Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

School Accommodation Provision

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

35. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of a development at a school (details supplied); the funding that will be made available; the timeline of when the works will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47496/19]

I seek an update on the delivery of a permanent new school building for the lower building at Moville community college. The Minister will know well that the prefabs, which are still used by 550 pupils, have been there since 2001. They very much need a new permanent school building. Some very necessary repair works were done over the summer, but we need to see the work progress to deliver the long-awaited permanent building. At a public meeting during the summer the hope was expressed that a planning application would be possible around September or October. We are now in November, so I seek an update on progress from the Minister.

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of a stand-alone extension project for the school to which he refers has been devolved for delivery to Donegal Education and Training Board, DETB. As Minister for Education and Skills and a Deputy for Donegal, I am delighted to report that there has been significant progress on the revised design for the project, which has been developed by the new architect. I can inform the Deputy that the main aspects of this revised design have been examined by officials and they are satisfied that it will provide for improved new building layouts for the project. The architect is now working with the rest of the design team with a view to providing my Department with a revised stage 2A submission as soon as possible and is targeting this to be done by the end of the year. The timeline for the planning process will be a key factor for determining the overall delivery timeline for the project.

The Deputy will also be aware that surveys to investigate issues with the school's main existing building were recently carried out. An initial report was provided to my Department, on foot of which further surveys were undertaken. A final report is being prepared and this will inform a decision on the best approach to addressing the issues raised in these reports.

I am also pleased to say that refurbishment works on the existing temporary accommodation on site and access for all works on the existing main building were successfully completed over the summer. I thank the school community for its patience as we worked through the provision of this improved accommodation and the DETB officials for their hard work in delivering it.

I understand the need for this project to progress and the efforts of the school and local parents to highlight this. I have met the school and parents about this project and I am fully committed to providing the funding necessary to complete the stand-alone extension and to resolve the issues with the existing building.

This is a tremendous school that provides a tremendous quality of education, which is reflected in the pupils' achievements. It has exceptionally good staff and management. However, it has been forced to live with substandard accommodation for the past 18 or 19 years of its existence. It has had a permanent upper building, which was delivered in 2005, but it has worked out of prefabs for the lower building since 2001. These were condemned by the Department. I welcome the work done over the summer to bring them up to a better standard, but patience has long run out around the delivery of the permanent new building. It was approved in 2014, but here we are in 2019 and we are only at the preliminary stages. The Minister and the Department made a commitment in May that they hoped that planning permission would be applied for in September or October. It is November and this has not happened yet. The timelines have slipped and the Minister is now speaking about a revised stage 2A proposal by the end of the year. We cannot afford any further slippage in the timelines on this. It must move through the processes promptly. I call on the Minister to ensure that this happens and that there are no further delays or slippage as we have seen in recent months. Will the Minister outline more clearly the exact timelines for the completion of the stage 2A proposal, moving to planning and then tender for construction?

It is deeply frustrating for me and the officials that there is a new building, built in 2005, on which we must go back and do a survey. That is the first frustration. The second, as the Deputy is aware, is that we had to replace the architect at the beginning of the summer. We had to go to a new architect and sit down with a new design for the building because other expressed wishes had come from the teachers and parents. We now have a new design. I expressly wanted to put the pressure on to ensure that we get it across the line as quickly as possible. There will be no stone unturned at Department level but we are waiting on the design team and architect. The matter is with them now. They have to make their observations, and as soon as they are ready, we are ready to go for approval to go for planning, so it is a question of how quickly we can get that across the line. The feedback from the Department is that the new team that is working on this has been more than diligent, co-operative, helpful and professional. It is a question of getting it right now. It is up to them to get the information back to the Department and we will move from there.

I know the staff, management and the team are working hard on it. I am saying to the Minister, and through him the Department of Education and Skills, that we must see this progress as quickly as possible. The patience of the staff, students, parents and management has not been rewarded in the past. It was approved in 2014, yet here we are five years later and we are not much further forward. We can have no more of that. We need to see the new permanent building delivered. It is a great school. Its development from new in 2001 was a good initiative to divide the very large numbers in Carndonagh community school at the time. However, it is a massive failure on the part of the Department that we are here without the permanent buildings finished some 18 or 19 years later. I ask the Minister and Department to give every priority in coming months to ensuring there is no slippage in the various stages of the process to getting to tender and to construction.

