30. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied that there is now no school-based oral examination of the Irish syllabus at junior cycle. [47776/19]
30. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied that there is now no school-based oral examination of the Irish syllabus at junior cycle. [47776/19]
Táim ag ardú ábhar tábhachtach maidir le scrúdú béil na Gaeilge sa teastas sóisearach. Tá sé imithe ach beidh a fhios ag an Aire go bhfuil conspóid ann faoi láthair maidir le cé chomh crua is atá an páipéar Gaeilge agus maidir leis an easpa scóip le béalthuiscint a thaispéaint do scrúdaitheoirí. Tá múinteoirí Gaeilge ar fud na tíre ar buille maidir leis seo. Tá siad buartha go gcuirfidh an scrúdú seo, an deacracht a bhaineann leis, agus an easpa scrúdú béil daltaí as a bheith ag foghlaim na Gaeilge. Ceapann siad gur dáinséar don Ghaeilge é.
Gabhaim buíochas as an cheist. Chuala mé an díospóireacht thar na coicíse faoin chonspóid agus chuala mé an díospóireacht agus an comhrá faoi na deacrachtaí. Tá an scrúdú nua le teacht isteach don chéad uair in 2020. Beidh imní ar dhaoine faoin am atá ann chun é a chríochnú. Beidh cruinniú agam le mo chuid oifigeach agus leis an State Examinations Commission Déardaoin seo chugainn faoi na rudaí sin.
The development of students’ oral language skills is to the fore in the new specifications for Irish at junior cycle. The previous oral examination was optional and was taken by approximately 40% of students. The new assessment arrangements, on the other hand, require all students to engage in an assessment of their oral skills through classroom-based assessment. This gives a greater opportunity for all students to develop and enhance their oral language proficiency skills over the three years of the junior cycle and to foster their ability to use the Irish language. The assessment of these skills forms an integral component of the overall language learning experience and occurs in a number of ways.
As well as the completion of tasks where students use and demonstrate their oral language skills to achieve specific learning outcomes, their oral language skills are also formally assessed through the two new classroom-based assessments. The second classroom-based assessment, in particular, is entirely based on students’ oral language competence. It is linked to ongoing classroom exchanges and represents a more authentic reflection of students’ interests and competence levels in Irish. Importantly, the oral skills of all students will now be assessed in classroom-based assessments and formally reported upon in each student’s junior cycle profile of achievement.
My Department remains committed to encouraging the use of spoken Irish. The development of the new curriculum specifications for Irish at junior cycle was informed by research and extensive consultation with the education partners, including practising teachers and students. Extensive continuing professional development is being provided to teachers and is complemented by a range of other supports. The new approach gives better recognition to the development of students’ oral competence, including their ability to speak Irish, over the three years of the junior cycle.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. Le roinnt seachtaine anuas, tá múinteoirí ag cur glaoch orm maidir leis an easpa scrúdú béil agus le cé chomh deacair is atá an páipéar. Tá an tAire ag rá go mbaineann an obair béil i rith an chúrsa, na CBAs, le fíorshaol na ndaltaí. Tá na múinteoirí ag rá an mhalairt. Tá siad ag rá go bhfuil an páipéar nua ródheacair. Bheadh roinnt de na ceisteanna deacair ó thaobh an Bhéarla nó an eolaíochta freisin. Caithfidh na daltaí aistí ar roinnt de na hábhair sin a scríobh as Gaeilge.
In recent days, I have been inundated with calls from teachers who have raised serious issues about Irish at junior cycle. I am raising this issue in the context of the lack of oral work, which is at the heart of this. The Minister referred to classroom-based assessment being in place in order to develop Irish language skills, but I am not sure that will work because while he said that will be more authentic, the sample examination paper which has been provided to schools is completely inauthentic in terms of the day-to-day lives of students. It is really difficult and some of the terminology is new to me and to some teachers. It refers to descriptive imagery and so on, which is difficult not only in Irish but also in English. There are ways of doing this properly, but the danger is that, following the removal of oral Irish as an examination component and the introduction of a difficult Irish exam at that level, we run the risk of turning people off the language, which would be very unfortunate.
