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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Jul 2022

Vol. 1025 No. 5

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla (Atógáil) - Topical Issue Debate (Resumed)

Community Development Projects

I have raised this issue on a number of occasions. I have been campaigning on this issue for a number of years, as have the local Labour Party and our local area representative Shane Folan. This impacts some on my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, as well, because the issue borders his constituency too.

I am referencing the Dublin 13 and Dublin 17 area, where the Minister of State will be aware that there are thousands and thousands of new units being constructed. It is effectively a new town. Within that new town we need to not repeat the errors of the past when we only built dwellings and did not build the community infrastructure. Obviously, other things are needed rather than just a Garda station. We have been to the forefront of advocating for new schools. We had a successful campaign to have a new second-level Educate Together school. However, more is needed for families to grow up and for the place to feel secure.

In that area there has been an identifiable need, which has been recognised by the Department of Justice and by senior Garda management for a new Garda station. The site has been identified at Northern Cross. In June 2019, the assistant Garda Commissioner gave notice that they were moving to progress to construction of a new Garda station at that location. It would serve the existing communities in Dublin 17, in Dublin 13 and the wider communities. If you move to a new area and things are beginning to knit themselves together, you need the sporting clubs, the community associations and you need to know that the agencies of the State are there to serve you, to work with you and to protect you.

It has come to my notice in the more recent past that there has been a number of troubling instances in Fr. Collins Park. They have been of a physical assault nature and of a verbal assault nature. There has been a racial component to them. This has been bubbling under the surface for a number of years, unfortunately. That is not to suggest in any way and that that part of the world is any different to any other part of city. Every part of the city has policing concerns and antisocial behaviour concerns. We have had issues around Clongriffin DART station as well, which has been targeted by antisocial behaviour.

When Shane Folan, other Labour Party members and I began this advocacy with the Clongriffin community association which had identified this need and made presentations, it was welcome that those who were in government at the time and Garda senior management were listening and identified the validity of the case being made. The political response has always been that this is a matter for Garda management. We felt that was a dispiriting response, when the Government at the time could see fit to reopen Garda stations that had been closed. I make reference to Stepaside Garda station.

However, this is a good news story. The community has gotten involved. The community wants to look to the future. It wants to build an area that it can be proud of. It wants to focus on community infrastructure. The Government responded positively. The assistant Garda Commissioner responded positively. We are now in a position hopefully to move forward. What I want now, and I raise this issue as often as I possibly can, is to get an update on where we are on the construction of this Garda station at the site of the corner of Northern Cross on the Malahide Road to serve Dublin 13, Dublin 17 and the wider jurisdiction.

I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee. The Minister is pleased that budget 2022 reflects the commitment of the Government to ensuring that our communities are safe and that An Garda Síochána has the resources to be an effective and trusted police service. The budget provided by Government to the Garda Commissioner continues to increase to unprecedented levels with an allocation of over €2 billion in funding for this year.

As the Deputy is aware, the Garda Commissioner is by law responsible for the management and control of An Garda Síochána and for the effective and efficient use of Garda resources, including the provision of Garda stations. In addition, the Office of Public Works, OPW, has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation. Garda accommodation matters are therefore progressed by the Garda authorities working in close co-operation with the OPW. As such, the Deputy will appreciate that the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has no role in relation to this matter and she is not in position to comment on An Garda Síochána’s interaction with other agencies.

As the Commissioner has previously stated, accommodation is a crucial element for facilitating policing activities. We must further proof this in the area. It is for this reason that An Garda Síochána continues to engage with the OPW on capital and maintenance works across Ireland. This includes what the Commissioner has referred to as an exciting project that An Garda Síochána is working on with the OPW and Dublin City Council regarding the development of a substantial new Garda station and facilities on Dublin City Council lands at the corner of the R139 and Malahide Road at Northern Cross.

The Minister understands that discussions around the possibility of Dublin City Council making a site available to An Garda Síochána and to the OPW for the construction of a new Garda station at Northern Cross remain ongoing. As the Deputy can appreciate, until a site is secured, no further update on the status of the application for planning permission or further phases of the project will be available. However, the Minister is assured that the Northern Cross project is considered a strategic priority project by An Garda Síochána.

