Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 40 replied to with Written Answers.

Oideachas Gaeilge

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

41. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna an bhfuil sé sásta casadh leis an eagraíocht Gaelsoideachas ó tharla go bhfuil sé nua-cheapaithe mar Aire; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [49223/18]

Níor éirigh liom comhghairdeas oifigiúil a dhéanamh leis an Aire as ucht a cheapacháin nua mar Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna. Is deas an rud é Gaeilgeoir a fhéiceáil sa bpost. Tá sé ráite liom ag Gaeloideachas, an scátheagraíocht atá ag plé le cúrsaí Gaeloideachais sa tír, nár éirigh leis cruinniú a fháil leis an Aire, an Teachta Bruton, riamh agus go bhfuil iarratas déanta chuig an Teachta McHugh. Táim cinnte go gcasfaidh sé le Gaeloideachas agus go bhfuil go leor le plé idir é féin agus an eagraíocht.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as ucht a bheannachtaí. Beidh mé sásta an teanga a bhogadh ar aghaidh san áit seo. Beidh mé tiomanta é sin a dhéanamh agus beidh mé ag iarraidh cuidiú, taithí agus comhairle an Teachta amach anseo maidir leis an bhealach is fearr chun an teanga a bhogadh ar aghaidh sa Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna. Tá an-áthas orm a bheith ceaptha mar Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna agus tá mé ag súil go mór le bheith ag obair leis na páirtithe leasmhara maidir leis an Ghaeloideachas. Bíonn mo Roinn ag obair le comhpháirithe i saol an oideachais agus le páirtithe leasmhara ar bhonn leanúnach. Chuaigh Gaeloideachas i dteagmháil leis an Roinn le gairid chun cruinniú a eagrú. Tá oifigigh sa Roinn i dteagmháil le Gaeloideachas i láthair na huaire chun dáta a chinntiú don chruinniú seo agus meastar go dtarlóidh sé go luath. Beidh ionadaíocht leathan ar an gcruinniú seo ó mo Roinn agus déanfar iarracht forbairt a dhéanamh ar chomhrá roimhe seo agus ar fhorbairtí a tharla idir an dá linn. Tá mé ag súil le rannpháirtíocht leanúnach le Gaeloideachas agus le páirtithe leasmhara eile.

Chomh maith leis an scéal seo, tá teachtaireacht amháin agam fadúda an ról atá agamsa sa Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna. Dá mbeadh aon bhailiú nirt de dhíth maidir leis an Ghaeilge, tá mé ag iarraidh a chur in iúl do na páirtithe leasmhara éagsúla timpeall na tíre - an Roinn agus na daoine, comhlachtaí, dreamanna agus grúpaí atá freagrach as an teanga - go bhfuil mé anseo chun an Ghaeilge a bhogadh ar aghaidh. Táim tiomanta é seo a dhéanamh.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. An mbeidh sé ag casadh le Gaeloideachas roimh an Nollaig?

B'fhéidir go mbeidh.

Beidh, le cúnamh Dé. Tá an dara ceist agam. Táim cinnte go bhfuil go leor rudaí le plé leis an Aire ag Gaeloideachas, ach is ar cheann de na ceisteanna is práinní soláthar scoileanna.

Tá soláthar scoileanna ar cheann de na ceisteanna is práinní. Rinne an Coimisinéir Teanga imscrúdú maidir leis an soláthar oideachais trí Ghaeilge. Bhí geallúint tugtha sa Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge go mbeadh fáil ar oideachas trí Ghaeilge ag chuile ghasúr sa tír. Tá an chaoi a ndéantar roghnú ar scoileanna faoi láthair éagórach. Dúirt an Coimisinéir Teanga é seo agus is cosúil go ndúirt an Roinn go ndéanaidís scrúdú air. Tá sé éagórach ar scoileanna lánGhaeilge. An bhfuil aon obair déanta sa Roinn mar réamhobair ar an gceist seo maidir le soláthar scoileanna lánGhaeilge nua a bheidh ar fáil ar fud na tíre?

