Senator McDonagh, you have ten minutes. I assure the Senator that it is an area I know well.
Adjournment Matters. - Moycullen (Galway) School Transport.
I do not know who said that strange things are done beneath the midnight sun, but if I do not move on, it will be the witching hour. Both the Cathaoirleach and I have an interest in getting a positive reply and I am sure the Minister, Deputy Cowen, will not let us down.
The current situation which prevails in Moycullen is the cause of deep anxiety and concern to parents and students. This year the problem, which has been ongoing for approximately 14 years, finally came to a head when a number of students failed to get bus tickets to attend schools in Galway city that they traditionally attended over the years. Some students on the Barna-Moycullen road are living approximately six miles from Galway city and 15 miles from Indreabhán vocational school, which is the school within their catchment area. The fact that Moycullen is effectively in the suburbs of Galway city makes it unique as a catchment area. It is natural, given the location of the parish of Moycullen, that many of the parents there are anxious to send their children to schools in Galway city. It must also be noted that all of the villages in Moycullen parish are not in the Gaeltacht area. It would be completely unfair in any system to force children who are not brought up in a Gaeltacht environment to attend an all Irish school.
Traditionally, students from the Moycullen area attended second level education in Galway city, as schools in Spiddal and Oughterard were not co-educational. There are two all-Irish second level schools in Galway city for children who wish to attend such schools and these are both co-educational. One is run under the vocational education system and the other is run under the religious system. The option is there for students to attend all-Irish schools in the city or in the Gaeltacht. At present, students from Moycullen parish attend second level schools in Galway city.
The area is in the hinterland of Galway city, which is the fulcrum around which the west of Ireland revolves. It is a major thriving city. It was to be expected that many families would move into Moycullen in recent years because it is a beautiful place to live and convenient to the city. Many of these people work in Galway and, therefore, it is understandable that they would like to have their children attend school there. It could not be more natural for parents who are working in the city to meet their children at lunch time and break times and perhaps dine together. The choice of schools and options in Galway city is far greater and there is a wide range of subjects.
The matter, which has been ongoing for 15 years, came to a head this year when 37 students did not get bus tickets. As a result of efforts by the authorities and after various representations, 17 of those students eventually received tickets, but 20 children were left without them. This situation arises every year and half the year is gone for the children without tickets before the matter is resolved. A situation can develop where some members of a family have tickets and others do not. It becomes most complicated and frustrating for parents and children.
We are asking for freedom of choice. This is all that is required by a large suburb of Galway city which does not have a second level school of its own. It is now incumbent on the Minister for Education to agree to this motion to give the parish of Moycullen common school transport catchment area status. It would be much appreciated by the parents and children.
Senator, I cannot say what the reply will be, but you can definitely tell the people of Moycullen that you got preferential treatment from the Chair.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I reply on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Aylward. The Moycullen area is at present located in the Spiddal-Aille Thiar post primary centre for school transport purposes. As an area lying within the Gaeltacht, it was decided that it was appropriate to assign it to a Gaeltacht post-primary centre when the school transport scheme was started in the late 1960s.
There are two post-primary schools in the Spiddal-Aille Thiar catchment area, a Mercy secondary school in Spiddal, Colaiste Chroí Mhuire, and a vocational school in Aille Thiar, Gairmscoil Cholmcille. In the parish of Moycullen there are four national schools, those of Moycullen, Tooreeny, Tullokyne and Newtown. It appears that the majority of children coming from these schools travel to schools in Galway city for post-primary education. At present Moycullen children are eligible for full school transport entitlement to Spiddal or Aille Thiar. For travelling to Galway city they are entitled to the catchment boundary concession only, which is that they can, for a fee, avail of spare places on buses operating within the Galway catchment area if these are available.
The demand for such spare places now outstrips their availability. Arising from this situation the Department has received a proposal from the Moycullen district bus users group, representing parents in the area, to the effect that the four national schools in Moycullen parish be shared between Spiddal, Aille Thiar and Galway city catchment areas. All children attending those primary schools would then become eligible for full transport entitlement to either post-primary centre. The normal practice where such requests are received is that the managements of the post-primary schools likely to be affected are informed of the proposal and asked for their views. In this case, the views of management of the post-primary schools in Spiddal and Aille Thiar were sought and these have now been conveyed to the Department.
In many such cases the Department has the difficult responsibility of having to weigh up on the one hand the wishes of a large body of parents in an area as against, on the other hand, the fears of school managements that pupil numbers may decline and as a consequence that teaching posts may be lost if changes are made in the area of school transport entitlement. I assure the Senator that the Department of Education has given full consideration to all aspects of this case. It is hoped to communicate a decision on the matter to the parties concerned within a matter of days.