I hope this is of some assurance to the Deputy. I know that he has raised it consistently directly with the Minister. It is important, as the Deputy said, for good community infrastructure. We look at our census data and our populations are increasing. It is vitally important that communities feel safe. Those issues that the Deputy has raised about assaults and antisocial behaviour are not exclusive to this area, but it is important that people report everything and particularly racial abuse. It is vitally important that that is reported. I hope that the response from the Minister has given some assurance to the Deputy.

I am reassured by the response from the Minister. I do sometimes get a little disappointed with the political reaction as if there is no influence that the Minister can have in this regard. We know that the soft power of a Minister can be quite strong. The Minister needs to be an advocate and a persuader for this. Her office and her Department needs to be fully engaged on the progress of this. While the Garda Commissioner has described it as exciting, the site has been identified and talks are ongoing between Dublin City Council and the OPW, the community is still waiting. There have been justifiable delays.

Covid was obviously one reason for that. Yet, we are still seeing a lot of construction around that area. As a public representative, with other public representatives, I want to be able to stand over our period of influence in that area in 50 years' time and say that we put everything in place to ensure that the area was a thriving community, a place to be proud of, a place to bring up children and a place for families to feel safe and secure.

I do not like the arm's-length response that we often get from Departments, as if there is no influence that can be brought to bear. Having said that, the message that I want to see passed on to the Minister is that we would like her to be a persuader for this project and to actively engage on the issue. I ask that the Department do anything it can to make the process easier. I ask that the Minister is willing, able and at hand to be a facilitator in the process. I will continue to raise the issue. I am not going to let it go. I feel that we have to move to a position where a Garda station is constructed so that communities can feel that the community infrastructure is going in and that they live in a proper community with all the services and resources a Garda station will provide for them and the wider area.

The Deputy will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is, by law, responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including personnel matters and the deployment of resources. The allocation of Garda resources is made in light of identified operational demand. As such, the Minister for Justice has no direct role in the allocation of Garda resources. The Minister is advised that as of 31 May, the latest date for which figures are available, Dublin Metropolitan Region North has a strength of 793 Garda members in all its ranks. This is an increase of 125 members, or 18.7%, since the end of 2015. The division is currently further supported by 64 Garda staff, an increase of 20 or almost 45.5%, since the end of 2015. For the Deputy's information, the area referred to is covered by Coolock Garda Station. There were 125 Garda assigned to Coolock Garda Station as of 31 May, which is an increase of 21.4% since the end of 2015, when 103 Garda were assigned to that station. The Garda in Coolock Garda Station are supported by 15 Garda staff members. As I have said, the Government is committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána has the resources it needs, with an unprecedented allocation of more than €2 billion provided in budget 2022. The Deputy may be aware that there was a very strong interest in the recent Garda recruitment campaign, with more than 11,000 people applying to become members. The recruitment process is continuing to identify candidates to enter the Garda Síochána College over the coming period. I wish to reiterate and reassure the Deputy that the Northern Cross project is considered a strategic and priority project by An Garda Síochána. I hope the Deputy continues to use his considerable influence to help bring the project to fruition.

International Relations

As I rise to raise this issue, Irish resident, Robert Pether is an Iraqi prison. He is in a 14 ft. room with 23 other men. They have cushions and some bunk beds. He gets outside for 20 minutes, three times a week, on the weeks that he does actually get outside. He can speak to his family once a week. His three children and his wife are thousands of miles away. They live in my constituency, in Elphin, in County Roscommon. They miss him desperately.

Robert is a renowned engineer. He has spent much of his working life rebuilding war-torn areas and building hospitals, in particular. That is very much the measure of the man that he is. He was working in Iraq last year as the lead engineer for an engineering company alongside his colleague and deputy, Khalid Radwan, who was also detained. The company Robert was working for as an employee had a contract dispute with the Central Bank of Iraq, whose headquarters they were there to rebuild. These headquarters were seen as critical infrastructure to rebuilding Iraq. On 1 April 2021 Robert returned to Baghdad to try to assist in ending the dispute. During a meeting the Iraqi police entered and he was arrested. On 25 August 2021, Robert was sentenced to five years' imprisonment and issued with a fine of $12 million. On 16 March 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council published a report on the case. It concluded that the deprivation of liberty of Robert and Khalid, being in contravention of Articles 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2, 9, 10, 11, 14 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary and falls within categories I, III and V. The working group called on the Government of Iraq to take urgent action to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of both men. The report went on to raise serious questions in relation to the trial proceedings, which I will not get into here. The working group raised concerns around the conduct of the trial, and noted with grave concern that during the trial, the men did not have clarity around their charges. The working group also discussed collusion in its report.

