Standards are inadequate in many rural schools. Recently in my constituency, a rat was found behind a photocopier in the principal's office of St. Mary's national school, Ballinagard, County Roscommon, a 40 pupil, two teacher school. This should not have happened. The school is infested with vermin —26 portions of rat poison were eaten overnight but only one dead rat was found. I am sure that rat did not eat all the poison unless it was extremely hungry. Parents are rightly horrified by this.
The problem may not be as severe elsewhere but facilities for both primary and second level schools are inadequate, especially rural primary schools in areas where the population is falling. Neither the board of management nor the parents have the funds to keep the schools up to an adequate standard. It is unfair to put pressure on the parents to provide matching funds for schools in such areas because they do not have the money. The population has suffered a huge drop and many people are unemployed so they do not have access to the funding and cases like this arise. Urban schools often have problems with inadequate heating. This is not fair in these days of the Celtic tiger when so much funding is available. We should tackle these problems. I mentioned earlier the problem of pupils dropping out of school. Such poor facilities do not help matters.
The Irish Deaf Society was in the Public Gallery earlier for the debate on this Bill but the debate on the last Bill ran late. The society has serious concerns as regards the Bill because it feels the deaf are being left out. Sign language is not being given primary language status and the society believes it should be. It is unfair that deaf pupils are taught by non-deaf teachers —it is like a foreign teacher giving English lessons. We will table amendments in this regard on Committee Stage. Deaf students need equality of opportunity with every other child in the education system. The Department must recognise deafness is not just a problem with hearing, it is a matter of language and culture. The deaf community should be recognised as a linguistic minority.