Táim dóchasach go mbeidh an cruinniú ag dul ar aghaidh roimh Nollaig mar fhreagra ar cheist a haon. Maidir leis an dara ceist, agus an ról i dtaobh na teanga agus na scoileanna nua lánGhaeilge, bhí cruinniú agam leis an gCoimisinéir Teanga an tseachtain seo caite agus bhí me ag labhairt leis faoin dúshlán sin. Is é mo thuairim phearsanta dá mbeadh aon éileamh láidir i leith na scoileanna úra go mbeidh mé ag amharc ar an mbealach chun níos mó cuidithe a thabhairt don bhforas pátrúnachta nuair a bheidh siadsan ag lorg an céatadán céanna maidir leis an éileamh sin a bhaint amach ag na tuismitheoirí. Táim ag obair i gcomhar le mo chuid oifigeach faoi láthair maidir leis an mbealach is féaráilte agus is cothroime maidir leis sin fosta. Bhí cruinniú dearfa agam leis an gCoimisinéir Teanga an tseachtain seo caite agus beidh mé ag breathnú ar an mbealach is fearr maidir leis an gcothroime seo a choinneáil leis an iarratas a bheidh á dhéanamh acu amach anseo.

Ní dócha go bhfuil scoil lánGhaeilge ar bith a bunaíodh le fiche bliain i gceantar uirbeach nár éirigh léi. Ceist eile a mbeidh ag plé acu leis an Aire Stáit ná an polasaí oideachais Gaeltachta agus soláthar acmhainní dó sin.

Éiríonn ceist eile fós faoi sheirbhísí tacaíochta do dhaoine le fadhbanna speisialta: uathachas agus rudaí mar sin. Bhí cás amháin agamsa le gasúr a raibh fadhbanna cainte aige. Tá cónaí air i gceartlár na Gaeltachta. Ní raibh aon scoil sa Ghaeltacht in ann na tacaíochtaí a chur ar fáil agus dúradh leis go gcaithfeadh sé dul go Gaillimh. Tá sé leathchéad míle as Gaillimh agus chaithfeadh sé dul ann le haghaidh bunseirbhís i scoil lánBhéarla. An mbeidh an tAire Stáit ag plé na gceisteanna sin le Gaeloideachas.

Bhí €2,3 milliún d'acmhainní ar fáil maidir leis na scoileanna lánGhaeilge sna ceantair Ghaeltachta. Beidh €5 milliún ar fáil an bhliain seo chugainn in 2019 maidir le na hacmhainní, an tacaíocht agus an cuidiú atá de dhíth sna scoileanna sin. Dá mbeadh aon cheist i dtaobh na scoileanna éagsúla taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht a mbeidh ag iarraidh sruth Gaeilge - tá scoil thar barr i Sligeach agus i bPort Laoise chomh maith mar shampla maidir le sruth Gaeilge - bheadh suim agam maidir leis na scoileanna sin ar spéis leo an Ghaeilge a bhogadh ar aghaidh le sruth Gaeeilge, bheinn sásta é sin a dhéanamh fosta.

Beidh suas le €5 milliún ar fáil maidir leis na hacmhainní do na bunscoileanna agus na meánscoileanna istigh sa Ghaeltacht an bhliain seo chugainn, Dá mbeadh aon de na scoileanna éagsúla taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht, cibé acu lánGhaeilge nó le roinnt Gaeilge iontu, beidh mé sásta suí síos leo.

Schools Building Projects

Thomas Pringle

Question:

42. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education and Skills when he will carry out a review of his Department's design-and-build programme of school builds; if this will be carried out by an independent entity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49503/18]

This question is related to one answered earlier. It concerns the design-and-build programme, which has been in the news recently, and what the Department is doing to determine the cause of the problem.

I do not know whether the Deputy was listening to me when responding earlier. The answer to this question is a little different. It is a variation of the previous response so I will put it on the record.

The safety of the school students and staff has been my priority from when the initial invasive work was done in Ardgillan on 19 October. It continues to be my overriding priority. I shall give a summary of the outcome. Nineteen schools were cleared to open in full without any precautionary works, 19 were enabled to open in full following external precautionary measures in the form of fencing around all or part of the building and protective decking, and three were enabled to open, initially at ground floor level only, following the implementation of both internal and external precautionary measures. The latter relates to two schools in Tyrrelstown and Gaelscoil Eiscir Riada in Lucan. One building, namely phase 1 of Ardgillan Community College, closed completely.