I appreciate the Deputy raising this issue because this is a subject area which requires deliberation. We have introduced interventions in the Gaeltacht area, including the tumoideachas, the Gaeltacht recognition scheme, which is working well. It is hard to believe that even in recent years some Gaeltacht schools taught through the medium of English. That has all changed and there is now 100% take-up at post-primary level and 80% take-up at primary level. We have to get to a position in our English medium schools whereby we can examine what is working. A lot of good stuff is working and many teachers have been very creative in bringing the love of the Irish language into the classroom.
The motivation behind the new curriculum is to try to ensure more communication at junior certificate level and continuity in the transition from primary to secondary level. That is why I initiated the content and integrated language learning, CILL, pilot project which involves ensuring that young people are learning Irish through physical education, mathematics and other subject areas. I take on board the Deputy's comments on difficulties raised by teachers in respect of the sample paper. I will speak to my officials on Thursday to bring these issues to the fore if there is enough time available.
De ghnáth, ní bhíonn baint ag polaiteoirí leis an gcuraclam. Fágaimid é sin do na saineolaithe agus na daoine atá bainteach le forbairt an churaclaim ach, sa chás seo tá múinteoirí na tíre, na saineolaithe is tábhachtaí, ag rá go bhfuil deacrachtaí anseo.
Táim ag súil cloisteáil ón Aire maidir le torthaí na cainteanna atá sé ag dul i ngleic le.
This is a serious issue and I am glad the Minster has an interest in it. We have a good chance to get this right and ensure that the Irish language promoted. On that note, I pay tribute to Ms Zainab Boladale from RTÉ, who has been the subject of vicious racist abuse. Ms Boladale moved from Nigeria to Ireland at the age of four. The fact that she can give an interview on television as Gaeilge is a testament to her, her family and the Irish education system. We have a national hang-up about the national language and how badly taught it is, how difficult it is, etc. Ms Boladale can inspire all of us to use the Irish language daily and ensure that we have the level of Irish we all should have, particularly in view of the level of resources devoted to the subject. I refer to not blaming teachers or schools, I am asking what we, as a nation, are prepared to do about the Irish language. I am grateful for Irish teachers coming forward on this issue and giving up their free time to try to bring about change. Their interest is in the language and the students learning it.
Aontaím leis na pointí deireanach a rinne an Teachta maidir leis an bhean atá ag obair in RTÉ. Aontaím freisin faoin leanúnachas agus an díospóireacht faoin teanga. Sílim gur chóir do dhaoine tosú níos óige, roimh an scoil, agus go mbeadh leanúnachas ann tríd an bhunscoil agus an mheánscoil ina dhiaidh sin. Ba chóir do pháistí a bheith ag foghlaim na teanga go nádúrtha agus i mbealach sóisialta, ag labhairt lena gcairde agus iad ag súgradh, lena dtuismitheoirí sa siopa, nó lena gcomharsan trí Ghaeilge. Sin rudaí nádúrtha.
Tá athbheochan ag tarlú sa Ghaeilge, agus tá suim ag daoine, tuismitheoirí agus múinteoirí scoile inti. Teastaíonn cuidiú ó mhúinteoirí maidir leis na scileanna a bheidh uathu. Beidh muid ag bogadh na hábhair le chéile maidir le CLIL agus beidh acmhainní breise faoina choinne sin thar trí bliana. Tá muid ag amharc freisin ar na scoileanna lán-Bhéarla agus ag iarraidh go mbeidh níos mó solúbthacht agus suntasacht acu amach anseo d’fhoghlaim na Gaeilge.
31. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the special education teacher allocation model still gives an additional weighting to gender on the basis of on the number of boys attending each school; if so, the evidence to support this approach; and his views on whether it is appropriate and necessary. [47618/19]
Táim ag tógáil an cheist seo toisc nach bhfuil an Teachta Ó Laoghaire le fáil. The issue of special needs allocations affects a large number of schools and many of them feel they are not getting adequate allocations for students with additional needs. It is allowed for under circular 008/2019, as issued by the Department. Many girls' schools are concerned about this matter and I am seeking a clear explanation of the rationale for the situation.
Gabhaim buíochas don Teachta as ucht a cheist. A new model for allocating special education teachers was introduced for mainstream primary and post-primary schools from September 2017. It is designed to distribute special education teaching resources fairly to schools, taking into account the profiled needs of each school. The total number of special education teachers has increased by 38% since 2011, from 9,740 in 2011 to more than 13,500 now. The manner in which the updated profiles have been developed since September is set out in the Department of Education and Skills' circulars 007/2019 and 008/2019.
The school profiles take account of a number of components, including a baseline component provided to every mainstream school to support inclusion and early intervention, and which is based on school enrolment numbers. Also taken into account is the number of pupils with complex needs enrolled into the school, the learning support needs of pupils in the school, as evidenced by standardised test results, and the social context of the school including disadvantage and gender.
The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, working group report, ‘ A New Model for Allocating Additional Teaching Resources for Students with Special Educational Needs’, published in 2014, recommended the new profiled allocation model. The report noted that international research has shown that there is a significantly higher incidence of the overall male-to-female ratio in special education. The report cites a range of research evidence which indicates that boys predominate in most disability categories. This is particularly the case with behavioural needs. For this reason, the NCSE recommended that schools' profiles should take some account of a school's gender breakdown.
The percentage of the overall allocation for gender currently represents 4.35% of the profiled allocation for primary schools and 2.15% of the allocation for post primary schools. I am satisfied that the NCSE recommendation is valid. Should new research on differentials prevalent between boys and girls be published in future, this can be taken into account for the next review of the allocations.
I appreciate what the Minister is saying. However, the circular specifically states, "the special education teacher allocation model continues to take account of gender differentials by giving a small additional weighting for gender based on the number of boys attending each school. The weighting for each school will therefore take account of the gender profile, [that is] the number of boys attending". From talking to principals of girls' schools, as well as teachers, they are not, generally, convinced of the basis for this policy. The reality is that girls are every bit as disadvantaged as boys and this appears to be a black and white case of discrimination. Will the Minister put forward the evidence supporting these criteria and make that evidence available for us to look at? There still seems to be confusion and the circular is adding to it.
I am happy to ask my officials to look at this issue and identify what is the most recent and up-to-date research. This evidence is based on international research dating back to 2014. If we look at the trajectory here regarding special needs provision from 2011 to this year, there has been an increase in special needs assistants, SNAs, from 10,000 up to 17,000 next September. There has been an enormous impact in the context of meeting increased demand and dealing with those capacity issues as they arise. The NCSE constantly monitors international best practice as well. As I speak, a major conference at which practices in places such as New Brunswick in Canada and Portugal are being examined is under way. The NCSE is very open to exploring what is happening at international level. If new evidence shows more of an equilibrium between boys and girls, we will be open to taking it on board.
Discrimination in schools that is not deemed to be positive discrimination is simply wrong and unacceptable. Is there any substantial evidence to show that this discrimination is necessary? It seems archaic and not in line with modern standards. If there is proper supporting evidence, can we see it? The Minister stated that he will send the evidence to us. Could it be sent to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills and to Deputy Ó Laoghaire? This is something the Minister and his Department should review. Will he commit to holding such a review here today? This approach seems completely inappropriate and unfair to girls' schools. I noticed the Minister mentioned that the number of SNAs will be increased from 10,000 to 17,000. If that is correct, it is a substantial increase and is welcome. I still feel, however, that it is not clear to many people, particularly in the girls' schools, why this discrimination is still on the books.