Robert is not an Irish citizen, albeit his wife and three children are. He is Australian. We understand that the Government is limited in what it can do and cannot, for example, provide consular assistance. However, I want to take this opportunity before the Dáil rises to plead with the Irish Government to do anything it can do, engage with anyone it can and raise the case anywhere it can. I understand that the Minister for Foreign Affairs is limited in what he can do. However, I acknowledge that he has done what he can to date in relation to raising this issue. He needs to continue to do that. When I first met Robert's wife, the most mesmerising thing about the case and the thing I could not understand was that even if the company did something wrong, why would an employee be held to account for it? It makes no sense. Robert has now been in prison for over 14 months. His health is deteriorating rapidly. His two sons, his daughter and his wife are at home in Ireland. In fact, they moved to Elphin because they bought the old convent and were doing it up to create a wellness centre for women recovering from an illness that Robert's wife, Desree, has herself. That is the measure of the family we are talking about. That is what they were doing in my constituency. Robert is now in an Iraqi prison and has been on his own for the past 14 months. I urge the Government to do more, to do anything in the world it can, to try to bring this absolutely horrendous and horrific situation to an end and to bring Robert home to his family.

I thank Deputy Kerrane for raising this most important issue. I want to extend our best wishes to Robert and his family. What the Deputy has described is a hugely challenging situation. It is desperate for any family to have to face that. I am aware of the case of Robert Pether, who has been detained in Iraq for over a year along with his Egyptian colleague, Mr. Khalid Radwan. Mr. Pether is an Australian engineer, and was working in Baghdad on a project to construct a new headquarters for the Central Bank of Iraq. He was arrested in April 2021, and in August 2021, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment and issued with a fine of $12 million. Mr. Pether is an Australian national, but his wife and children live here in Ireland. Mr. Pether's imprisonment has understandably been a huge source of distress for his family. The Department of Foreign Affairs has taken an active interest in this case. The Minister has discussed the case with Ms Pether, and officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs have been in regular contact with Robert's wife.

We note, with deep concern, the conclusions made by the UN working group on arbitrary detention on this case, and urge the Iraqi authorities to engage urgently and constructively with the working group on the issues raised. Mr. Pether is an Australian national, and the Australian Government is the appropriate consular authority in this case. In February, the Minister for Foreign Affairs discussed the case with the then Australian Foreign Minister, Ms Marise Payne. Ms Payne detailed the extensive consular support being provided by the Australian Government. Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs have also been in contact with the Australian Embassy in Iraq and the Australian Embassy in Dublin to express concern about Mr. Pether, and the impact that this case was having on his Irish-resident family. As the Deputy will understand, it would not be appropriate to comment in detail on an ongoing consular case of an international partner. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has also raised concerns over the case of Mr. Pether directly with the Iraqi authorities. While he has made clear that Australia is the appropriate consular authority, he noted that Mr. Pether's family are based in Ireland, and highlighted the distress which this case is causing to them. Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to follow this case very closely and will keep in close contact with the family of Mr. Pether, with the relevant Australian authorities and with the Iraqi authorities as appropriate.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. It is important that he made reference to the fact that Mr. Pether's wife and children are living here and they are, indeed, Irish citizens. All four members of the family are Irish citizens and while we and the family understand that consular assistance has to come from Australia, we too have a part to play. I acknowledge what has been done to date but I take the opportunity today, as the Dáil rises, to raise this case. I have been in touch with the Minister for Foreign Affairs previously in respect of this case and I understand that he has done what he can to date. The Minister of State mentioned that the Minister has raised concerns about the case directly with the Iraqi authorities. When did the most recent engagement happen? If this information is not available, perhaps he might ask the Minister to come back to me with it.

In recent weeks the new Prime Minister of Australia has spoken out on this case and has also spoken to Iraqi authorities on the case. That is welcome given that he is a newly elected prime minister. It is important now that Australia picks this up and brings it to the next level, particularly given as I have said, that Mr. Pether's health is deteriorating rapidly. The family are gravely concerned for his welfare and health. I ask that Ireland and Australia come together to do what we can because, at the end of the day, his family are suffering more than anyone in this world in this case and they are Irish citizens. They are our citizens and I believe that we can do more together with Australia to put the pressure on, particularly on the back of that UN report that is so grave in respect of its findings and conclusions. It believes and has concluded that both men should be immediately released. There is scope now on the back of that to go back and raise this issue again.

