Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Accommodation Provision

I am raising the issue, with Deputy Jack Chambers, of what has been happening, or rather not happening, in respect of Pelletstown Educate Together national school.

The parents, children and staff are undergoing trials and tribulations because the Government has failed, in its third year in office, to build the permanent school. There was a threat that the school would be moved to different temporary accommodation yet again. In the context of the recent elections, that threat was removed some days ago. Obviously, the parents are relieved. However, they do not intend to allow their children to be bussed between locations or allocated further temporary accommodation. The school is now in its fourth year of existence. A temporary site has been identified. The resolution arrived at is that which Deputy Jack Chambers and I suggested, namely, to ensure the developers who owned the site would extend the lease into the middle of next year. That has now been confirmed. However, I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to confirm that the school will not be asked to move premises again, either in whole or in part, until such time as the permanent school building has been provided. I ask him to confirm the stage that arrangements with Dublin City Council regarding the planning for permanent school site have reached. When can we expect to see diggers on site, as we have now been promised numerous times, to commence the permanent accommodation? The school does not need any further temporary moves, it needs a permanent home to carry on the work of educating the children by the dedicated staff and the work of the dedicated parents of the school community which is a vibrant place for learning.

This is an example of very poor departmental planning. We have had the dislocation of students and the undermining of their accommodation repeatedly over a period of months. A new school in a new community should be discussing the curriculum and community development. However, the children attending this school have had to write to their local representatives about remaining at the existing site and preventing themselves being bussed from one place to another.

In September 2015, the school started out in a bunker or basement with no natural light. Planning delays in 2017 meant pupils had to be bussed to different locations. In February 2019, we had an accommodation crisis and fears that the school could not properly open for incoming children in September 2019. Again, there were more delays and poor forward planning from the Department. Recently, and despite a permanent build occurring but with no diggers on site, as Deputy Burton stated, the potential dislocation of pupils in the early part of next year arose again. What is the forward-planning unit of the Department of Education and Skills doing? Why is it allowing a cliff-edge crisis to arise again and again in respect of this school? Pelletstown and the wider Royal Canal and Rathborne area is a new community where there is excellent parental involvement. The children and teachers have great pride in their school but they are having to deal with this cliff-edge approach by the Department whereby potential dislocation arises on an ongoing basis. I ask the Minister of State to provide an update on the current situation. Will there be absolute certainty regarding the accommodation of pupils next year in order that there is a smooth transition from the temporary site to the permanent site? What is the Department doing by way of forward planning to address this ongoing cliff-edge approach which is not fit for purpose in the context of the budgetary allocations it is providing?

I propose to reply on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, who cannot, unfortunately, be here due to other commitments. I thank Deputies Burton and Jack Chambers for raising the matter and for giving me the opportunity to set out the position in relation to the accommodation needs of Pelletstown Educate Together national school. The school is currently in interim accommodation at Ashtown Road, Rathborne, Dublin 15, and that accommodation is currently sufficient. In September 2019, the school will require additional interim accommodation. The planning application for the additional interim accommodation was lodged with Dublin City Council on 25 February and a notification of a decision to grant was received from the local authority on 18 April. The final grant is awaited. The tender process for the required additional interim accommodation commenced in parallel with the planning application. In addition, the permanent-site acquisition process for the school is now complete. A planning application for the permanent accommodation for the school was lodged in January. A request for additional information received from the local authority was responded to on 26 April and a decision is awaited. Following receipt of planning permission the project will proceed to tender. Provided that no issues arise, it is envisaged that the permanent accommodation will be completed in September 2020.

In the context of the need for the school's interim accommodation to move from its current location at Ashtown Road in February 2020, I advise as follows. The school's interim accommodation is located on a privately owned site and the landlord had required the Department to confirm that the school would vacate the property at the end of January 2020. As the Deputies opposite have already confirmed, the landlord contacted the Department on 27 May to advise that it had carried out a review of the business plan and strategy for the site and was now agreeable to extend the lease termination date from the 31 January 2020 to the 30 June 2020. As such, there is no longer a need for the school to move to alternative interim accommodation in January 2020.

I have already outlined the position regarding the permanent accommodation for the school. The matter will be kept under review. The Department is in regular contact with and holds monthly meetings with the school's patron body, Educate Together, in respect of this and a number of other projects under its remit. It will continue to keep the patron body fully informed of progress.

