I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to raise the need for the Minister for Education to ensure that the proposed extension to the Salesian college, Pallaskenry, County Limerick, is completed in 1997. I first raised this matter in March 1994 and I am disappointed I must raise it again this evening in an effort to secure progress.
The number of pupils attending the Salesian college has been increasing for many years and, as a result, there is a need for extra space in the school. A schedule of work has been proposed to and accepted by the Department. It includes one general classroom, one mathematics classroom, one demonstration room, one home economics classroom and flatlet, one woodwork/ construction studies classroom, art and crafts store, mechanical drawing classroom, library and ancillary stores, special tuition rooms, kitchenette and cloakroom and locker room. The Department has accepted that this development is necessary and important. I urge the Government and the Department to treat it as a matter of urgency and to ensure that work is completed in time for the 1997-8 school year.
The need for the proposed development was identified over five years ago. In February 1993 the college authorities wrote to the Department of Education advising it of the intention to convert the dormitories and requesting assistance. The school is situated on the Shannon Estuary and serves the catchment area of Pallaskenry, County Limerick.
In December 1993, the principal of the school sought authorisation for the provision of post-primary education in the area. He received a reply on 8 March 1994, from John Moloney, higher executive officer, from which I will now quote:
The question of how best to organise the provision of post-primary facilities in the area has been under consideration in the Department for some years. It was considered that four schools were not required for the area; given the lay out of the catchment area, however, the rationalisation of all four schools into a single school development appeared to be an unrealistic and unattainable objective. The Department's hope was that, in time, the four schools could be reduced to two.
... At a meeting held on 9 April 1991 it was agreed by all present, including the Salesian representatives, that the logic of the area pointed to a two-school development, ie:
—a new school development centering on the existing schools in Foynes/ Shanagolden/Askeaton;
—the Salesian School at Pallaskenry staying separate.
At that stage, the Department accepted the amalgamation of the four schools into two. The letter goes on to state:
An application for grant-aid to convert dormitories to classrooms has been approved by the Planning Section on the basis of catering for an estimated 400 pupils...
The Department considers that the two schools, with total accommodation of 800 places, will cater adequately for the needs of the catchment area for the foreseeable future.
That was the situation in 1994, but there has been little progress in the interim. Subsequently, the Department informed the school that it had second thoughts about the dormitory conversion and proposed instead a school extension on the ground floor adjacent to the existing school building. A design team was assembled by the school and approved by the Department. Architectural planning proceeded throughout 1995 and stage 3 of this was submitted to the Department for approval in February 1996.
Despite many efforts on the part of the school to obtain approval for stage 3, the building unit did not pursue the matter until October 1996, a delay of eight months, when officials of the Department discussed its submission. It was decided that a number of minor changes were required and a revised submission was prepared by the design team and sent to the Department on 31 January 1997. The team insisted that a written reply that the submission was received be issued. The school awaits acceptance of stage 3 and written approval to proceed to stages 4 and 5. I urge the Minister to hasten the process.
In 1990, similar requests for an extension fell on deaf ears when an application was made to convert a dormitory to a computer room and language laboratory. The then Minister for Education failed to respond to the needs of the college which, despite limited resources, spent £40,000 on a computer room and a further £30,000 on a language laboratory. At present the Salesian community cannot proceed with its plans unless finances from the Department are forthcoming. It is important to the college, its pupils and the area that money is provided.
I pay tribute to the Salesian Fathers in Pallaskenry for the work they have done in teaching and preparing people for entry into the farming community through their highly successful agricultural college. The Salesians came to Pallaskenry in September 1919 and received their first students in January 1920. It is interesting that Fr. A. Sutherland, STD, is credited with the successful establishment of the college in Pallaskenry, because he was the granduncle of Peter Sutherland, former European Commissioner and head of GATT. The college progressed over the years and continues to play a vital role in the education of people living in the Shannon catchment area. I urge the Minister to assist the Salesians, the people of the locality and the school management to progress this application.