The students, parents, teachers and management deserve to have modern facilities, including an up-to-date canteen, gym and rooms that offer good conditions for teaching and learning. It is essential that these be delivered now and without any further delay.

There is no question about the commitment relating to this project. I met the principal, Mr. Anthony Doogan, in Moville on the Monday before last. He is satisfied with the level of progress and in his leadership position within the school he must manage expectations and frustrations along the way. Nevertheless, he is satisfied with the progress being made and the work of the design team and architect. It is full steam ahead and as soon as the report comes to the Department with the required information, there will be nothing standing in the way to move this to planning. We can keep the momentum after that.

Question No. 36 replied to with Written Answers.

DEIS Scheme

Thomas Byrne

Question:

38. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to ensure equality of access for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47467/19]

I was not expecting to be called so quickly.

I apologise. Deputy Pringle's question was supposed to be next but he is not here.

I ask the Minister his plans to ensure equality of access for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds in this country and if he will make a statement on the matter. Over the past few months, Fianna Fáil, in the context of the Oireachtas education committee, has put forward a series of proposals to address educational disadvantage. The matters I have highlighted include the issue of reduced hours affecting poorer children, Traveller children and children with special needs. Time and again, socioeconomic background is cropping up as a reason for reduced access to education and we need to sort this out and ensure that the equality that is deserved is achieved for everybody.

Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, is the main policy initiative of my Department to address educational disadvantage at school level.

The DEIS programme provides for smaller class sizes and other supports, including additional teaching posts, home school community liaison co-ordinators, DEIS grants, enhanced book grants, curriculum supports, priority access to continuing professional development and the school excellence fund for DEIS. Evidence from the evaluation of the DEIS programme to date demonstrates that it is having a positive effect on tackling educational disadvantage.

The rationale for allocating resources and supports based on a school's level of concentrated disadvantage is based on the existence of a multiplier effect whereby students attending a school with a high concentration of students from disadvantaged backgrounds have poorer academic outcomes, even taking account of individual social background. This approach is supported by national and international research.

In the 2019 to 2020 school year there are 891 schools in the DEIS programme serving in excess of 185,000 pupils. This represents approximately 20% of the overall school population. My Department will spend in the region of €125 million in 2019 on the DEIS programme. That does not include school meals from a different Department.

My Department is now in the final stages of further data analysis on the new identification model to allow for the development of a resource allocation model to match resources to identified need.

In addition, there is a broad range of courses, programmes and supports available to increase transition to both further education and training and higher education for under-represented groups, including those from lower socioeconomic groups. These include initiatives under the programme for access to higher education, PATH, the student assistance fund and student grant schemes.

The issue of language learning and education is particularly emblematic of this matter. The Department of Education and Skills has identified issues in access to learning different languages, which could act as an impediment to employment for pupils for the rest of their lives. In a post-Brexit world, Ireland should be improving access to languages rather than damaging it. In particular, a second language for less well-off students could be particularly advantageous. As I am sure Fine Gael colleagues have told the Minister, Fianna Fáil has a policy document on language learning, some of the damage done by Fine Gael and Labour while in government and how to try to rectify that damage. Education must be a leveller so regardless of where someone is born or how much parents make, we should be striving to build an education system that allows pupils to meet their full potential. That objective is not being met in a number of areas.

I am proud that DEIS was established by Fianna Fáil to ensure everybody is looked after but we must ensure people with disabilities, asylum seekers and Travellers have access to the system. Where is the policy on the barriers facing children who are homeless while in education? That will follow them for the rest of their lives, as research has indicated. Nothing has been done by the Department. DEIS is an important policy response but there is so much more to this.

DEIS has been an outstanding success story and when it was introduced, there were fears around the stigma that would be associated with the programme. That was very quickly dispensed with because of the support mechanisms put in place and the progression by students, not just to third level but also to training and apprenticeships. The statistics bear that out. Disadvantage is no longer looked at on a geographical basis. Disadvantage can sometimes be very subtle or it can be acute. We are measuring it and taking this intensive analysis very seriously. As far as I am concerned, if we are to look at other school support systems, we must make a choice. It will be whether to put resources into this or not; I am certainly an advocate for DEIS and such a support system. I want us to continue moving towards a more meaningful and inclusive education system.