I speak on behalf of the children, parents and staff of the school. Can the Minister of State commit on the floor of the Dáil to the statement in his script to the effect that, provided that no issues arise, it is envisaged that the permanent accommodation will be completed in September 2020? Will he commit further that if there is any slippage in relation to that date, the Department will ensure no further temporary movements are required of the school? The school has been in a situation of uncertainty for four years, which is a long time in the start-up life of a school and in the life of a child attending primary school. We want to ensure the uncertainty and fear created by the basement experience and the busing experience will not recur. We assume the owners of the site are its developers. They are probably making many millions of euro from the construction of houses and apartments there. I cannot see why the Department is not exercising its role in education by providing schools in areas in which large-scale residential development has taken place. I ask the Minister of State to commit, therefore, that there will be no further disruption to the school until it receives the permanent building in September 2020, as has just been promised.

Clarity is needed around this given the fact that, notwithstanding the provision by the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, of a similar level of certainty two months ago, we are raising the issue on the floor of the Dáil again today. While there is a commitment on the part of the developer to provide the site to the school until summer 2020, what will happen if there is further slippage and delay in the tendering process, design works or any of the other aspects of the development of the permanent school? Such delays have occurred in respect of other school development sites. Can the Minister of State say with absolute certainty that there will be no further dislocation for children, teachers, parents and the broader school community? They have already had to deal with the developer at Rathborne-Royal Canal leaving a lot of vacant sites in the area in an unsightly state.

The least that can occur is that the Department secures the future site trajectory until the permanent school opens. That is what the parents want and that is what the school community wants. We need that commitment from the Minister of State and from the forward planning section because the forward planning section of the Department appears to be on an ongoing cliff edge where it has let this school down.

It is time that we provided certainty. Children should not have to be uncertain about their accommodation on a weekly and monthly basis and that has been the story of this school for the past six months because of the failure of the Department to communicate with and forward plan for this school. The least they can be given from the Minister of State, the Department and the Government is that this will not happen any more and that we will not have to continually raise this issue to have it resolved.

I thank both of the Deputies for raising this issue. The Department's building unit works exceptionally hard, under incredible pressure, to deliver on probably the greatest school building programme that this country has ever undertaken. If it is considered that in the first quarter of 2011 we had the most births per capita in the history of this State, that demographic bubble is now working its way through the education system, and consequently, there is incredible pressure being placed upon the Department's building unit to deliver schools across this country, particularly in locations where we have seen significant population increases over the past five to ten years, Pelletstown being one such location.

The Department does not intend to cause anxiety or angst to the school community and has not intended to do so in the past. It is working in close partnership with the school community to deliver this school. In my earlier response, I confirmed that it is envisaged that the permanent accommodation will be completed in September 2020. The Department has also engaged in extensive negotiations with the owner of this privately owned site to ensure that the lease would be extended to 30 June 2020, thus allowing for the school community to remain exactly where it is.

If either of my two Oireachtas colleagues was sitting on this side of the House, he or she could not give any commitment over and above that on the certainty. There are issues that may arise through the planning process and nobody can foresee those. There is absolute commitment from the building unit, the Department and this Government to all that we can that is within our power, and I stress that we will do what is within our power, to ensure that this school is delivered on time and no further stress or anxiety shall be caused to the pupils, to the parents and to the teachers of that school.

As the second Topical Issue matter in the name of Deputy O'Reilly has been withdrawn, we move on to Deputy Broughan.

Garda Resources

As the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, knows, I sought yesterday to adjourn Dáil Éireann to address the subject matter of this Topical Issue, which is for the Government to take all urgent steps to resource An Garda Síochána and to introduce any necessary legislation to end the appalling series of murders on the north side of Dublin in recent months.

Last week, communities I represent were devastated to hear of two more dastardly assassinations of young men, allegedly by gangs involved in the illegal drugs trade. One of those savage murders took place in broad daylight last Wednesday afternoon just outside our infants’ school, crèche and church in Darndale Belcamp parish and the tragic victim had been wheeling his child in a buggy just before he ran for his life and was brutally murdered. The area where this outrageous act took place is just beside our Darndale Belcamp village centre, our Sphere 17 youth centre and our local Belcamp tenants’ organisation, BESC, where I have held my weekly meetings with constituents for the past 25 years.

