I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me an opportunity to discuss this important topical issue, namely, the need for the Minister for Education and Skills to give urgent consideration to designating Longford as the headquarters of the amalgamated County Longford and County Westmeath vocational education committee. I welcome Deputy Troy's presence as I understand he made a strong case for Longford last Friday.
In light of Longford's prime location and the significant capital investment by the Department of Education and Skills in its vocational education committee infrastructure in the past two years, the town is an ideal location, both geographically and in terms of facilities, to become the headquarters of the new amalgamated VEC. County Longford's current VEC headquarters comprise administrative offices and a section of the Connolly Barracks site housing a number of buildings on 4.5 acres, which were purchased from the Department of Defence in 2009. This development is relevant in light of a meeting of the Minister for Defence with a delegation from Longford on the purchase of the entire Connolly Barracks site with a view to creating a community-based campus for education, training and other activities such as tourism infrastructure. The VEC headquarters would be the cornerstone of such an educational hub.
The administrative offices of County Longford Vocational Education Committee are located on Battery Road in the town, which is directly adjacent to the N4 Dublin-Longford primary route and on the northern side of the N63 Roscommon-Galway road. Longford, which is recognised for its central location, is equidistant — 43 km — from both Mullingar and Athlone. Furthermore, the Longford-Dublin rail link provides an excellent rail service and the M4 motorway, which is due for completion in a few years, will be in close proximity to the town.
The building housing the VEC's administrative offices was acquired from the Office of Public Works in 1932 through a 99 year lease for which a nominal annual fee of €20 is charged. The site, which was originally part of the former barracks, features a building consisting of 720 sq. m with a disability access lift and a car park accommodating 50 vehicles which has the potential for the development of further spaces. Investment by the Department of Education and Skills in the past two years resulted in the complete refurbishment of the office, including a complete mechanical and electrical upgrade and the installation of modern information technology infrastructure. Recent work also included the installation of voice-over Internet protocol, VOIP, technology, which allows for the integration of offices at no extra cost. A second development in 2009 was the purchase by the VEC of a section of the Connolly Barracks site from the Department of Defence. This acquisition was funded by the Department of Education and Skills and buildings on the site are finished to a high standard with parking for an additional 80 vehicles.
In the past two years, County Longford VEC has been allocated approximately €2 million for the purchase and development of the Connolly Barracks site and refurbishment of the administrative offices. A number of buildings have been renovated and now house various adult education programmes. Spare capacity in these buildings could be used for additional office space as required, and there is an ample supply of accommodation. To maximise this investment I ask the Minister to designate Longford as the headquarters for the amalgamated vocational education committee.