I will raise two matters that are connected to DEIS in that the programme does not apply fully to some schools. Evidence gathered on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in America indicates that children and families were displaced for considerable periods and that children's education suffered in the long term. In a Dáil motion, we have argued that the Department should act on child homelessness and access to education. The Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, developed a protocol but there has been nothing from the Department since the motion was discussed, which is a real shame. We need something to direct schools on how to deal with child homelessness in non-DEIS schools.

Some schools, such as a school whose name I will supply to the Minister in the form of a note, do not have full DEIS benefits but are in areas ravaged by gang crime. They see kids influenced or affected by gangs, and in some cases, at age nine or ten, they work for gangs or are being nurtured by gang members. I know representatives from some of those schools have met departmental officials as they want extra support from the Department. They make a very good case, although they have not gone public on this. There should also be input from the Department of Justice and Equality. There is a range of issues but schools are confident they can work with children who are affected by gang crime if given sufficient resources. I urge the Department, when it reviews DEIS, to look at this as a matter of urgency. I will give the name of the school in a note if that is okay.

Will the Minister agree to give some information and publish details of the school planning areas, which are broad maps that apply in areas of rapid development of housing? These are really confused. People cannot go to a school that is next door or there may be no transport to an area to which they have been designated. It would be really helpful to have a consultation and information process on these mapped areas, and that probably applies to most of the country.

The planning areas are publicly available but I would be happy to forward the information to the Deputy.

We sit on a cross-departmental group that takes homelessness as a very specific and important issue. If Deputy Thomas Byrne wishes to raise any specific matters with me in that regard, I would be happy to take that information. I will take the note he mentioned and his comments highlight the complexity of the challenges and pressures that schools feel in different areas. That is whether they are dealing with criminal gangs, homelessness, anxiety or different coping, familial or society issues for students. The people at the coalface are the teachers and I get feedback from them on a daily basis when I meet them. It is that the challenges are changing but are very complex and evolving. We must be very supportive in that process.

I reiterate the DEIS programme is a targeted supportive system. There are other schools not in the DEIS programme that I strongly believe should be in it, and that is why we are considering a targeted intervention. It will come down to the question of resources, but I am certainly happy to support further expansion in that regard.

We will now take Question No. 37. I understand Deputy O'Keeffe was delayed.

School Transport Review

Kevin O'Keeffe

Question:

37. Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Skills the plans he has put in place to review the school bus transport scheme in view of the serious difficulties that arise with the scheme each year and, in particular, in the lead-up to the commencement in September of the academic year 2019-2020. [47096/19]

I was not actually. I was going by the numbers and I note another Member who tabled a question is not here. We may be entering into a period of the calm before the storm, as the Minister of State will be aware. Every year for the past few years, and even prior to my time in the House, I would say the Minister of State's Department has been inundated with requests sought for last-minute adjustments to secure places on school buses for children who want to attend the school of their preferred choice in their catchment area. Can he not be more upfront and put a scheme in place on the basis that Bus Éireann, in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills, would straight away seek to know the areas where it is expected there would be pupils enrolled for the upcoming 2019-2020 academic year?

I thank the Deputy for his question. As I have said on a number of occasions, school transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of my Department. In the 2018-2019 school year, more than 117,500 children, including 13,000 children with special educational needs, were transported in 5,000 vehicles every day to primary and post-primary schools at a cost running at more than €200 million in 2018.

Growth in the number of children availing of special educational needs transport is a notable development in recent years. The cost of special educational needs transport has grown consistently from some €58 million in 2012 to more than €106 million in 2018. School transport provision for children with special educational needs now accounts for more than 50% of the total cost of the scheme despite catering for some 12% of the overall number of children transported.

The purpose of the school transport scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remotely from their nearest school. Children are generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school as determined by the Department in conjunction with Bus Éireann, having regard to the ethos and the language.

All children who are eligible for school transport and who completed the application process on time have been accommodated on school transport services for the 2019-2020 school year and, in that respect, no serious difficulties have arisen for those who are eligible for school transport. Children who are not eligible for school transport, as the Deputy will be aware, may apply for transport on a concessionary basis and are facilitated where spare seats exit.