All international evidence is pointing to this approach. I would be happy to forward supporting information to the joint committee. I have no problem doing that. I alluded to the report from 2014, which stated:
Clear international evidence exists of a gender imbalance in the incidence of disabilities, special education enrolments and academic achievement (OECD, 2003, Mitchell, 2010, Banks & McCoy, 2011). Since the 1960s, the overall male to female ratio in special education has been 2:1 to 3:1. Reviews of US literature show boys predominating in every disability category except for deaf/blindness.
Times change, things change and statistics change. However, I am happy to go back to the NCSE to see if there is any evidence pointing to changes in the incidence in the context of boys and girls. At the moment, it is definitely pointing towards more incidence among boys than girls.
32. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the reforms of the ex gratia scheme established in July 2015 in view of the O'Keeffe case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47777/19]
It disappoints me that I have to raise this issue again. In the past number of years, we have had independent reviews, Dáil motions and apologies but we have never had an end to this saga for survivors, many of whom continue to seek to meet me, my party leader and probably the Minister as well. Over the summer, stinging and, unfortunately, all too predictable criticism was levelled at the scheme in the independent assessment. This had been predicted by Deputies on the floor of this House and by academic experts. We have still not reached the end of the process. The most recent response I received from the Minister indicates that only half of the offers made had been accepted and that the review undertaken by the Department with the Office of the Attorney General remained incomplete. Will the Minister provide an update and begin, on behalf of the Government, to show some compassion towards the people affected by this issue?
I express again my sympathy for the victims of sexual abuse and acknowledge the trauma they suffered. As the Deputy will be aware, the ex gratia scheme was established on foot of the specific circumstances arising from and in response to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, relating to Ms Louise O'Keeffe. Ireland submits biannual action plans to the relevant committee of ministers which is responsible for supervising the implementation of the judgment of the ECHR.
The ex gratia scheme is not the sole vehicle through which compensation for sexual abuse in day schools has been paid out. Between 2005 and 2018, settlements involving the payment of compensation by the State to victims of day school child sexual abuse have been made to 22 claimants. Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, acting as an independent assessor to the scheme, was asked to review the cases of 19 applicants who had not been successful in their application to the scheme. On foot of his determinations, payments are being made to a number of victims of child sexual abuse in day schools. The current position is that 16 offers of payment have been made and, to date, eight have been accepted. Further payments will be made upon acceptance of the remaining offers.
In the aftermath of the independent assessor's determinations, my Department committed to reviewing the ex gratia scheme in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General. I am sure the Deputy will understand the complexity and sensitivity of the issues involved that require very careful deliberation before proposals can be finalised and brought to Government. However, I fully understand and appreciate the urgency involved in this matter, as noted by the Deputy. I expect my officials to present me with draft proposals in the coming weeks for my consideration.
I could raise many issues during education questions but when a man tells me he was raped on a daily basis by a lay principal and other survivors of abuse tell me similar, awful tragic stories which have left their lives destroyed, I must continue to raise this issue with the Minister. The stories I am being told are nothing short of horrific. The response of the State to the decision in the Louise O'Keeffe case has been utterly inadequate. It took a long time, through pressure inside and outside the Dáil, to get the Government to at least appoint Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill who told the Department what Members had said in the House and what Dr. Conor O'Mahony of University College Cork and others had also said, namely, that the Department's interpretation of the decision in the Louise O'Keeffe case was wrong. Mr. Justice O'Neill stated that the qualifying requirements of the scheme required "an inherent inversion of logic and a fundamental unfairness to applicants." The applicants are those about whom I am speaking today. The idea that this further deliberation - it is never-ending - is required does another injustice to these victims who have the European Court of Human Rights on their side. Ranged against them, they have had the legal might of the State and the slow response of the Government in dealing with the matter. This has added to the trauma they have experienced. I plead with the Minister to have the Government deal with this issue as quickly as possible.
