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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 28 Oct 1992

Vol. 134 No. 6

Adjournment Matters. - County Roscommon Schools.

I regret very much having to raise this issue on the Adjournment tonight but, as with other Departments, if I had been able to get the information I requested I would not have had to bring the Minister in here, to take up his time and the time of the House.

The schools which I wish to discuss here tonight are three primary schools, Ardkeenan, Brideswell and Curraghboy. The first two require extensions, the third is a case of a new school which has been promised for that area and for which a site has been obtained for 20 years. Over the past 12 months planning permission has been granted. Plans have been drawn up for the school and submitted to the Department. Curraghboy national school is in deplorable condition. It is an old school and improvement works have not been carried out for many years. The roof is leaking, it is overcrowded and it has absolutely diabolical conditions for the education of children. I want to know from the Minister tonight when work on this school will commence.

I appreciate the many demands on the Department for funding of new schools but surely a school that has been at the planning stage for so many years must, at this stage, have reached the top of the list. I would like to know if this school will get approval in the 1993 programme. I know there is no hope of having it started this year but I request the Minister to ensure that it is at the top of the list in 1993.

The other school which I referred to, and which is awaiting an extension, is Brideswell national school. Because of a growth in population in that area, an additional teacher was appointed three weeks ago but that teacher is now teaching in a community centre a mile away from the national school. In other words, some of the pupils attend Brideswell primary school, while others are going to the community centre. That is most undesirable. What is required here is an additional classroom.

As I understand it, planning permission has been granted and the plans for the extension were submitted to the Department as far back as last January. The Department officials visited the site, met with the school manager and verbally gave a commitment that the classroom would be built in 1992. Certain officials in the Minister's Department have changed and, as of this week, the manager of that school has not got a written commitment that this classroom will be built. This situation in a rural area, where the infants are being taught a mile away from brothers and sisters who are in higher classes, is totally undesirable. I am asking the Minister to give a clear commitment that the school will be approved immediately.

The third school which I referred to is Ardkeenan national school which was built in 1935 but no improvements have been made since. The local community has collected the local contribution which is necessary to carry out the funding of this project. Plans have been drawn up and submitted to the Department and I had the pleasure of meeting Department officials on the site some 18 months ago. Unfortunately, nothing has happened since.

Ardkeenan school is in very bad repair. Slates are falling off the roof, posing a real danger to children in stormy conditions, as well as allowing in the rain. There are outside toilets which in this day and age are totally unsatisfactory. It is a school which is experiencing a growth in population because the area is adjacent to Athlone and there is a spill-over of population from Athlone. An extension is urgently required. Those are three primary schools in the south Roscommon area.

I appeal to the Minister to use his good offices to ensure that funding is approved for the extensions to Ardkeenan and Brideswell and for a new school in Curraghboy. The site in Curraghboy was acquired some 20 years ago but nothing has been done to erect a new school. The conditions in the old school in Curraghboy have got to the stage where they cannot be tolerated any longer by parents, teachers and management. I ask the Minister to give a commitment on the extensions to Ardkeenan and Brideswell and for a new school in Curraghboy.

I am glad Senator Naughten has given me the opportunity to outline the position concerning the building projects at Ardkeenan, Brideswell and Curraghboy national schools, all of which, largely, are located in County Roscommon. I propose to deal with Ardkeenan first.

The present accommodation comprises one large classroom and two small classrooms. The staffing consists of a principal and two assistant teachers. The average enrolment was 71 on 30 September 1991 but because of increasing enrolments it will be necessary to provide additional accommodation. It is proposed to adapt the small classrooms to provide one large classroom and to add on a further standard classroom, plus ancillary accommodation. The chairman of the board of management has requested permission to utilise a private architect for the project. The Department of Education have agreed to this and the chairman has been advised to seek planning permission, which I understand is still awaited. The invitation of tenders for the project will not arise for consideration for some time as this scheme is still at an early stage of the planning process.

In the case of Brideswell national school, it has accommodation consisting of two small classrooms and ancillary accommodation. The staffing comprises a principal, one assistant teacher and one temporary assistant teacher. It is proposed to provide an extension of one classroom and ancillary accommodation and to adapt the existing school to provide two large classrooms.

Following discussion with the school authorities the Department gave permission for plans to be prepared and tenders invited under the supervision of the local Office of Public Works. The school has now submitted tenders for the consideration of the Department. Due to reorganisation in the section responsible in my Department for the processing of this scheme, there has been some delay in the examination of the tenders received. However, this examination will be undertaken as soon as possible.

Finally, the current accommodation at Carrick national school, known as Curraghboy, consists of two classrooms and ancillary accommodation, while the staffing comprises a principal and one assistant teacher. The average enrolment was 51 in September, 1991. I understand the present building dating from 1890 is in a poor state of repair and the Department of Education are committed to resolving the situation as soon as possible. In the circumstances I intend that a new school consisting of two classrooms and ancillary accommodation be provided at the earliest possible date and tender documents for the project will be completed shortly. However, under the new building regulations it will be necessary for the board of management to obtain a fire safety certificate from the planning authorities. Once this certificate has been received, the question of the invitation of tenders will arise for consideration.

The Senator will appreciate, however, that each national school authority seeking capital grants invariably makes the case that its project deserves special treatment. My task and that of my Department is to allocate the available resources in any one year as fairly as possible having regard to the overall constraints. The Senator will also know that the 1993 capital allocation is at present under consideration in consultation with the Department of Finance. However, I can assure the Senator that it is my intention that work on these projects should commence at the earliest date, having regard to the financial situation.

I thank the Minister for his reply and I note that he obviously appreciates the very difficult situation in Brideswell national school. I would ask him to try to clear that project as soon as possible in view of the undesirable situation that exists with pupils from the one household being taught a mile apart.