Gabhaim buíochas arís. As the Deputy said, this is a challenging and concerning case and I thank her for raising it. It is significant that she has raised it here in our Parliament and that is important to maintain that pressure.

The Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to closely monitor the case of Mr. Pether and his Egyptian colleague, Mr. Khalid Radwan. We understand the significant distress this case is causing from Mr. Pether's family here in Ireland. Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to remain in regular contact with Mr. Pether. I do not have with me a date as to when the issue was most recently raised with the Iraqi authorities but I will ask the Minister to revert with a response on that.

The Australian Government is continuing to provide high-level consular assistance to Mr. Pether. As the Deputy will understand, it would not be appropriate to comment on the details of the case or on the consular assistance provided. I assure her, however, that officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to remain in close contact with the relevant Australian officials and will continue to advocate for Mr. Pether and his family. We will also, as appropriate, continue to raise concerns over Mr. Pether with Iraqi authorities. It is our sincere hope that officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to follow this case closely and that a satisfactory outcome can be found in this case, above all, for the sake of Mr. Pether and his family.

Passport Services

I wish to raise the issue of the passport service because of the sheer volume of queries my office has received from people on a daily basis who are anxious to have their passports returned to them in advance of their travel dates.

I acknowledge the tremendous work the staff have been doing. When I have spoken with them, they have been both professional and courteous on every occasion. They seem, however, to be snowed under with the sheer volume of passport applications they are receiving.

Citizens suffered two years of the Covid-19 pandemic because of the necessary but challenging restrictions that were imposed to suppress the spread of the virus. People were unable to travel abroad for two years. One does not need to be a weather person to know which way the wind is blowing and one certainly did not have to be an expert in aviation trends to anticipate that there would be a large number of people seeking to travel after a two-year moratorium.

Having spent 19 years myself in the travel industry, it was obvious that the industry would recover quickly and that people would travel for holidays, business, and, most important, to meet family members who are abroad. Why were we not prepared for this when we knew that was going to happen? Why were additional staff not sought during the pandemic? Not knowing whether they are going to receive their passport two days before their flight happens places a tremendous burden of stress on parents who are looking forward to for what is for many of them is their first family holiday abroad.

My office dealt with a lady earlier this summer who faced a challenging set of circumstances. A family member had died suddenly in the UK and she wanted to attend the funeral. As the Minister of State may know, such funerals do not happen quickly in the UK and, therefore, she had the time to get over there.

She applied for a passport renewal, albeit with a name change following a divorce, and was told that by the office that it would not be able to escalate the passport application as she had no flight booked. She could not book a flight as she was unsure whether she would get the passport or that it would be returned to in time. The advice she was offered was either to drive from Limerick to London and back again, which in fairness is crazy, or to travel with an airline provider whose prices were four times the price of the provider that had earlier demanded the production of a passport. Unfortunately, some airline providers demand the production of a passport to travel to England whereas others do not. Needless to say, she missed that flight.

Another family of five I spoke to submitted their application at the end of April with a flight date of 15 July. It was a first-time application for a child born in November 2019. The family were faced with the prospect of having to rebook flights or cancelling their plans. Thankfully, their flight is the late flight tomorrow and their passport was dispatched today. These types of turnaround times, however, are a little too close for comfort when people have spent money on flights and accommodation abroad.

Staffing seems to be a key issue and some gaps have been filled by those who had worked previously in Covid-19 track and trace roles but this seems to be too little and far too late. I ask that the Minister of State in his response states what extra steps the Department is taking to ensure that all citizens are issued with passports in advance and, ideally, further in advance of their travel dates and not so close to those dates as is the case at present. I appreciate that there are staff retention challenges but it must be asked why we have these. Why have one third of those persons who are offered temporary clerical roles declined the offer? What is the reason for that? Is it conditions or pay and why is there such a high attrition rate in that section?