I am treating this matter with the most urgent attention and I will continue to do so. I met the Attorney General earlier today on this issue and he also appreciates the urgency involved. The Attorney General also articulated the complexity that surround this issue, which the Deputy will respect. We want to get this right. We had previous decisions by Government and there has been political interaction with the Judiciary. When the High Court and Supreme Court make a decision, we work from their interpretation. An independent assessor was commissioned to do a particular job. In advance of his determination, the Taoiseach and I both stated on the public record that we would abide by and follow through on the independent assessor's determination, whatever it was. We will continue to do that. I appreciate the urgency around this issue.
I challenge the Minister on this. The High Court and Supreme Court have never stated that the previous practice in the Department was what should happen. Victims were bullied out of the High Court and Supreme Court with threats of costs a number of years ago. They were told that if they pursued their claims, costs would be awarded against them, which is what happened.
This issue needs to be dealt with urgently. If I was the Minister for Education and Skills, I would ask the Attorney General and his office, because the matter goes beyond the current Attorney General, how they got this so wrong when everybody, including the entire Opposition and outside academics, was saying what the position was. Let us be honest about this. A plain reading of the judgment in the Louise O'Keeffe case suggested that the Government was wrong. One did not have to be a legal expert to read the judgment by the court and realise that what the Government was doing was in conflict with it. I wonder how the Government got it so wrong. Its job now is to make this right by complying with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights before another case is taken in Strasbourg and another ruling issues against the Government on this important issue. It must finally give justice to some of these people, most of whom, at least most of those I have met, are men who continue to suffer. The similarities between some of the stories being told by people from different parts of the country are striking. The State's response has been inadequate.
There is nothing more horrendous than to take away the innocence of young people. As a society, we have had a history of that and we have to be very vigilant in that regard. That is why we have been insistent and have focused on ensuring we have proper child protection measures in place through legislation.
The Deputy stated that if he was Minister, he would implore the Attorney General to move on this matter as quickly as possible. I have been doing that and will continue to do so. I am confident we will have a report back within the next few weeks.
We will skip Question No. 33 and return to it later.
34. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for medium and long-term funding for third level education in view of the increasing demographic demand and the effect of substantial per capita reductions in investment in the sector in recent years; his timeline for receipt of the economic analysis of the Cassells report in view of the first funding major benchmark from the report in 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47825/19]
It is more than three years since the Cassells report was presented to the House and we have yet to make a decision on how we properly fund third level education, particularly in light of increasing demographic pressures. Since I tabled the question, the Minister has announced the successful tendering for an economic study of the three options set out in the Cassells. I welcome that, even if someone could have completed a bachelors degree in the time it has taken to commission the study. I am keen to get details on the timelines and how the Minister intends progressing in this vital area.
I am committed to continuing the process of investing in our higher education system and to the development and implementation of a sustainable funding model for the sector. The Government's commitment to investment in higher education is clearly demonstrated by the scale of investment in higher education in recent years, particularly in the previous three budgets.
Following the further planned increases in higher education spending for 2020 announced in the recent Estimates, planned current spending on higher education for 2020 will have increased by 25% compared with that planned for 2016. This constitutes an increase in the order of €370 million.
This is estimated to bring current funding for the higher education sector to €1.88 billion in 2020, which exceeds the previous peak level of planned investment of €1.78 billion made in the sector in 2008.
A key part of this investment is the human capital initiative, HCI, which will be a transformative development for the third level sector. The HCI will invest €300 million in higher education over the period 2020 to 2024. Funded from the surplus in the National Training Fund, the HCI will help to realise the objectives of Project Ireland 2040, Future Jobs Ireland and the national skills strategy. At €60 million per year over the next five years, it will form a key part of our strategic response to addressing the skills needs of the economy, mitigating Brexit risks, responding to digitalisation and the future world of work and preparing ourselves for other challenges the economy may face.