Internal precautionary works are currently ongoing on the upper floors of the three schools that were opened initially at ground floor levels only. I assure the Deputy that the Department's priority is to have these works completed to enable all three schools to open fully and the students who were temporarily decanted off site to return in the coming weeks. I acknowledge the impact this has had on parents, staff and boards of management in recent weeks. I thank them not only for their patience and understanding but also for their proactivity. They have been proactive in ensuring whatever measures needed to be put in place would be put in place. I was in Tyrrelstown last week. I watched how the work was organised. It included gardaí, stewards and staff decanting students on a day-to-day basis in the rain. It was exceptional work in a short period.

Let me focus on what happens next. We will move as quickly as possible to the next phase, which is to initiate more detailed structural investigations in all 42 schools, even the 19 that did not have any structural issues. Following this, the objective is to implement the permanent remediation works required.

It is also my intention to initiate an independent review of the Department's design-and-build programme, to include aspects such as procurement, quality control, workmanship and oversight, examining aspects both before and after the implementation of the amended building control regulations in 2014. This will be an independent review conducted by a person or entity outside the Department. This review will be informed by the more detailed structural investigations to be carried out in the next phase of the programme.

I thank the Minister for his response. The final part is important and the key. There is no doubt that the schools have done great work in opening and dealing with the issues that have arisen. The fact, however, is that these are brand-new schools and they should not have to deal with these issues. That also has to be recognised by the Department. As the Minister said, more than half of the 42 schools built by the company concerned, Western Building Systems, have been confirmed as needing remediation work or at least precautionary protective measures pending further investigation. I am thankful the Educate Together school in Letterkenny was one of the schools that showed no problems when reviewed and was able to resume activity. It is clear, however, that the Department's design-and-build programme was compromised in some way or another, and that is the crux of the problem. It might have been through not thoroughly investigating companies in the procurement process prior to signing the contract or through not inspecting buildings properly.

I have seen from previous commentary that questions remain as to who is ultimately responsible. That is what we need to get to. Ultimately, the Department is responsible because it is the procurement body and it is paying. The people are not getting what they are paying for and this has to be addressed and examined by the Department. Changes have to be put in place to make sure contractors comply with what is required of them.

I agree with the Deputy's point on responsibility to the taxpayer. We are in a responsible position and have to ensure not only that there is value for money but also that if we are sending young people into schools, they are safe. My officials were working in the understanding that the schools were safe structurally. There is a massive break of trust in terms of who signed off and who was ultimately responsible.

That is why I want the independent review to examine all aspects of the process, beginning with procurement. The idea that we must have people looking over the shoulder of a bricklayer to check whether wall ties have been installed is not normal in construction. There must be a degree of responsibility. However, if checks are necessary before the cavity walls are closed to ensure wall ties are of the right place and number, that will be done.

It probably will have to be done. The Department has been neglectful in regard to such checks.

The constant drive always to get projects constructed as cheaply as possible is at the root of this problem. These schools will no longer be value for money in the light of the costs incurred in recent months for investigations and remedial works. None of that was considered when the cheapest possible tender was selected. These schools are ultimately going to prove very expensive as a result of the short-term view taken in opting for the cheapest tender when the priority should have been for the Minister to ensure that the schools were built to the proper standard. Schools offer value for money when they operate for 20 years without requiring additional work to counteract substandard work carried out under the contract. A low-cost tender does not necessarily indicate value for money. That is the problem.

Two other Deputies have indicated to speak on this issue. I will allow them to comment briefly but the time allocated for the question has almost elapsed.

Has the Minister an estimate of the cost which will be borne by the Department even in the case of future legal proceedings? Does he propose to introduce a Supplementary Estimate to cover the cost of the works on the schools? We do not want a further disaster in terms of the existing building programme being further delayed due to the significant amount of remediation work involved. As the Minister is aware having visited them, the schools in my locality have been wrapped. A massive amount of work is being done on them.

When I and my colleague, Deputy O'Loughlin, met the Minister and his officials over the mid-term break at a very helpful meeting to which members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills were invited, I got the impression that a permanent fix would in place by now or that we would know what was happening in that regard. There is a deficit of information regarding a permanent fix for these school building projects. Parents are asking me what is happening. They are not reassured by the temporary fixes that are in place. Has the timetable slipped considerably in that regard?

