Tá an-díomá orm nach bhfuil an tAire féin sa Teach anocht agus go bhfuil an nós tosaithe cheana féin ag an Rialtas seo gan na hAirí sinseareacha a bheith i láthair. I am disappointed that the Minister is not present. I always considered it regrettable when senior Ministers did not attend Adjournment debates and when I was a Minister, I always tried to attend when at all possible.
In a growing community Scoil Chaitríona is situated on a potentially excellent school site. Built in 1974 when Government finances were stretched and the conservation of energy dictated the height of classroom ceilings, Scoil Chaitríona has exceeded the expected life span of such schools by 17 years. The school population has more than doubled and prefabs have become a permanent feature of the school owing to lack of space. Resource and learning support teachers are forced to use cubby holes and cordoned off sections of corridors and classrooms to teach children with special needs. These children require space, light and a stimulating environment to cope with and overcome their special needs.
The main building of Scoil Chaitríona is falling to pieces and requires constant repairs and expansion. Owing to dampness, one of the ceilings fell in onto the class floor last year and a patch-up job was done on the roof under the summer works scheme. This year the school has applied for new doors and windows to be fitted and this will prove to be an extensive and expensive project because the roof is part of the window fixture. The roof could fall down in the process. The school is also making an application for floors to be redone throughout the building owing to wear and tear and asbestos exposure. Again, it has been faced with no alternative but to patch tile by tile as the tiles became undone. This can no longer be carried out because of the asbestos under the tiles.
A new school building project would be the best option for the Department of Education and Skills and the Renmore community. Scoil Chaitríona has been described by the Department's inspectors as a special school within a school. They have put great emphasis on this in the school's evaluation. To retain and improve the services the school offers to special needs children it must accommodate them in a suitable building. This forms a big part of its building plans, even down to the details of a shared sensory room.
Scoil Chaitríona is currently enrolling children with autism for September. As there is no accommodation available for an ASD unit, the school will be making an application for a prefabricated building comprising one classroom and one sensory room. This will be an added expense on the Department's funds when such a unit is included in the plans for a new building. Scoil Chaitríona is listed as being in Band 1.2, the provision of specialist accommodation urgently required for children with special needs such as autism, speech and language impairment, intellectual impairment and so forth.
The annual cost of the summer works scheme in 2010 was €316,000, with rental of prefabs costing €70,000. In 2011 the necessary works under the summer works scheme will cost €668,000, with the rental of prefabs costing €70,000. Speaking in Galway at the Labour Party annual conference, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, said: "Many of our school buildings are a national disgrace. One hundred and sixty five schools are spending over €50,000 a year renting prefabs. This would cover the mortgage on a permanent school building. Labour will change all that with a transparent building programme and replacing temporary prefabs." I hope the Minister will now honour his commitment, given when he was in opposition, and outline a clear road map for the provision of a new school for Scoil Chaitríona in Renmore.