I have raised this issue consistently with the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, both in the Chamber and when I have an opportunity at the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. I will continue to raise it because it is an issue of contention in Cork and it needs to be addressed urgently. Any clarification that the Minister of State could give today would be most welcome.
I will give a couple of facts that detail the situation we face in Cork. In area CHO 4, as per the HSE designation, there are over 1,000 children awaiting assessment of needs. A high proportion of these are from Cork and a significant number would require a place in a special needs school. The nearest special school, Scoil Cara, opened in 2014. This was a fantastic purpose-built facility. It currently has an enrolment of 71 students but with a capacity of 72. That is essentially full.
Following on from that, there are also 22 children in Cork who do not have a place in a special school at present and are not in any school. They are most likely receiving home tuition. In addition to those 22 children, there are 40 children in special class placements who remain on the waiting list for a special school. That amounts to more than 60 children in Cork who currently do not have a place in a special school but are entitled to one.
In response to a previous inquiry I made, there may be capacity for enrolment of four to six children in Rochestown in September 2021, but that is it. That leaves 56 children or so, as of now, with no special school place come September 2021. Our experience with Covid shows that these students suffer the most in the absence of the ability to get to school. What can we say to the 56 children who have no prospect of returning to any school for the next academic year?
Some work has been done to progress the idea of a new special school. I welcome the input of Department and, in particular, Cope into this process. I note that a report was submitted to the Department of Education on 12 October last in relation to a technical report on a nearby building, Montenotte House. That technical report surmised that the building was not able to deliver much-needed places in the short term. While I have not seen the contents of that technical report, Montenotte House is a protected building and, most likely, is unsuitable to cater for lifts and widening of doors, etc., for persons with disability. I would imagine that has put considerable restrictions on the building's ability to deliver much-needed places.
I understand that a further meeting took place on 3 November. I am not entirely sure of the outcome of that meeting. Perhaps the Minister of State could elaborate on it for me. I am led to believe from speaking to people locally that in response to the technical report that Cope submitted to the Department before Christmas, in addition to stating that the Montenotte House building was unsuitable to cater for children in special education, Cope essentially offered part of its office block on site for conversion. If that is the case, I wonder if the Minister of State could clarify where we are at with that process.