On the point raised by Deputy Pringle regarding culpability and responsibility, it is very important to point out that under the 2014 legislation and previously ultimate responsibility lies with the contractor and design team. There has been an average 18% increase in the cost of private sector construction, including of houses, hotels and apartment blocks, because of the delay involved in ensuring a fire officer inspects the project and ensures every step has been properly completed

On the speed of the works, many of them were built within a 24 to 26 week period. That is not to say that rapid build cannot be done properly. Rapid build construction is being employed to deal with the housing crisis and for several student accommodation projects, as was raised earlier. It works if it is done properly. The message that must go out is that whether a building is to be completed in 24, 36 or 42 weeks, it must be done properly. There was obviously carelessness and unacceptable standards in the construction of these schools.

A Supplementary Estimate was submitted for the Department of Education and Skills. We do not have a specific figure for the costs because we must first undertake a comprehensive assessment of all 42 schools.

In regard to the timeframe that Deputy Byrne mentioned, I refer to the decanting of students from Gaelscoil Eiscir Riada in Lucan and the two schools in Tyrellstown. It was envisaged that the works on the first and second floors would be completed as a priority in the coming weeks. That work is continuing, with working hours extended after 3 p.m. and at weekends. We hope to get those students back into their schools.

The second piece of work, which is significant, will be a comprehensive analysis. We have set up a new section in the building unit to deal with it. Once that has been completed, we will maximise the holiday period to progress any work that is required.

Schools Building Projects Status

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

43. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the site acquisition to accommodate a campus (details supplied); the timeline of works to ensure that the campus is completed as soon as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49218/18]

This is the first time I have engaged with the Minister in the Chamber since he was appointed. I congratulate him and wish him well in his new role.

My question regards a matter of great interest to his and my home country, namely, the status of the site acquisition for the Crana College three-school campus. What is the status of the project in terms of the capital plan?

I thank the Deputy for his good wishes. We have worked closely together on this issue for too long. We are on the same hymn sheet in terms of trying to get the issue resolved as a matter of priority. I look forward to continued engagement on the issue. As the Deputy is aware, the education campus project to which he refers is included in my Department's capital programme 2016 to 2021 and the money required will be ring-fenced.

Negotiations with the landowner in respect of the preferred site option to accommodate the campus are under way. The Deputy will appreciate that negotiations in respect of site acquisitions are, by their nature, sensitive and for that reason I am not in a position to provide further information at this time. However, I assure him that all parties are working to bring matters to a conclusion at the earliest possible date and Department officials will continue to keep the relevant school authorities appraised of progress. In that regard, a meeting between school authorities and Department officials has been arranged for later this week.

When the site acquisition is complete, the next stage of the process involves the project for the campus progressing to architectural planning. At this stage it is premature to give a timeframe for completion of the building project. I acknowledge that the local community, including the parents who have sons or daughters in the three schools, have been waiting patiently for the campus. The issue must be taken very seriously as they have been waiting almost two decades for it to be resolved. I look forward to continued engagement with the Deputy on the issue.

I thank the Minister for his response. I join him in acknowledging the patience of the local community and the combined work and effort of the three schools, their management and the parents in terms of working towards an outcome where the three schools will be on the one campus. Unfortunately, the patience and goodwill of the parents in recent years has not been mirrored by Government action on the issue. It is disgraceful that no site has been provided over 11 years after the three schools agreed to amalgamate. The Government has messed around for far too long by not prioritising the issue. The preferred site was identified in 2013, over five years ago. However, once that was done the Government reset the clock and restarted the process. It is only now that I have faith that this can be brought to a conclusion.

I ask the Minister to confirm that the ongoing negotiations relate to the first preferred site and to give an assurance that they are meaningful such that we can have some hope that there will very soon be a conclusion.

I will not get into a political argument on the issue. Frustrations manifest themselves in many ways. We have a tremendous opportunity to bring together three great schools on a Crana College campus, including a Gaelscoil and a Gaelcholáiste.

It is an ideal scenario. The Government's priority has always been to provide the funding. The funding is ring-fenced under the 2016-21 programme. There is no question about that. The delays are being caused by negotiations with a private owner. At this stage, all parties should be afforded the space to ensure these sensitive negotiations are carried through in a timely way. We need to ensure we get the proper result for the community. The various partners involved in this project, including Donegal County Council and Donegal Education and Training Board, DETB, are all on the same hymn sheet.