The development of a sustainable funding model for higher education is essential in light of the centrality of higher education, both in terms of human capital development and research and innovation, to underpinning the future development of Ireland as a knowledge economy against the backdrop of rapid technological change.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
In that context, a comprehensive economic evaluation of the funding options presented in the report of the expert group on future funding for higher education is now commencing, supported under the European Commission structural reform support programme to be undertaken by an expert independent international consortium. We expect to have substantial work on this project completed by the third quarter of 2020.
The comprehensive and detailed analysis of funding options for higher education and the assessment of the appropriate balance between provision across the tertiary education system are expected to play a very important role in informing and advising Government decision making. This will provide the basis for a national consensus on the appropriate policy approach which is fundamental to Ireland's economic and social sustainability and progress and the delivery of key policy objectives under Project Ireland 2040 and Future Jobs Ireland.
One of the recommendations in the Cassells report was that by 2021 there would be a €600 million per annum increase in the core funding for the third level sector in comparison to 2015 levels. I realise there are many different ways one could look at this, but can the Minister of State give an indication of how we are measuring against that recommendation? What is her estimate today of what will be the increase in core funding? Will it be the full €600 million or will it be a fraction and, if so, what fraction?
Second, the Minister of State referred to the human skills fund and the need to match investment in third level education to the needs of the economy. I am deeply concerned that we have seen no innovation in the past three to four years from the Government on the changed needs of the economy, particularly when it comes to delivering the green transformation we must make. Project Ireland 2040 does not deliver it and the national development plan was made without any consideration of climate change. I will give three examples. In forestry there is a single forestry course in UCD when we need thousands of new foresters to take on that project. The retrofitting of buildings will require 20,000 skilled carpenters, electricians and energy engineers. Again, nothing is happening in that space. The third area is organic agriculture. There are no new resources, effort or training going into that critical area of applied education. When will the Government amend its education plans to meet our climate objectives?
We have increased funding by €370 million over the past two years and into 2020. That money is in response to the Cassells report. As the Deputy knows, we are sending that report to Europe for an evaluation. It is not just about higher education. We also want an evaluation regarding apprenticeships and to know about future skills needs. All of that will be evaluated and dealt with in the report we are expecting.
We launched a €500 million climate fund and much of that is aligned with what is happening in the higher education institutions. As we speak, much work is taking place in the higher education institutions in the research area. They are using education funding for that.
On organic agriculture, I have met Teagasc on a number of occasions and I am due to meet it in the next fortnight and I will refer back to the Deputy on that.
It is three or four years since the completion of the Cassells report. Is this new study just starting again, in a sense? It is to examine the three funding options set out in the Cassells report, which are full State funding, increased State funding with continuing fees and income contingent loans. In the interim four-year period, has the Government formed a view on which of the three options might be preferable? Will it give a steer to the expert group now looking at the economic analysis or is it still at base one and waiting to make a decision on the strategic direction it will take?
I am sure the Deputy has read the Cassells report. What is in that piece of work is all about the lecturer and student ratio. I believe we need to make decisions for Ireland and more importantly for the students. We must look at apprenticeships, the future jobs, what is being delivered and the funding. The Deputy asked if I have a steer on it. The single steer I am giving publicly is that I do not believe that students should take out loans and then be saddled with huge debt into the future. I am not sure what the Green Party steer is on the three funding models we were given. Was it increased money from the taxpayer?
It is increased funding from the taxpayer.
That is fine. That was one of the models. Another was to continue as we are, with the students continuing to pay and extra funding from the State, which we are providing. The third was the student loan.
We will return to Question No. 33.
33. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the amalgamation of Cahir national schools; his views on the long duration of the process; the reason for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47792/19]
This is about the status of the amalgamation of Cahir national schools and the Minister's views on the long duration of the process. It is going on for almost two decades, fiche bliain ag fás. Will he give the reason for same and make a statement on the matter? Cá bhfuil our scoil? We are waiting 20 years for it. He is the tenth Minister so I hope he has good news for me.
