Schools Building Projects.

I have raised a number of matters on the Adjournment recently relating to education and I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, is present to respond on this matter. It concerns Colaiste Pobail Osraí in Kilkenny city. The school has operated as a post-primary school for a number of years and has been located in its current premises since 1995. The premises is located at the back of Ormond College on Ormond Road in Kilkenny city.

The school's difficulties involve the school buildings. Much of the existing school is accommodated in prefabricated structures and in recent years the school has been considering a number of sites in Kilkenny for a new school building. I call on the Minister and the Department to set the wheels in motion at the earliest opportunity to ensure the new school building will be provided. Colaiste Pobail Osraí is an Irish language secondary school and one of its requirements is that the site of the new school be located in the vicinity of its main feeder primary school, Gaelscoil Osraí. In raising the matter this evening I hope to put pressure on the Department's officials and engineers to locate and acquire a site and commence work as soon as possible.

Colaiste Osraí was granted independent status in 2007 and it is seeking to have that grant of independence acted on with the provision of a new school building. The school's existing structures are dilapidated and outdated, and are not suitable for education into the future. The school has gone from strength to strength in terms of increasing enrolment in recent years. There is a revived interest in the Irish language throughout the country and that is reflected in the large number of students attending primary and secondary schools that educate through Irish. I hope the Minister will have a favourable response for me.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and to outline the current position regarding Colaiste Pobail Osraí, Cill Chainnigh, in particular. In the lifetime of the current national development plan almost €4.5 billion will be invested in schools. Of this, €586 million will be spent on school buildings this year alone.

This is an unprecedented level of capital investment which reflects the commitment of the Government to continue its programme of sustained investment in primary and post-primary schools. This investment will facilitate the provision of new schools and extensions in developing areas and the improvement of existing schools through the provision of replacement schools, extensions or large scale refurbishments over the next number of years. With regard to Colaiste Pobail Osraí, this school was initially established in 1991 as an all-Irish aonad or unit attached to and operating from Kilkenny city vocational school. Its feeder primary school is Gaelscoil Osraí, which is also based in the city. A separate board of management was appointed to the aonad in 2003 and in 2007 the Department approved independent status to allow the aonad operate as an all-Irish post-primary school in its own right under the aegis of the vocational education committee.

At that time, it moved from the Kilkenny city vocational school building and it now operates from separate premises in Ormond Road in Kilkenny. The Department was happy to allow this change of status because enrolment in its feeder school, which is in excess of 400 pupils, augurs well for the development of Colaiste Pobail Osraí into a fully viable school capable of delivering a broad and balanced curriculum over time. Current enrolment in the school is 74 pupils — an increase of four pupils over the previous year's enrolment. Officials in the Department have been in discussion with County Kilkenny VEC in recent times about the schools within its remit. The VEC has indicated the desirability of a new school building for Colaiste Pobail Osraí in this forum. It has been explained to the VEC that the Department is looking at the totality of educational provision in Kilkenny city, particularly in the context of recent and planned housing development, changes in demography and so forth. The purpose of this exercise is to identify long-term needs, including all-Irish provision, and to determine how best these can be met. When a decision has been taken in this regard, consideration can be given to advancing projects for schools that have applied for capital funding under the school building and modernisation programme in the context of the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects.

I again thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad how the Department intends to address the needs of Coláiste Pobail Osraí, Cill Chainnigh and the requirements of Cathair Cill Chainnigh in general. I also assure the Senator that it is the Department's policy to support the provision of all-Irish school facilities at primary and post-primary level where a viable demand for such provision is demonstrated.