I recently sanctioned an additional €1 million for the school transport budget to allow for temporary alleviation measures to increase temporarily the capacity for concessionary seats on the post-primary transport scheme for the 2019-2020 school year. I also announced a review of the school transport scheme with a view to ensuring funds are being spent in the most effective way to meet the objectives of the scheme. The terms of reference and scope of the review are being considered by my officials and it is expected a cross-departmental steering group led by my Department will be established. I hope to meet representatives from all parties in the Dáil to talk about what we plan to do in the review of the scheme.

I thank the Minister of State for his interest in the matter. I acknowledge he has a budget within which he much work, but at the same time each child of schoolgoing age is entitled to have proper and fair education in a school of their parents' choice where they believe their child can learn more. There are areas where families have an historic attachment to a school. Previous legislation changed that. For example, pupils in west Waterford might have to go another school when there is a school nearer. Families have historic attachments to schools. Also, all schools do not provide the same curriculum. Parents might want their children to attend a school because of the curriculum in place in that school.

Most schools have open days for registration for incoming pupils for the following year. Should a representative of Bus Éireann not attend those open days and spell out to parents whether their children will be eligible or considered for a school bus place, especially when they come from a rural area? Perhaps the Minister of State should consider having a representative of Bus Éireann on site in schools that have an open day for the enrolment of new students.

I wish to cover a few issues in response. I do not set out the routes nor do I designate them. The routes are set by Bus Éireann, as I do not have the capacity to do that. I would remind people there is a rural grant scheme in place for those who are eligible for school transport where a bus may not be available. The issue is very clear. When I took over as Minister of State in the Department of Education and Skills, with school transport being part of my portfolio, my job was to make sure that all eligible children at primary and post-primary level, and all children with special educational needs who are eligible for school transport, get it. Right now this month there is no eligible child, as far as I am aware, anywhere in the country who has paid on time who is not getting school transport or not getting the rural grant. Certainly, there is no child with special educational needs who is not getting school transport. I would not say the scheme is bursting at the seams but we have already invested €200 million this year. We know that next year there will be more eligible children and more children with special educational needs. The money will be made available next year for those children at a major cost again. The number of children with concessionary places prior to my becoming Minister of State was 300 and now the number is 30,000. We carry 26,000 children with concessionary places. Within the scheme, all eligible children and all children with special educational needs are being carried, which is the directive I was given. The legislation lays down that I as Minister of State do that and I am, or my Department is, doing that.

I appreciate the Minister of State's response. There is another way to view this. In terms of the school building programme, his senior Minister, Deputy McHugh, would not decide to approve the building of a new school in Midleton until he knew the projected figures. The same should apply to school transport provision. In terms of projections, one route might need a bus and a minibus and two years down the road an additional bus might be needed. We should be more flexible in making buses available.

I thank Bus Éireann because it tries to facilitate its customers as much as possible within the permitted limits. The Minister of State may say everyone has been looked after but I can assure him there are people who have not been. He will be aware I raised a Topical Issue debate matter recently in respect of the Gaelscoil in Mallow, which has been disenfranchised. I know the Minister of State managed to meet them and what they hope for the 2020-2021 academic year is that everybody will be very happy with him.

All children who are eligible have school transport. There is a difficulty with some children who were eligible but who did not pay on time. The difficulty is that Bus Éireann has no choice in this matter. If children do not apply on time, it fills the bus. When I referred to all eligible children, I meant all those who have paid, and I believe I said that.

Regarding new school builds, we try to project between two to three years into the future the schools that will be built in different areas and where the transport services will be needed. We speak regularly to Bus Éireann on that. If the Deputy considers schools that were built five, ten or 15 years ago or up to a few years ago, he will note buses are running from those schools. We make sure of that. It can sometimes take a little time. The Deputy must remember that not everybody who has a bus or a taxi wants to use it for school transport. Not everybody who has a taxi wants to use it to bring children with special needs to school. Every year, we spend weeks, sometimes until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., working with officials to get carers, Garda clearance certificates and so on. My remit is to get every eligible child and every child with special educational needs a place on school transport.

My officials tell me that is the case.