The decision making authority for any amalgamation belongs to the patron or trustees of the school, and this is subject to my Department's approval. The Department understands that the timing of the amalgamation is being considered in the context of the delivery of the building project. It awaits confirmation from the patron in this regard.
A building project to provide a new 16-classroom primary school with special educational needs base to facilitate the amalgamation is currently progressing through the architectural planning process. Statutory approvals have been obtained and the project is currently at stage 3, which is the tender stage of the architectural planning process.
Whether I am the tenth Minister, although I believe I am the fortieth Minister since the foundation of the State, I will be happy to keep progress and momentum on this to the fore.
It is fiche bliain or longer since this project started. Speaking of the patron, the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy gave the site. Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan has been more than helpful and willing. The parish priest, an sagart paróiste, and the parish council met recently and decided to gift the Minister the site, so he cannot hide behind blaming the parish, the patrons or anybody else. The site for the car park has been gifted. The Minister said something very peculiar in a previous reply to me. He said the Department is seeking rights to the site even if a school does not continue at the site in the future. Will he explain that? I do not know what type of thinking there is in the Department now.
I refer to the parent councils, the boards of management and the parents. We have many different nationalities in the school and they are very welcome. Tá fíor fháilte roimh gach éinne go dtí Cathair Dún Iascaigh. There are up to 15 different nationalities, but they are in Dickensian conditions. We cannot wait any longer. This project has been kicked down the road. I have had so many replies to parliamentary questions I could paper my bedroom with them. However, I want to see the school classrooms, not my bedroom. I do not want to hear the Minister say it is in the hands of the patrons, the boards of management and the trustees. It has been already signed off and gifted by the parish community in Cahir and Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan. The Minister should be grateful for that, acknowledge it and forget the delays.
The land was signed over on 9 October. Approvals have been obtained and the project is at the tender stage. Tenders are due for return by 22 November. The tender process has been extended on a number of occasions, and I appreciate the frustration that the boards of management, parents, students and teaching staff have gone through regarding the delays, but this was to allow for the resolution of some legalities relating to the site and no further extensions to the tender return date are anticipated. I do not expect any delays in the return of tenders on 22 November.
I am glad the Minister cleared that up. I knew the parish community, parish council, parish priest and the bishop had signed off on it. I believe them. Of course I do. One does not get many free sites these days, and the Minister has been given a great gift from the clergy in the parish. He should be grateful for that. I was told several times previously that tenders were at the stage of pre-qualification of contracts for the project. The Minister is hiding behind every kind of an excuse. Now he has acknowledged on the floor of the Dáil that the site has been gifted to the Department, I want to see this project, because of the children - na daoine óga - and because of the parents, the parents' council, both boards of management, several retired parish priests and principals who are patrons there, the whole community - ní neart go chur le chéile, is what we believe in Cathair Dún Iascaigh - all our newcomers, and the people to come. We want a half decent - fully decent - proper, amalgamated national school with 16 rooms and facilities for pupils with special needs. It also has to have safe parking. I must salute An Garda Síochána, the traffic warden, and of course the parents on trying to manage the situation at the school, which is very difficult at peak times. There should be no more roadblocks, fences or blaming anyone else. The Minister should just get the project under way. We hope we can get him down as the tenth Minister to turn the sod. We will all be there and we can have a cup of tea afterwards in Cahir House Hotel. That is a great idea.
I wish to separate the amalgamation from the tendering process. The amalgamation is being considered in the context of the delivery of the building project, but we await confirmation from the patron. It is on the amalgamation that we await confirmation from the patron.
It was the next best thing.
I also wish to put on the record that the site was not gifted. I will not go into the details of that here today.
It was gifted.
No, it was not.
Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
I appreciate the frustration involved in the delay of the building project and the competing demands at an educational level in this school. I will be vigilant and ensure that we keep moving forward on it.