We still need a decision to be made. There is engagement now. It is at a heightened level, as it has been in recent months. I hope we get a successful outcome here.

I am always hesitant to intervene when people are explaining something, but I have to mention that the timespan which is laid down for questions - six and a half minutes in total - is continually being broken. Those who run over time should be conscious that other Deputies are waiting to have their questions answered and they are preventing this from happening. In the interests of fairness, I appeal to Deputies to watch the clock that flashes in front of them when they exceed the time available to them, as they are well aware. This applies to everybody. Let us to try to operate within the time constraints that exist.

While I accept that the school is on the 2016-21 capital funding programme, that means nothing when there is no site. It has taken too long to get the site that is needed as a first step. I welcome the Minister's confirmation that the ongoing negotiations relate to the first preferred site. As he knows, recent local media coverage suggested that the site in question had been sold. There is no doubt that this preferred site needs to be acquired if at all possible. Every effort needs to be made to secure it for these schools. I urge him to expedite this project in his capacity as Minister and as a representative of Donegal. It has gone on for too long. There is no doubt that it has not been prioritised by the Government in recent years. It needs to be prioritised in order that the site can be secured. DETB wrote to the previous Minister on a number of occasions to seek meetings, but it did not receive a reply for a long period. This matter was not being prioritised at that juncture. I will work with the Minister in any way I can to ensure it is now brought to a conclusion. The parents, teachers and, in particular, pupils of these three schools deserve a new school, which needs to be a priority for the Government.

It is important to point out that, as Minister, I am not involved in any of the negotiations on this matter. The officials in my Department are working on it. I assure the Deputy that they are providing the necessary focus to try to bring this to a conclusion as speedily as possible. I am conscious of the frustrations, dreams and visions of those whose sons and daughters have attended these schools and have come out the other end. If all partners and stakeholders can work to bring this to a conclusion as soon as possible, that will be met with a tremendous drive. The Deputy spoke about the energy in these three schools. Like him, I am in touch with the principals and the teams in the staffrooms on a daily basis. There is an energy to drive this project. The development of this physical building would be a tremendous bonus to future education in this area.

School Accommodation Provision

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

44. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Education and Skills when new additional accommodation will be provided for a school (details supplied) in addition to the associated refurbishment works; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49256/18]

There is an orange weather warning in place at the moment. People are making plans and preparations. There is an additional worry for the parents of the pupils of St. Molaga's national school in Balbriggan. They are fearful that the prefabs their kids are forced to learn in will come down around their ears. The last time we had a heavy downpour, it was raining in one of those classrooms. On behalf of the parents and on my own behalf, I ask the Minister to provide some words of comfort by indicating when the school will get its new accommodation and when the refurbishment works will be carried out.

A building project at this school that primarily involves the replacement of existing temporary accommodation with permanent accommodation is included in my Department's six-year construction programme. The project will consist of an extension to include 12 mainstream classrooms, a two-classroom special needs unit and some refurbishment works to the existing accommodation. The schedule of accommodation for the project has been finalised and provided to the school authority. The project brief has also been finalised. It was advised to the school recently that it is intended that the project will be progressed under the Department's ADAPT programme. ADAPT is an accelerated programme which uses a professional external project manager to co-ordinate and drive the respective design teams on each project. My Department will be in further contact with the school when the project manager has been appointed.

The Minister has not provided any concrete timeframes. At the moment, 58% of pupils in the school are learning in prefabs. The prefabs are 18 years old, which is young in human terms but ancient in prefab terms. We are aware that there has been some progress. We need to hear that this project will be fast-tracked. We need to hear exact timeframes from the Minister. That is what the parents want to know. When they woke up this morning, they knew this problem would not be fixed by the time their kids arrived in school. They are nervous and worried. Like most average people, these parents do not want to contact their local representatives. They are happy never to have to see us as we go about our business. They have been driven to contact their local representatives because the conditions their kids are in at the moment are unacceptable. They need to hear a timeframe. We have been told again and again that there will be action as part of a programme. A timeframe is needed.

