I thank the Ceann Comhairle’s office for the sensitivity in choosing this matter because the progression of the project relating to St. Mary’s special school in Navan, County Meath, means a great deal to many parents and students across the county. I understand the Minister for Education and Skills is delayed in the Seanad but the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is well apprised of this issue. I hope he will address the issue of the logjam in progressing this project which was promised over seven years ago. I also hope he will have information in respect of the commencement of the construction process because parents have been left frustrated with endless tales of architects working on the tender process. As the parents have listened to information about tendering and other aspects of the construction process, they have seen two brand new schools built on the same educational campus where St. Mary's has had a site reserved. These two schools are a much needed primary school, St. Stephen's, and secondary school, Coláiste na Mí, for the large residential area of Johnstown in Navan. However, all three were announced together for this campus and the only one that has not been delivered is St. Mary's special school.
At Christmas in 2013, I sat in the hall of the new primary school and looked at the plans for the proposed St. Mary's special school. I also listened to affirmations that construction would be under way soon. What has frustrated the parents greatly is the fact that there has been such a delay while the other two schools progressed. They were completed on time on the campus while no work commenced on St. Mary's. The parents have been left in the dark about where their school actually stands and whether there was going to be any progress in building it.
I know the Department receives many requests for the advancement of schools. None is more deserving than St. Mary's special school in Navan. It is led superbly by the principal, Maria Corredor, and the chairman of the board of management, Bob O’Callaghan, as well as the team of dedicated staff who accommodate individual learning styles to ensure all students may experience success. The school has been in existence for over 42 years and caters for nearly 90 students from all across counties Meath, Cavan, Louth and Dublin. This week I met parents of students from Oldcastle in north County Meath, besides the Cavan border, whose children must get up at 6 a.m. to travel to this school. Some 60 km away in Ballinabrackey, at the far end of the county where one can puck a ball into Offaly, there are children doing the same thing. These children, some with acute special needs, are spending an hour and a half on a bus to get to school. While they are grateful there is a school to go to, they would like the new school promised to them on several occasions. They want a school that is not just surviving in an adapted and antiquated building where some students have to attend in a different HSE-owned building a mile down the road because there is not enough room on the site.
Last summer, the then Minister, Deputy Bruton, visited the school along with three fellow Ministers from Meath. The Meath Chronicle did not buy the photo shoot moment and captured the mood perfectly when it ran a front page the following week with the headline, "Build Our School Now Minister" and stated, "Despite the visit of four Government Ministers last week, staff and parents of 90 pupils of St Mary’s special school in Navan look set to wait another 18 months before work starts on their new building promised seven years ago."
The parents I met from the school this week want to know why there has been such a delay, what is the logjam and when will a shovel actually go into the ground for construction to start. One mother I met this week, Tracey Holsgrove - she said she could be named in the Chamber - wanted to know when would her little girl, Fionnula, get the same facilities and opportunity afforded to the rest of the children currently on the new educational campus. Her daughter leaves Oldcastle at 7.30 a.m. in order to get to school in Navan at 9 a.m. because the latter is the only school she can attend. Fionnula has done this commute since she was five years of age; she is 12 now. If Tracey knew that when Fionnula got to school that she had a dedicated purpose-built soft play room to enjoy, then she would have a weight lifted from her shoulders.
Many parents have seen their children progress through these outdated facilities over the past four decades. They are now fighting for the current crop of students and staff of the school. Perhaps they might get to enjoy the planned new school and have the dignity they deserve in receiving their education. I hope the Minister of State will have some positive news on when the school will commence.