This appalling murder follows closely on a similar savage execution in north Fingal, and another earlier dastardly murder of a local citizen and family man on his way to work at 6 a.m. a few months ago, which I raised with the Taoiseach in February. As the Minister of State knows, RTÉ and Dublin Live have reported there has been another barbarous gun murder in Kilmore parish in Coolock just a few minutes ago, again in broad daylight and in total defiance of our community. This litany of gun murders across north and west Dublin and Kildare going back a few months beforehand is a direct threat to our Republic and democracy and it needs the Minister of State and the Government to vigorously address and bring those responsible for this appalling and cavalier lack of respect for human life to immediate justice and to take the stern steps that are necessary.

In the case of the parish affected last week, I have been deeply proud to represent Darndale Belcamp parish for over a quarter of a century and indeed all the neighbouring parishes of the greater Coolock area, including Kilmore. The wonderful people of Darndale Belcamp and their community leaders have produced a caring and progressive local infrastructure since the estate was developed in the 1970s. At the behest of the people themselves, the estate was largely redesigned, and on their own initiative, Darndale Belcamp village centre was built with the support of the European Union and Dublin City Council, DCC, about 18 years ago. Our local primary schools, youth centre, tenants and the Dales Centre alongside the New Life Centre and our parish of Our Lady Immaculate have all provided a great fulcrum for our vibrant local community. Just recently, we had a fundraising football match between our local Darndale Football Club and the great Glasgow Celtic Legends team.

This community is shocked and exasperated by this cruel and brutal gun murder, as I am sure Kilmore parish just south of Darndale is today. The longstanding peace of north Coolock was seriously disrupted from the summer of 2017 with an outbreak of anti-social and criminal behaviour including joyriding, dumping and intimidation. Our Dublin metropolitan region, DMR, north Garda Síochána and local community leaders have made huge efforts to curtail this appalling behaviour and I asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and the Taoiseach to ensure that An Garda Síochána had all the necessary resources, in particular for community and traffic policing and for specialist units like the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and for Garda actions such as Operation Hybrid.

Will these efforts be redoubled and all necessary funding and personnel be provided to Commissioner Harris? I am aware the Criminal Justice Acts need to be revisited, that there are a number of actions on the clár and we had the recent Supreme Court judgment on mandatory sentences, which seems to some extent to be a challenge to this Oireachtas. Is the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, planning specific legislation to tackle gun crime, gang crime and the level of homicides in the State which number up to 80 and more in recent years? What additional resources can also be provided for early education supports and community development given the major cuts to so many services?

Today's outrage in the past few hours makes it critical that the Government's response be vigorous and that it bring this disgraceful and appalling mayhem to an end.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter and I recognise his commitment to this very serious issue. Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, is unable to take this debate as he is in the Seanad Chamber. He wanted to be here but he is committed to the Seanad this afternoon and he sends his apologies. However, he has spoken in the House on this matter previously and I know that he shares the concerns of Deputy Broughan, as we all do and all Members of this House are horrified by the shocking disregard for life displayed by the persons who carry out these abhorrent crimes.

The Garda strength of the DMR north central and west regions on 30 April 2019, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 692 and 715, respectively. There are also 34 Garda reserves and 51 Garda staff attached to the DMR north central division and 23 Garda reserves and 63 Garda staff attached to the DMR west division. When necessary, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units, such as the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

The Deputy will also be aware that Operation Hybrid was established to co-ordinate the response to violent crime in Dublin and address concerns about community safety, particularly in the north east inner city. That operation benefits from significant support by armed support units. The robust Garda response to the series of shootings perpetrated by violent criminals in Dublin has, as of 5 May 2019, seen 76,699 high-visibility checkpoints implemented and a number of arrests and seizures carried out. The Minister is informed that An Garda Síochána is intently focused on disrupting the activities of these criminal gangs, with a particular focus on intelligence-led policing activities. For example, between Monday, 20 May and Thursday, 23 May, gardaí attached to the drugs unit in Ballymun division carried out a series of intelligence led searches targeting street dealers. A total of 14 houses were searched and 14 males arrested. During these searches, cannabis and cocaine to the value of €42,000 were seized, along with €14,000 in cash. Two vehicles and a scrambler bike were also seized. Members of the Garda also discovered and seized two firearms and ammunition in a follow-up search.

With regard to the introduction of legislation, I wish to assure Deputies that there is already a robust legal framework in place to address this form of criminal activity.

The crime of murder, as the Deputy will be aware, carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, as provided for by section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1990. A sentence of life imprisonment means that the prisoner will be subject to that sentence for the rest of his or her life.