Another issue of concern in respect of the applications for passports is the Passport Office website. Given there is such a backlog of passport applications and such a delay in the processing of passports, it would be expected that the home page of the office's website would display warnings about those delays but it does not. When looking at the home page, one would think that there was nothing going wrong or strange and that there were no problems. There is no easily visible warning about expected delays. Perhaps such a warning should be put on the website when people are accessing it. It might then deter them from submitting applications if the realistic times for processing the applications were readily visible. I look forward to the Minister of State's response on this issue, please.

I welcome the opportunity to provide an update on the passport service, particularly during the busy summer period. The service is already outperforming any previous year, despite the challenges that it has encountered over the past two years. Prior to the pandemic, the busiest year for passports was 2019, when in excess of 900,000 passports were issued. The passport service is currently outperforming 2019 by almost 20%. More than 720,000 passports have been issued to date in 2022, compared to 634,000 in the whole of last year.

As Deputies will appreciate, there has been a significant increase in passport demand after two years of pandemic-related travel restrictions. This level of demand is not unique to Ireland. In countries such as the UK and US, the turnaround time for all types of passports can be up to ten weeks. During this period of unprecedented demand, the passport service has, in fact, decreased the processing times for first-time online applications from 40 to 25 working days. This is a decrease of 40% for complex first-time applications since March of this year.

Processing times for online adult renewals are among the fastest in the world, with almost half of these applicants receiving their passports within two working days. To achieve these results and to continue to improve the service, the Department of Foreign Affairs has made an unprecedented investment in the passport service. On staffing, more than 570 staff have been assigned to the service since June of last year, including 200 since May 2022. The addition of these staff members has allowed the service to achieve its current turnaround times in the face of enormous demand.

In addition to significantly more staff being assigned, the service has made important improvements that will help to ensure that passport applications can be processed within turnaround times, including assigning a large number of the new staff to the customer service hub, which has greatly increased the number of calls and webchats being answered and is assisting with customers getting access to the information they need. In recent weeks, the number of calls handled by the hub has increased to more than 2,000 per day. The passport service has worked with An Garda Síochána to develop a system for verifying Garda witnesses on passport applications in cases where the Garda member's signature cannot be verified. This system assists in reducing the number of applications that are delayed due to a failure to verify witness details. Intensive training of new staff and upskilling of existing staff has been underway for several months to increase the resources that can process complex applications, such as first-time child applications.

Passport Online is continuing to expand and is available to 97% of our citizens around the world. The availability of Passport Online worldwide will continue to enhance the customer experience and mean even more efficiencies in the Passport Service. The Passport Service is currently operating at its highest capacity ever, hitting an average of 6,000 passports per day, and considerable improvements are being seen across the system. The Passport Service is confident that the increased resources that have been allocated will continue to improve the service for all our citizens.

I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate his comments on the volume of passport applications being received but that is no succour to people stressing over being unable to travel aboard for holidays. Providing a passport is a basic function of the Department of Foreign Affairs and, unfortunately, it is often shambolic and a national embarrassment when people have put in applications on time and cannot travel for often very valid reasons. I appreciate one should ideally make sure to have an in-date passport before booking flights, but, unfortunately, it is not always the case. The Department has a responsibility to deliver for those seeking a passport and does not always succeed. This is evidenced in the dramatic increase in complaints about the Passport Service. I think there have been 359 so far this year. People should not have to contact their local Deputy to expedite their application. It is not what we should be doing but we are forced to do it. This demonstrates the system is broken in parts.

These long processing times are not specific to passport applications. We see those booking driver tests facing a 14-week wait for a test date. The Covid pandemic can be blamed for only so much. It is obvious there was no forward planning and no anticipation of the huge volume of people who would seek to travel after restrictions were lifted, especially in the summer. Coupling the problematic passport application process with the pre-boarding chaos witnessed at Dublin Airport in recent weeks has meant travelling from this State is more burdensome for some citizens than it should be. We need to see solutions to this crisis. We are in the peak period of summer travel. Unless this matter is addressed soon, we will witness more disappointed applications into August and beyond.

One effective thing the Minister of State can do to address the backlog would be to establish a passport office in the North. This year for the first time there were more applications for Irish passports than for British. Recently, at a polling station in south Belfast in what is considered to be a unionist area during Assembly elections, I was pleased to see so many people go in to vote with their Irish passports in their hands. A recent motion passed by the Seanad supported the establishment of such an office. Will the Minister of State pass on my comments and suggestions on behalf of my constituents? The current service cannot be described as efficient or effective; rather it is better described as exhausting and elongated.