Oideachas Gaeilge

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

39. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aindrias Moynihan den Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna cén teagmháil a bhí aige leis an Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta nó leis an Roinn nó le haon Aire eile maidir leis na hathruithe ar an díolúine ón nGaeilge sna scoileanna; cén éifeacht a bheadh leo ar an Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge, 2010-2030; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [47483/19]

Tá córas nua á thabhairt chun cinn ag an Aire chun díolúine ón nGaolainn a thabhairt do dhaoine. Sular tugadh é sin i bhfeidhm, cén plé a rinneadh maidir leis an éifeacht a bheadh aige seo ar an straitéis 20 bliain, ar stádas na Gaeilge, agus ar an teanga i gcoitinne? An ndearnadh plé le haon choiste? Conas a tháinig an Aire ar an réiteach sin?

Forbraíodh na ciorcláin nua maidir leis an díolúine ó staidéar na Gaeilge mar fhreagra ar athbhreithniú a rinne cigireacht na Roinne ar an mbeartas agus ar an gcleachtas maidir le díolúintí a phróiseáil agus a dheonú i scoileanna. Leagtar amach sna ciorcláin sin, a bhfuil feidhm acu maidir le scoileanna Béarla amháin, na cúinsí eisceachtúla faoina bhféadfar díolúine a dheonú. Tá prionsabail an chuimsithe mar bhonn agus taca acu agus tá sé mar aidhm acu tacú le scoileanna chun aghaidh a thabhairt ar éagsúlacht leathan riachtanas trí eispéireas foghlama difreáilte a sholáthar do dhaltaí i dtimpeallacht uilechuimsitheach scoile. Mar atá leagtha amach sna ciorcláin, táthar ag súil le scoileanna agus spreagtar scoileanna le deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí uile, a mhéad agus is féidir, páirt a ghlacadh i ngníomhaíochtaí Gaeilge agus cultúrtha ar leibhéal a oireann dá riachtanais foghlama, lena n-áirítear na leanaí sin ar deonaíodh díolúine dóibh.

Maidir le cumarsáid a rinneadh, chuathas i gcomhairle leis na hAirí go léir, lena n-áirítear an Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta, maidir le mo thograí trí mheabhrán don Rialtas. Bhí cumarsáid ar leibhéal oifigiúil idir mo Roinn agus an Roinn Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta. Rinneadh é sin sa bhreis ar an gcomhairliúchán poiblí a reáchtáladh lenar tugadh deis do gach duine mo thograí a bhreithniú. 

Sainaithnítear sna ciorcláin an stádas speisialta atá ag an nGaeilge, tacaíonn siad le múineadh agus foghlaim na Gaeilge ag leibhéal na nunscoile agus na hiarbhunscoile agus dearbhaíonn siad tacaíocht an Rialtais d'fhorbairt agus do chaomhnú na Gaeilge de réir na straitéise 20 bliain.

Tuigim go mbeadh díolúine riachtanach do roinnt daoine nó go mbainfidh siad tairbhe as. Go n-éirí leo. Tá rud faoi leith ann ar a theastaíonn uaim díriú ach go háirithe. Tuigim go raibh próiseas comhairliúcháin poiblí ann. Rinne cigirí an Aire féin scrúdú ar an ábhar. Ar mhol an chigireacht an córas atá ann? Tuigim go raibh na cigirí ag dul i dtreo eile ar fad. Nach rabhadar ag rá nach raibh bunús eolaíochta leis an gcóras atá molta? Cén plé go díreach a ndearnadh leis na hAirí eile? Nuair a cheistíomar an tAire Stáit ar a bhfuil freagracht as an nGaeltacht i gComhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na nOileán, dúirt sé nach raibh sé páirteach in aon phlé maidir leis an díolúine. Ar bhraith an tAire go dtiocfadh é seo salach ar an straitéis 20 bliain? Tá sé ag laghdú an líon daoine a bheidh ag staidéar na Gaolainne. Ag an am céanna, tá sé sa straitéis atá leagtha síos go dteastaíonn an Rialtas líon na ndaoine a ardú. Cén plé a ndearnadh ar an éifeacht a bheidh aige sin ar an straitéis 20 bliain?