There are two aspects to the larger project. It is important to appoint an ADAPT project manager. The Deputy is articulating this strongly and my officials are listening to her. She mentioned the existing prefabs in the context of today's stormy conditions. Two of the school's older prefabs have been in poor condition since Storm Ali earlier this year. While I understand that some repairs have been carried out to the prefabs under the school's insurance policy, a condition report prepared at the school's request has indicated that further remedial works are needed. The Department has advised the school to complete an emergency works application form with a view to undertaking remedial work to these prefabs pending their replacement as part of the proposed building project.

The Deputy and the school authorities are trying to do two things. They want pupils to be able to get on with their daily lives in the education system. They are keeping the larger project in mind as well. They are keen to ensure the prefabs are of a standard that meets all the safety requirements. I am taking on board what the Deputy has said..

While I am glad the Minister is taking on board what I am saying, he has not given me a timeframe. I would appreciate a timeframe. If the Minister cannot give one to me now, I would be happy to receive it in written correspondence. It is not as if these parents are not patient; they are extremely patient. They are looking for their kids to be able to go to school in a place that is safe. The Minister and I want the same for our kids. The parents are seeking a timeframe. They are aware that this matter has been brought to his attention. They know that this school is in the pipeline. They want to know at what stage they will start to see some concrete movement.

There are dangers with giving the specifics of a timeframe because people can be disappointed when there is no movement on that timeframe. It is intended that the process of procuring a project manager will be initiated shortly. We could get into a more definitive explanation of what is meant by "shortly". Some people might think it means before Christmas and others might think it means after Christmas. In fairness, many school authorities and young people are resilient. They will put up with lower standards if they know things are certain to come down the line. I get that as well. People like to be kept in the picture and in the know. I will get my officials to give the Deputy a direct call on this matter.

School Accommodation Provision

John Brady

Question:

45. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Education and Skills the interim arrangements that will be put in place for a school (details supplied) that must vacate its temporary premises in April 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49216/18]

John Brady

Question:

77. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Education and Skills the long-term plans in place for providing permanent accommodation for a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49217/18]

What short-term and long-term arrangements are in place to accommodate the needs of North Wicklow Educate Together school, which is facing an impending crisis due to the fact that the current lease on its temporary accommodation on Putland Road, Bray expires at the end of April next year? Some 180 pupils will find themselves with no school, and 60 of them are due to sit their junior certificate examinations shortly after the lease expires. There are short-term and long-term needs for accommodation. The school is on the schools capital expenditure programme and is due a new building.

We have had a number of conversations about this issue. I apologise to the students for being unable to meet with them last week; I was at an event at the Aviva Stadium. I thank them for their correspondence.

A major capital project for the provision of permanent accommodation for the school referred to by the Deputy to cater for a long-term projected enrolment of 1,000 pupils is being addressed through my Department's capital programme.

My Department has been liaising with Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board, KWETB, with a view to providing the new 1,000 pupil school on the site of Bray Institute of Further Education, BIFE, in a campus-type arrangement.  The site in question is almost 12 acres.  It was envisaged that the master planning of the site would also provide an opportunity to put plans in place to provide modern fit-for-purpose accommodation for BIFE through a multi-million euro investment.  Unfortunately, my Department understands that the board of the ETB does not agree with this approach.

My Department will have to consider this development and the next steps to address the long-term accommodation needs of the school.  This will be done as a matter of priority given the urgent need to find a permanent home for the school.

With regard with the school's interim accommodation, the lease on the school's temporary accommodation on Putland Road is due to expire on 30 April 2019 and the property is up for sale. My Department’s preferred option for interim accommodation is for the school to remain in this location.  Accordingly, my Department has indicated to the owner of the property that it would be interested in exploring the potential to licence or lease the property from the purchaser should the purchaser be amenable to such an arrangement.

My Department is also exploring other options should it not be possible for the school to remain in the Putland Road property.  In this context, it is engaging with the patron body of the school and KWETB regarding all other short-term accommodation solutions.  My Department is meeting with the patron and school management tomorrow regarding the accommodation issues.

It is unbelievable that the Government has allowed the Department to sleepwalk into the pending crisis. I have been asking questions about this for the past two years, particularly regarding the concerns relating to the BIFE site. I pointed out that there were issues with the identification of that site by the ex-CEO, Mr. Sean Nash, and with the engagement with the Department, which I believe should be investigated. It is only now that the Department has acknowledged that there is a difficulty. The KWETB board met yesterday and made a unanimous decision not to proceed with co-location on the BIFE site. This was all flagged. There is now a crisis.