The Passport Service is experiencing significant levels of demand but there are indications these are starting to decrease. Many countries have experienced that rise in demand after Covid restrictions eased. The Government and the Passport Service have responded. Demand for passports fell by 30% in June, when just over 100,000 new applications were received, compared to 146,000 in May. The Passport Service expects to see demand level off and return to more normal levels in the coming months and into next year. The number of passport applications currently in the system has also dropped by 30% in a few weeks, from close to 200,000 to just over 140,000 this week. This means the investment made in the Passport Service is paying off. The Passport Service will continue to work to deliver enhanced customer service and experience in service delivery to customers, which is a critical citizens' service.

There are two things citizens should know this summer. First, the urgent appointment service in Dublin and Cork is available to people who need to renew their passports urgently in time for travel. Second, Passport Online is up to four times faster than An Post passport for passport renewal applications and is the most efficient way to apply for a passport.

I encourage all citizens planning to travel overseas this year to check their passports before looking to travel and to apply online in plenty of time. I will take on board the points the Deputy has raised and bring them back to the Department.

Oideachas trí Ghaeilge

I expect Deputy Lawless, my constituency colleague, to join me. I hope he is running across the corridors as we speak. Tá an t-ádh linn scoil cosúil le Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad a bheith againn i dtuaisceart Chill Dara. Is scoil iontach í. Cuireann sí go mór le deiseanna oideachais i Maigh Nuad. I am glad to share my time and am glad that an Teachta Lawless has made it. I give my best wishes to Deputy Durkan, who is at home with Covid. He would be here if he could, as would Deputy Catherine Murphy, if she were free.

Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad is a multi-denominational secondary school that came from the heart of the community in north Kildare and from grá don teanga i gCill Dara. There is a passion in Maynooth and beyond to nurture it. It is a credit to the príomhoide, Mícheál Ó Ceoinín, na múinteoirí involved in its running and the management. It is blessed to have a parents' body that has been diligent in its communication with all Oireachtas Members about the Gaelcholáiste and the health and safety concerns they have for their children. We have been waiting for this school for 20 years in the north of the county. In this phase of the development of the school, it is operating upstairs in a shopping centre, above Dunnes Stores in Manor Mills in Maynooth, with dangerous roads for the children to cross to do most of their four subjects. They have to go up to the old school building where Maynooth Post Primary School and Maynooth Community College were. That is why I mentioned health and safety.

We have been here before in Maynooth. Transition year, TY, students from Maynooth used to do part of their education above the shopping centre in Maynooth and there was a big worry about the children going up and down. The school opened two years ago with 30 students. It now has 60 and will have over 100 this September. Parents are naturally anxious about them going up and down. I have been inundated with reports.

I am sharing time with my colleague, Deputy Cronin, and we send our best wishes to Deputy Durkan. Deputy Catherine Murphy supports the motion as well. We in Kildare tend to work together on these issues, which is a good and collaborative way to finish out the term. It is very much a team effort.

The points have already been outlined. Gaelscoil Chill Dara, which took a long time to get established, campaigned for many years to have this second level Gaelscoil established in Kildare. The current mayor of Kildare, Councillor Naoise Ó Cearúil, is involved and his father, Colm Ó Cearúil, led the campaign for over 20 if not 30 years to get it to this point. It is only in the last couple of years they have established the school. Though they have a new school, they are playing second fiddle and are receiving the hand-me-downs of the other schools. Maynooth Post Primary School moved up the road from the old school site to the new site on Moyglare Road. It is a brand spanking new school which took significant effort to get going and thankfully is up and running. The old building has been nominated potentially for the Gaelcholáiste but that is not even in place yet because many of the students are in the Manor Mills Shopping Centre, and going to and fro from the shopping centre down the stairs, across the road and into the old school building. They are the little sister or brother getting the hand-me-downs, rather than getting a building fit for purpose.

The difficulty is not only for the current students. There is a significant demand for education through the medium of Irish at second level in Kildare. That momentum and head of steam they built up and the excitement of finally getting their Gaelcholáiste approved in the area is being derailed and threatened because the lack of capacity and uncertainty means those children and families are in some cases understandably sending their children elsewhere, including outside of the county, or back into an English-language medium.