I dtús báire, tá sé soiléir go raibh comhairliúchán cuimsitheach i gceist. Ghlac níos mó ná 11,000 duine páirt sa chomhairliúchán cuimsitheach agus thug siad a dtuairimí dúinn. Ghlac a lán daoine páirt roimh Nollaig. Sin an fáth gur chuir mé breis am ar fáil don chomhairliúchán. Bhí níos mó daoine ag iarraidh páirt a ghlacadh. Bhí formhór na ndaoine ag an am sin ag rá go raibh athrú de dhíth maidir leis na díolúintí. Tháinig siad isteach sna 1990í agus bhí cinneadh nua de dhíth. Ó thaobh bealaí foirmiúla maidir leis an chomhrá idir na hAirí, tá próiseas ann. Tá dualgas orainn próiseas reachtúil agus foirmiúil a reáchtáil tríd an Roinn Rialtais. Chuala mé smaointe an Teachta ó thaobh plé leis an choiste ach bhí cuid mhór díospóireachta ann ag achan leibhéal. Táim ag fanacht ar na sonraí. Níl sonraí agam maidir leis an athrú a tháinig isteach i mí Meán Fómhair.

Fillfidh mé arís ar an gceist mar gheall ar phlé leis na Ranna agus Airí eile. Nuair a phléamar é sin i gComhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na nOileán, dúirt an tAire Stáit nach raibh sé páirteach in aon phlé maidir leis sin. Mar sin, cé hiad na daoine a ndearnadh plé air sin leo? An ndearnadh plé mar gheall ar an straitéis 20 bliain agus an díolúine ag Bord an Rialtais? An raibh coiste faoi leith eile ag plé an éifeacht a bheadh aige sin ar an straitéis 20 bliain? Cé hiad na daoine go díreach ar ghlac páirt ann? Is iontach an rud gur ghlac slua mór páirt sa chomhairliúchán poiblí ach, ina dhiaidh sin, tá ról ceannaireachta ag an Rialtas maidir leis an straitéis 20 bliain. Cén plé go díreach a tharla ansin? An ndearnadh puinn plé in aon chor? An bhféadfadh an tAire é sin a chinntiú, go háirithe nuair a chloisimid ón Aire Stáit ar a bhfuil freagracht as an nGaeltacht nach raibh sé bainteach le haon phlé air sin?

Nuair a thagann an crú ar an tairne, nó i ndeireadh an lae, táimse freagrach as an chinneadh maidir leis an churaclam úr atá ag teacht isteach. Roimhe seo, bhí comhrá idir na Ranna éagsúla. Maidir leis an straitéis 20 bliain, tá cumarsáid ar siúl i gcónaí idir an Roinn Cultúir, Gaeltachta agus Oileán, mo Roinn féin, an Roinn Leanaí agus Gnóthaí Óige, agus na Ranna ábhartha eile uilig maidir le hathruithe atá ag teacht. Mar shampla, bhí comhairliúchán cuimsitheach idir oifigigh maidir leis an scéim aitheantais. Tá na hoifigigh i gcónaí ag labhairt le chéile agus ag déanamh cumarsáide maidir leis na hathruithe polasaí atá le teacht. I ndeireadh an lae, táimse féin freagrach as an athrú agus as an chinneadh atá déanta. Bhí comhairliúchán cuimsitheach ann leis an phobal agus bhí rudaí foirmiúla ó thaobh teagmháil idir oifigigh agus idir Ranna ann freisin.

Question Nos. 40 and 41 replied to with Written Answers.

Schools Building Projects

Joan Burton

Question:

42. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason for the delay in building a permanent school on the Phoenix Park racecourse site for a college (details supplied); when construction of the new permanent school building will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47484/19]

I ask the Minister about Edmund Rice college, which has been established in temporary accommodation at Blanchardstown in Dublin, and the site for its permanent building on the Phoenix Park racecourse on the Navan Road. The completion of this permanent building has now been put back by a further year, to September 2021, much to the intense disappointment of parents and students. This delay is also causing significant difficulties for the school, which was a huge waiting list for enrolments. Will the Minister see if he can do something to bring the completion date of the school forward?

Gabhaim buíochas le Teachta Burton as an cheist. The permanent project for the school referred to by the Deputy is being delivered under my Department's design and build programme.

  Key factors that can impact on the timeline for any new school project are the availability of a site and the planning permission process for the new school building.

  A site was identified and will be available for this new school.  This has enabled the design process for the new school building to be undertaken.  Pre-planning meetings have been held with the local authority. The latter has requested a further meeting to review the proposed drawings prior to submission of the planning application.  This meeting took place yesterday, 18 November, and it is envisaged that a planning application will be submitted shortly.  The planning permission process will be a key factor for determining the timeline for the delivery of this project.

