School Accommodation.

Will the Minister of State ask the Minister for Education and Science to give us an update on the urgent need to provide extra school places in Lucan, particularly at primary level, for this coming September and for future academic years as well as the need for additional places at second level? It is urgent that this matter is addressed in time for September, when children should be starting school. It is a matter of emergency in Lucan, which is the fastest growing area of the country according to the Central Statistics Office. It is evident that primary school provision has not kept pace with development in Lucan. I have met parents who have had to travel with their children to school up to now, but it is an ever-growing problem. I have been in contact with all the schools to get a picture of the situation and there is no doubt from the information I have received that there will be a shortfall unless emergency action is taken by the Department of Education and Science.

A number of families do not yet know whether they will have a school place for their children in September, including children who are well into school-going age. Many are being told to look outside Lucan, but that is not acceptable. Public transport provision to other areas from Lucan is bad and it is only right that children can attend their local primary school. My understanding is that they have a right to do so. Some pupils are being asked to defer their education until they are older and I am aware of a case in which one sibling has a place in school but that there will be no places for the younger siblings. Schools are turning people away on a daily basis, which is stressful for school principals who are struggling with the situation and doing a huge amount of work to try to get it dealt with by the Department of Education and Science.

Having consulted with others, the solution I suggest is that the Department should, in the short term, provide temporary additional accommodation for September, including prefabs or alternative buildings. A new school in Lucan was trying to get access to a site which is reserved for it. The Department should have made sure that the school had access to that site for September so that it could erect a prefab and take two new primary school classes. If the Department does not act, the school will not be able to take additional students. That means there will be many parents who have no option as regards educating their children in Lucan. I do not understand why the Government cannot adopt the policy of borrowing for infrastructure such as school buildings. It is an investment in the community and there is a building at the end of the process. One cannot simply accept that costs are a reason for not providing for children's education.

Accommodation for secondary schools is also set to become a major problem. The local community college held a lottery for secondary school places and, from the available figures, it appears there will be a shortfall. When adjustments are taken into account in the schools in which people have applied for a place, there will be secondary school students who will not have a place in the Lucan area this coming September. That is a situation that will worsen unless the Government starts to act now. I would like to hear the response of the Minister of State.

I am glad the Senator has given me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position of the Department of Education and Science on this issue. The Minister for Education and Science is fully conscious of the issue raised by the Senator.

Lucan is the fastest growing area in the country. As a result, there has been a marked increase in the demand for school places, particularly at primary level. In order to meet this demand the Department of Education and Science has taken steps to increase the capacity of existing schools in the area by way of the provision of permanent and temporary accommodation. Building projects have recently been completed at Scoil Aíne junior school and St. Thomas's senior school to increase the capacity of each of these schools to 16 classrooms. Construction of the new Lucan Educate Together national school will be finalised for September this year. The capacity of the school will be 16 mainstream classrooms with an autistic unit. The Department is also arranging for the installation of a prefabricated unit at Archbishop Ryan national school. This unit will be installed over the summer and available for September.

A new school, Griffeen Valley Educate Together national school, was established in the Lucan area in September 2002. The school is currently located in the Scout Den in Lucan village, which accommodation is insufficient to meet the school's needs for September this year. In this regard, officials of the Department are in communication with the school authorities with a view to having alternative accommodation in place for September.

As the Senator is aware, the local authority, at the Department's request, reserved a site in the Griffeen Valley area for primary school purposes. The Department has instructed the property management section of the Office of Public Works to enter into negotiations with the owners with a view to acquiring the site. The Senator will appreciate that in view of the commercial sensitivity of the site acquisition process I am not in a position to comment further on the matter at this time. However, at this stage, it is not expected that the site will be available for the forthcoming school year.

Primary provision in the Lucan area, in particular south Lucan, will continue to be monitored by the Department. At post-primary level the Department has already responded to the demand for additional school places in Lucan by approving major extensions at two schools in the area, both of which are under construction. A new permanent building for Coláiste Cois Life is also in architectural planning.

The Senator will also be interested to note that following consultations with the Department, South Dublin County Council has also reserved a site for post-primary school purposes in the Adamstown strategic development zone. This is intended to assist in catering for the future needs of the Lucan area. It is expected that the measures outlined will alleviate pressure on primary and post-primary school places in Lucan.

The Seanad adjourned at 4.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 4 July 2003.