's submission.