Scoil Diarmada is situated in the rural community of Whitehall, approximately three miles from Castlepollard in north Westmeath. The school, comprising two classrooms, was built in 1958 and 14 years ago saw the addition of a third classroom in the form of a prefab to accommodate increasing numbers. The numbers continue to increase due to the very high standard of teaching and dedication to excellence, which has prevailed through the years.
Scoil Dhiarmada is based in a vibrant, supportive community, which places the school at its heart. Proof of this is visible in the incredible work done by the local GAA hurling club, Greentown, adjacent to the school. Through sheer hard work and community unity, the club has built a state-of-the-art amenities centre. This centre is used by all ages in the community, including the children of Scoil Dhiarmada, which does not have an indoor physical education or general purpose room.
If we are to support this and other enthusiastic rural communities fighting for their survival, we cannot ignore the most basic needs of the children, which include education in safe, modern, well-equipped schools. Conditions at Scoil Dhiarmada do not reflect the presence of the Celtic tiger. Indeed, the complete lack of basic investment in the school is blatantly and shockingly evident to any visitor. Some of the problems being experienced daily by pupils, staff and parents include the tiling in the hall and toilets, which have been in place since it was built more than 50 years ago. It is unsightly, unhygienic and dangerous due to chipping and lifting. The walls in the classrooms, halls and bathrooms are covered in black mould. Various treatments and repeated painting have not addressed the problem and are a waste of money. The walls are not insulated.
The sanitary ware is aged and decrepit. Some of it seems to have been in place since the school was built. Parents and teachers tell of young children refusing to go to the toilets because of the smell and conditions of the walls and floors. Many parents spoke to me of children coming home wet or with kidney infections caused by their fear of using facilities at the school. The classrooms in the main buildings are too small for the numbers of children in attendance. At present there are 26 children in a room which is less than 36 sq. m in area. The children must remain seated at their desks all day, as it is not safe for them to move around the room without falling over chairs and other children. On wet days, they must remain seated throughout their break times. Storage space is totally non-existent and children must leave their schoolbags in the hall. Vermin are a constant problem despite vigorous pest control efforts. On occasion the children have found mice in their lunch boxes.
The prefab is over 14 years old and is at the end of an already extended lifespan. The windows are single glazed and condensation is a constant problem. Water streams down the windows and onto the walls, destroying the children's work and educational displays. External walls are beginning to rot. During frosty weather the water pipes freeze and children and teachers are left without water to flush the toilets or wash their hands for the duration.
Staff facilities are non-existent and one staff toilet, for male and female teachers, is located behind the broom cupboard. There is no staff room and staff use the senior classroom at break times and sit on the children's chairs. The boys' cloakroom, which was being used as an office, is currently the resource teacher's classroom. There is no place to meet parents privately to discuss confidential matters relating to the children's education and their future. The girls' cloakroom is currently the learning support teacher's classroom. Coats and PE gear are left hanging on scarce hooks and lunches are often stored on the ground in the hall.
Scoil Dhiarmada has submitted two applications for grant aid under the small schools scheme, in 2002 and 2007. Despite the urgent and obvious problems both applications were unsuccessful. No representative from the school planning section of the Department of Education and Science visited the school to address the applications. I regretfully have to bring this situation to the notice of the Minister in the dying hours of the 29th Dáil.
As one who came in here in 1962, with my predecessor, Deputy Joe Kennedy, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is the only person here who was a Member of the House at the time. I wish him well, because this will probably be my last address to the House during the 29th Dáil.