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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Vol. 183 No. 17

Schools Amalgamation.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter and the Minister of State for taking it. I am sure the Minister of State is aware that there are five second level schools in Tuam. Some years ago it was proposed to amalgamate the Presentation Convent and Mercy Convent secondary schools and to amalgamate St. Jarlath's College and St. Patrick's College. The Minister for Education and Science has taken a particular interest in the two amalgamations. She met the four principal teachers of the four schools last autumn when she was in Tuam.

An advertisement for the provision of a site for the amalgamation of the Presentation Convent and Mercy Convent was placed in local and national newspapers this week, in respect of which the closing date for receipt of applications is 26 May. I hope that advertisement will be successful in securing the provision of a site.

It appears the site for St. Jarlath's College and St. Patrick's is already available. There is a question over whether these amalgamations will be dealt with separately or jointly by the Department. I am aware of the location of the site for the amalgamation of the two boys' colleges. I am a past pupil of St. Jarlath's College and I understand the site is the location of the hurling pitches. Some questions have been raised about access to this site. The Minister of State might be able to clarify that aspect. There are also issues about the possibility of the relief road going through some of these lands.

In light of the delay and the lack of progress on the amalgamation, I wish to highlight that the facilities in St. Patrick's College are very poor. Even though the school is not very old, it is in a poor condition and that has an impact on enrolment to it.

It would be a great vote of confidence for the students, hardworking teachers and parents if progress could be made on the proposed amalgamations, about which there has been much talk for a long time. It was a hopeful development when the principals got together and decided to proceed with two amalgamations of four schools in Tuam, which would result in three education centres in the future. That is what everybody would like to happen, but there is frustration about the delay in the decision in this respect. I would like the Minister of State to reply to the points I have raised.

At the outset, I wish to thank the Senator for raising the matter as it affords me the opportunity to outline to the House the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and also the position regarding the development of education provision for the proposed amalgamation of St. Jarlath's College and St. Patrick's College, Tuam, and the proposed amalgamation of Presentation College and Mercy College, Tuam.

Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of under-investment in this area as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. Nonetheless, this Government has shown a focused determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.

As evidence of this commitment there will be approximately 1,300 building and modernisation projects active in our primary and post-primary schools during 2006. Over €500 million is being spent on primary and post primary projects throughout the country. This unprecedented level of capital investment is testament to the importance the Government places on improving the quality of accommodation in our schools.

Turning to the matter in hand, as the Senator may be aware, agreement was reached some time ago on the rationalisation of post-primary education provision in Tuam. Essentially, the agreement reached with the relevant trustees involved the formation of a single boys' and a single girls' school, each to cater for a long-term projected enrolment of 700 pupils. Amalgamation in each case is dependent on the availability of suitable accommodation. In each case a decision has been taken to provide a new school on a new site.

As regards the girls' school, the property management section of the OPW, which acts on behalf of the Department of Education and Science on site acquisitions generally, is considering a number of proposals with the intention of acquiring a suitable site to facilitate the development of the new building. Due to the commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions, it is not proposed at this stage to identify the specific sites being considered. With regard to the boys' school the position is that the patron has offered to provide a site to accommodate the new school and communications are ongoing on the matter. As soon as the site issues are finalised in each case, the building projects required to deliver the appropriate accommodation will be considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme 2006-10

The two projects at Tuam, arising as a result of the proposed amalgamations, have been assigned a band 1.4 rating by the Department. This will positively influence the timescale for delivery of the projects. Ideally both will be progressed at the same time. However, this is dependent on the outcome of the individual site acquisition processes and on whether both projects will be ready to progress through the architectural planning process at the same time.

I thank the Senator once again for raising this matter and allowing me to outline the progress being made under the school building and modernisation programme and the position with regard to the proposed amalgamation of St. Jarlath's College and St. Patrick's College, Tuam, and the proposed amalgamation of Presentation College and Mercy College, Tuam. The Department will do everything in its power to advance both projects as soon as possible.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.35 p.m. until2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 23 May 2006.