The Criminal Justice Act 2006 provided enhanced Garda powers in the investigation of offences. Part 7 deals specifically with organised crime, providing for offences targeting the activities of those involved in criminal organisations and those who commit offences for the benefit of criminal organisations. It also provides for a number of specific offences relating to participating or assisting in the carrying out of criminal activities by organised gangs.

I join Deputy Broughan in acknowledging the shock and horror felt by the decent people of the area the Deputy represents following such crimes. I assure him that everything possible is being, and will be, done to bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent it happening again. I am aware a man was shot dead in Coolock this afternoon and have been told gardaí are responding at the scene of the crime. The news is breaking as we speak. Unfortunately, it is another horrible crime in the area.

The Minister of State referred to Operation Hybrid. A few months ago, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, outlined the successes of the operation, with 86 arrests and 11 people charged in relation to organised crime and gang murder investigations. There were three convictions for murder following the operation. However, only 37 firearms were seized, which seemed low given the number of reported crimes. What other measures have been taken to prevent the importation and use of illegal guns? Have the Government and the Department approached other governments or gun manufacturers in the European Union, the United States or elsewhere about the use of weapons they manufacture?

The media report on different developments and personalities in gangland crime but our constituents do not want to know that information. All they want is the organisers and perpetrators of murder on our peaceful streets to be identified, arrested by An Garda Síochána and sentenced to life imprisonment as urgently as possible. The Minister of State referred to the 2006 Act, which was important legislation introduced by the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Senator McDowell. It is clear that it is now necessary to implement the Act fully to apply to the directors of murder rather than only the perpetrators.

The constituents believe that the Garda needs substantial resources to address the seriousness of the problem. During the mayhem, they were disappointed to read that Garda overtime had been cut. There were reports in the media that An Garda Síochána had not received sufficient resources for overtime. As the Minister of State will be aware, some of the constituents believe we need a permanent, 24-7, static and patrolling presence in the districts most affected by gun crime and drug-fuelled savagery.

I have previously asked the Minister of State and the Taoiseach, who is with our EU partners today, whether the State has approached leaders in other jurisdictions about the alleged organisers of major drug-fuelled crime in Ireland who are reportedly domiciled abroad. Will the Minister of State report on any efforts in that regard by the Government with the support of Interpol and Europol? Have we used our extrajudicial powers to reach such people?

As the Minister of State will be aware, early intervention in community policing is the key. Today is another tragic and appalling day for our communities. We need a forceful response from the State, given that there is a threat to our democracy.

I will convey the Deputy's concerns and the points he has made to the Minister for Justice and Equality. As the Deputy outlined, two young men were shot dead within 24 hours of each other last week. They were shockingly callous murders carried out in broad daylight, as the Deputy described. By all accounts, neither man was particularly notorious or a high-level criminal, although that did not prevent them from being killed, which makes it all the more shocking. The murders should act as a warning to all those involved in low-level drug dealing or in any way with the enterprise of such criminal organisations that they have no regard for life.

It is important to join with the Garda to urge anyone who may have seen something before or after the incidents to contact the Garda confidential line on 1800 666 111. I fully appreciate the fear of reprisals that can accompany making any statement to the Garda about such a serious incident. The Garda confidential line allows concerned citizens to report often crucial details to the Garda, fully confident their identity will never be disclosed. The smallest detail can be very important. The Minister is assured by the Garda Commissioner that the level of recruitment of Garda members, both ongoing and planned for 2019, will ensure that the Government's commitment to increasing the strength of An Garda Síochána to 15,000 Garda members by 2021 will be achieved. The injection of such a large number of officers into the field, along with new recruits, will be beneficial to protecting communities.

I accept what the Deputy stated about community policing. He is dead right in that regard, as he is in respect of education and other community supports. I am working hard on the area of youth justice to try to make a difference. I have been told the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, met people in the area last night and visited Coolock Garda station. I appreciate that all Deputies in the area are concerned about the matter. If anybody has information about it, the Garda confidential line is the way to go. We will ensure that the Garda Commissioner will have all the resources necessary to tackle the issue.

On the Deputy's points about international contact, he is dead right that much of the response must be intelligence led. I assure him that everything that can be done will be done. We are all shocked by the breaking news of another man shot dead in Coolock this afternoon. It is terrible news.

As Deputy Donnelly is not present to raise his Topical Issue matter, we will move on.