My Department's officials have kept the school authority fully briefed in relation to this project and the anticipated delivery timelines in respect of same.

Along with the Taoiseach, my Department is working to have the first phase of the school's permanent accommodation handed over by September of 2021 with phase 2 to follow in a matter of months.

The delivery date of September 2021 for phase 1 is dependent on no delays arising during the planning permission processes.

More than 500 people attended the recent open evening for those interested in having their children attend the school. The school now has 230 applications for 2021. I do not know if the Minister is aware of the site on which the school is currently located. I am sure the school community would welcome a visit from him if he is going out of the city via the Navan Road. Essentially, the school is not going to be able to accommodate those children with the delay of a year unless it is really facilitated by the Department in having further temporary accommodation on the site. The school is very successful. It has a very good community of parents, teachers and students. We are, however, experiencing a massive population increase of children of secondary school going age, and the Minister will be aware there is also an increase in the numbers of children who are of primary school going age. We have a real crisis on our hands in Dublin 15 around the number of school places available. Will the Minister confirm that the temporary accommodation will be provided by his Department?

We are in the middle of a process to get to September 2021, but whatever availability or demand there is, we have an obligation to do that, and we do it. I have visited the different parts of the more pressured areas. I was in Lucan yesterday and I know there is a question tabled for today in respect of north Kildare. I am aware of the enormous pressures that exist. There are new planning permissions coming on stream and there is more and more demand for places. The best approach to all of this is to ensure that we get things right, that we are in the right place and that we identify where the demands are. With a very important project such as this the planning permission will determine the timeframe. Unfortunately, this is something over which I do not have any control but I assure Deputy Burton that once we get through this process and get through the planning process, nothing will be left behind in the context of the sense of urgency relating to this matter.

There is extraordinary population pressure. The Government has referred to demographic factors underlying significant parts of the budget for 2020. This school is an example. Earlier, I asked the Minister about the maps of school planning areas, which very few people from the area - including myself - can actually understand. The maps contain area names that I do not associate in any way with the areas designated on the maps. Deputy Durkan is nodding. These are different places to the places I know. Developers selling homes in the area are pointing across the road and saying, "Your school will be there and you will be able to enrol your junior or secondary school child in it." That is not true. We need to get the temporary facilities as quickly as possible because this will be a fine 1,000-pupil school, but only if the Department facilitates the buildings.

We have a dedicated team in the forward planning section in Tullamore. They take into consideration existing pressures and existing levels of demand, along with future planning permissions. They work very closely with the different local authorities. That relationship is key for the forward planning and to make progress in order to ensure that we meet the demand in the future is very important. This school is important for the area and it is vital that we get it right. I hope there will be no delays with the planning process and that we will get out the other end in order to get this done on time.

Technological Universities

James Browne

Question:

43. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the establishment of a technological university for the south east; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47078/19]

What is the position of the Minister for Education and Skills on the establishment of a technological university for the south east?

The establishment of technological universities, including one in the south east, is an important part of the Government's higher education policy.

Under the statutory framework detailed in the Technological Universities Act 2018, it is a matter, in the first instance, for the relevant institutes of technology participating in a technological university development consortium to progress their plans to seek technological university designation.

In this context, Waterford Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology Carlow, which form the Technological University for South East Ireland consortium, TUSEI, are currently working towards submission of an application for technological university designation under the 2018 Act.

In addition to the 2018 Act, the Government has put in place a number of very important supports enabling the establishment of technological universities.

The technological university research network, TURN, established by my Department completed a report, which I launched recently, Technological Universities: Connectedness and Collaboration through Connectivity. That report details the case and requirements for a State change in higher education reform whereby technological universities will assist in the delivery of national strategic objectives for regional socioeconomic development, higher education access, research and skills progression.

The report makes recommendations for the strategic development of technological universities in a structured system-wide approach and identifies the need for investment in integrated multi-campus digital infrastructure.

In response Government announced in budget 2020 the provision of €90 million over the next three years under a new technological university transformation fund to support consortia such as TUSEI to achieve technological university designation and the further advancement of established technological universities. This is in addition to the €31 million in Exchequer funding invested in technological university development to date, of which the TUSEI project has received €3.72 million.