This is for the benefit of all, including the medium of Irish, families in the school and prospective families. I think progress is being made. I have been talking to the Minister, Deputy Foley. Perhaps the Minister of State can give us the latest position on that.

Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí as an gceist seo. I am taking this question on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Foley, who is regrettably unavailable. I send best wishes to Deputy Durkan and Deputy Catherine Murphy and thank the Deputies for working on this issue together. It is admirable.

I will outline to the House the position with regard to the provision of permanent accommodation for Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad, County Kildare. As the Deputies may be aware, Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad was established in 2020 as a multi-denominational Irish-medium Gaelcholáiste under the patronage of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board. The school has a current enrolment of 66 pupils for the 2021-22 school year. The school is currently located in interim accommodation in Manor Mills pending delivery of permanent accommodation.

As to the permanent accommodation solution for the school, it is intended that the Gaelcholáiste will be located in the former Maynooth Post Primary School building. Pending delivery of the school's permanent accommodation, the Department recently approved funding to Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board, KWETB, to undertake refurbishment works in the former Maynooth Post Primary School property to facilitate access to additional specialist accommodation by Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad. This accommodation includes science, woodwork and home economics rooms. The delivery of the refurbishment project has been devolved to KWETB. The Department of Education understands that this project is due to be completed within the next two months.

With regard to determining the options available in meeting the Gaelcholáiste's permanent accommodation needs, the Department of Education permitted KWETB to carry out an options study of the former post-primary school building, which is in KWETB'S ownership. In order to ensure that optimal use is made of this property and in support of the achievement of value for money, KWETB appointed a consultant to undertake an options study of the property concerned. KWETB has furnished the options study report to the Department and this is currently being assessed. The Department is examining the proposals put forward in the study and it is its intention to consult KWETB regarding the matter in the near future with a view to finalising a long-term plan for the school. I hope the Deputies will welcome that.

With regard to delivery of the school's permanent accommodation and the promised refurbishment, works have not started yet. The school has been aware of this for several months according to the parents in Maynooth. I can tell the Minister of State that you could not move anything with regard to their children's education without the parents of Maynooth knowing. It actually has not started yet. This school opened in the middle of a pandemic and it has done really well to reach a student population of more than 100 for the coming year. Students have to go to the old site for four subjects, namely, science, woodwork, technology and PE. That is a lot of travelling and they are losing approximately 20 minutes of education time with the ten minutes' walk either way. It is a lot of time to be losing. The school is severely hampered and there is no plan. A shopping centre is not the right place for a school. I hope the Minister will get back to me with regard to this work not having actually started. I would appreciate it if he could check that out and get back to me.

I thank the Minister of State for the update. As has been said, the refurbishment works are overdue and need to progress. While they will be welcome when they do take place, these works are really a sticking plaster. Some clarity on the long-term plan is needed. It is not a bad idea for the school to occupy the site of the old post-primary school but, as I have said, it is not suitable in its current condition. It would need a significant upgrade either through knocking it down and rebuilding or through a complete refurbishment of the building. The school is looking for clarity. The school, its board of management, the principal and the school team have managed well and are putting their best foot forward but they are really trying to attract pupils. This problem really arises from the school's success because it has been so popular since approval for this new Gaelcholáiste was secured. However, as I have said, that progress is threatened with derailment if parents have to decide in the next two or three years whether their children will attend school in a shopping centre or in an old dilapidated school building. Perhaps they will vote with their feet and send their children elsewhere. In the long term, that could undermine the viability of the school, which would be a shame as it is the culmination of a couple of decades' work to get it open in the first place. It is thriving but it needs that certainty. I believe the Minister, Deputy Foley, is to meet with Deputies after the break. That is welcome and would represent progress.

I am not sure whether I will get to speak again. I see I will not. I put on record my thanks to the Minister of State for help with another matter local to Kildare, in Bodenstown Cemetery, where he was very helpful to the community. I want to acknowledge that while I am on my feet. The Minister of State is on overtime tonight with all of the Topical Issue debates.

As the initial notes stated, the Department has approved funding to KWETB to undertake refurbishment works. If they have not commenced, it may be a local matter regarding getting contractors to carry out the work.

Perhaps it is imminent.

We can find out locally. It is positive that the options study was furnished to the Department. That gives a chink of light. The Department is assessing and examining those proposals. It is important that all of the Deputies keep a bit of friendly pressure on the Minister to get this really important matter advanced as a matter of priority.

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