Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta fá choinne an tseans labhairt ar an ábhar iontach tábhachtach seo. Tuigim na deacrachtaí in achan cheantar a éiríonn as an bhrú, in Átha Cliath agus na contaetha atá cóngarach dó ach go háirithe. Dá n-ardódh an daonra, bheadh an brú ann. Sa cheantar seo bhí suas le 150 dalta scoile i gceist anuraidh. Bhí imní ar na tuismitheoirí nach mbeadh spás ar fáil i mbunscoileanna an cheantair, ach socraíodh an cheist. Táim cinnte go mbeidh réiteach ar an fhadhb seo i mbliana.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it gives me the opportunity to set out the situation with the lack of places at primary schools in the Ashbourne town area. In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas. The Department uses a geographical information system, GIS, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. The GIS uses data from a range of sources, including the Central Statistics Office, Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department's databases. With this information the Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises at primary and post-primary level to determine where additional school accommodation is needed.
Major new residential developments in an area also have the potential to alter demand in that area. In that regard, as part of the demographic exercises, the Department engages with each of the local authorities to obtain the up-to-date data on significant new residential developments in each area. This is necessary to ensure that schools infrastructure planning is keeping pace with demographic changes as there is a constantly evolving picture with planned new residential development, including additional residential developments arising from the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF.
Where demographic data indicate that additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may be provided through either one, or a combination of, the following: utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools, extending the capacity of a school or schools or provision of a new school or schools. Approximately 40% of extra school places are delivered by extending existing schools. In April 2018, the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years, 2019 to 2022. In addition to the new schools announced, there will be a need for further school accommodation in other areas in the future.
With regard to Ashbourne, in 2018 concerns were raised locally about waiting lists for primary schools of up to 120 pupils. The Department worked closely with the principals and patron bodies of the schools in the area to put contingency measures in place. Notwithstanding that those numbers of pupils did not ultimately materialise in September 2018, the Department considers that there is a need for increased capacity in the area in the short term and over the medium to long term taking account of residential development in the area. I am aware there are a number of schools in the Ashbourne school planning area with waiting lists for enrolment for September 2019.
The Department is engaging with the principals of the five schools in the Ashbourne town area, and I thank the principals for their engagement. The school principals met recently to carry out a joint exercise to establish the net demand for 2019.
This information has been received within the past week by my Department and it is currently under consideration. I acknowledge and welcome the engagement and co-operation of all of the political parties in that regard. In parallel, my Department is actively engaging with the patron of one of the schools in the area in regard to expansion of that school for 2019 to deal with immediate needs. Interim accommodation solutions for September 2019 and September 2020 will be developed with the aim of utilising, in the first instance, any available existing capacity. As pointed out by Deputy Thomas Byrne a meeting has been arranged between myself, principals of the local schools and Oireachtas Members to discuss the issues. I have on doubt Deputy Byrne will participate in that meeting.
My Department is conscious that Ashbourne is an area of growing demographic demand and additional residential development and it is open to establishing a new school to respond to the medium to long-term demand arising in the area, if necessary. Factors such as the scale and timing of developments in the Ashbourne area will determine the medium to long-term requirement for additional school places, including the potential need and timeline for a new school. These medium to long-term requirements are currently being examined by the Department. The process will include an opportunity for patrons to assist the Department in identifying requirements for new schools in rapidly developing areas beyond the 42 schools announced in April 2018.