I thank the Minister of State. The whole concept of a technological university was - as I understand it - driven by the need for a university for the south east, which has none. It has now fallen significantly behind other regions that already have universities and that now see their applications for technological universities significantly advanced over the south east. This is causing a significant brain drain in the south east. We now have very high populations of younger and older people. Members of the in-between generation of qualified people who have third level degrees are not to be found in the south east. They are leaving to get their education and they are not coming back. More people leave the south east to get their third level education than are getting it in the region and this is having a very real impact on people. It is not just about convenience and costs - they have to travel further to get the education and it makes it more difficult to get that third level education - it also impacts attracting employment to the south east. Foreign direct investment and major international companies do not want to set up in regions where there is no university because their employees cannot get the necessary training with the accredited universities and they have to bring them there. This leads to lower job quality and a greater impact on socioeconomics. The region has the highest unemployment rate of any region and this is a direct link to the lack of a university but I am not hearing anything about driving on a university in the south east.

I am sorry that Deputy Browne is not hearing anything because I am hearing a lot. As the Deputy stated, the combined profile of the two south east institutes of technology is more than 15,000 students and some 2,000 staff. Progress has been made. I was very disappointed that the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, branch members of IT Carlow voted in June to reject the agreement reached with other TUI colleagues at the Workplace Relations Commission on the technological university of south east Ireland.

I am aware that it is the nature of major changes such as the technological university process that industrial relations issues will arise.

I am hopeful that in the first instance Institute of Technology, Carlow and the TUI will work to resolve these issues through normal industrial relations processes. I did just tell the Deputy a few minutes ago that a substantial amount of money was launched, as it were, last week. A total of €90 million is absolutely ring-fenced for the development of technological universities. The Government has put money towards what we want to happen in the various consortia.

We need to see more leadership from the Government on this in terms of bringing together the institutes of technology and ensuring that a technological university for the south east is developed. It is a major region without a university and this is impacting dramatically. We have one of the worst socio-economic areas in the country with persistently high unemployment and persistently high levels of low-quality jobs, which is reflected in the tax returns. A study on this was done in Waterford Institute of Technology with regard to the south east. Until we have a university in the south east, it will not be empowered to help itself alleviate its own socio-economic problems. We need to see greater leadership in bringing on the university. It is five years since we heard how a campus in Wexford would be attached to the university. This still has not been provided. It has also fallen by the wayside. Land was supposed to be acquired for a campus for this university in Wexford but this still has not happened. We are very concerned in Wexford and in the south east. We have been hearing talk there about a university for a long time and it has fallen behind again.

The Deputy knows how difficult it is to ensure there is a strong budget behind what we hope to do. The huge amount of €90 million shows our intent and the Government's policy. We will continue to put money towards the development of technological universities. As Minister of State, I have visited Waterford at least four times and the same with Carlow. In the interim, they have also visited the Department and been with my most senior colleagues. We are waiting for the crucial piece where the TUI in Carlow votes to accept the agreement that was reached in the Workplace Relations Commission.

For the next question I ask Deputy Moynihan to forfeit his 30 second introduction. The Minister will give his reply and Deputy Moynihan will have one supplementary question.

Schools Building Projects Status

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

44. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the redevelopment project at a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47482/19]

The Deputy is aware that a building project for the school to which he refers is included in my Department's capital programme to be delivered as part of the national development plan. The project brief is being finalised and this is expected to be completed shortly. The patron, Cork Education and Training Board, recently provided additional information sought by my Department to facilitate this process. My Department will be in further contact with the patron when the project brief process has been completed.

In 2016, there was a commitment to extend Coláiste Choilm in Ballincollig. It is a growing school in a growing area. Between them, Coláiste Choilm and Ballincollig community school serve a population of more than 18,000. The school is very much oversubscribed again this year. There appears to have been very little progress in getting the development up and running. In the meantime, there is a proposal to bring on another greenfield site with a brand new school, which would be a third secondary school for Ballincollig. A number of people are concerned this will cut across redeveloping Coláiste Choilm. Will the Minister clarify there is no conflict and that he will progress as quickly as possible with the redevelopment of Coláiste Choilm and, at the same time, bringing on the brand new greenfield project? We also need to get the process up and running on that new school.

I assure the Deputy there will be no delay. The project brief is being finalised and it is expected to be completed shortly.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.