Patronage was awarded to the North Wicklow Educate Together school in 2013 and it moved into its temporary accommodation in 2016. I do not take any comfort from what the Minister has said; he is dealing in hopes and aspirations. There has been a suggestion that the school could temporarily relocate to the old Colaiste Raíthín premises in Bray. If the Minister and the KWETB are looking at that as an option, they should know that it is not fit for purpose. It was not fit for purpose for Colaiste Raíthín, which, after a lengthy campaign, moved into its new accommodation recently. It will not be suitable for North Wicklow Educate Together in the short or long term.

The simple solution to this is for the Department to purchase the Putland Road site. Is that being considered by the Minister and his officials?

The Deputy is entitled to double the time because the questions have been grouped, but with a little bit of co-operation, Deputy Pringle might be able to ask his question.

This is an important ongoing issue. I spoke to my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, about it yesterday. Looking at it in a common sense, value for money way, the BIFE site is 12 acres and owned by the State. It will not cost money to acquire, and, therefore, it is an option. There is also a constraint on the Putland Road site because there is a protected structure on it. It is a smaller site of some 4.3 acres. We have to ask whether the school can do what it wants to do on a 4.3 acre site. The Deputy believes it can. We need local engagement now more than ever. I have spoken to the Minister for Health, about this matter, and Deputy Brady has raised this on a number of occasions with me. A meeting of minds is required at tomorrow's meeting. The formal decision by the board of the ETB to reject the BIFE site as a preferred location was only taken earlier this week. We have to take that on board. From a taxpayer's point of view, it must be acknowledged that the officials were considering a site that would not cost anything. The Putland Road site would cost money, and it is also zoned. I do not know what the valuation of the site is or what it might cost. Patronage was awarded in 2013 and the school was up and running in 2016. Education is the most important issue, and I will focus on that. We need certainty on what the next stage will be. Tomorrow's meeting will be crucial in that regard.

The Minister has mentioned cost-benefit for taxpayers. We are talking about taxpayers and pupils, learners who are going to be homeless. They will have nowhere to go at the end of April 2019. While the Minister is thinking of cost-benefit, I think of the benefit that will accrue for the pupils and their parents, as well as the teachers, and pupils who are due to enrol in that school next September. The school is due to increase to 300 pupils.

I do not take any comfort from what the Minister said. We need to move away from the BIFE site. The Department must immediately refocus and examine the Putland Road site. The school faces an immediate short-term crisis, because it will need temporary accommodation whatever happens. I mentioned the Colaiste Raíthín premises, which is not fit for purpose for a number of reasons. It is a split site and uses really old prefabricated classrooms and a VEC building; it is not fit for purpose and should be ruled out. That leaves the Putland Road site, where the school is currently based on a temporary basis. If the owner of that site is not open to extending the lease or to putting in place a licence, we must have a plan B, and I have not heard the Minister mention one. We need one, and I am hopeful that such an alternative plan will be outlined at the meeting with the patrons of the school and the principal tomorrow.

I am not getting any solid answers from the Minister, and I did not get any solid answers from his predecessor over the past two years. Immediate answers are required. Without them, 180 pupils will have no school at the end of April next year, and 60 of those will be sitting their junior certificate examinations in a hedge school. I am sure the Minister does not want that to happen on his watch, and I, as a Deputy for that constituency, certainly do not want it to happen on my watch. The Minister has spoken about other Ministers. He referenced the Minister for Health. I remind him that he is the Minister for Education and Sills and that it is his sole responsibility.

No student sitting his or her leaving certificate examinations will be left out. Alternative temporary solutions are being worked on, and we have been focusing on this issue. The significant question is how to address the long-term issue here. The meeting tomorrow is a follow-up to consider the decision made by the ETB. There must be a meeting of minds, and there must be focus on the long term. The short-term issues will be dealt with. Certainty is also needed. There is no point in my saying that the school will be located at a certain site. That would do a disservice to the community and the process in place. It is good that the ETB has now made a decision. I understand the Deputy's frustration. This matter has been ongoing for a number of years. However, we need certainty, and I believe things will happen quite quickly after tomorrow's meeting.