I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This is a matter I have raised on a number of occasions. It relates to the lack of playing field and sports facilities generally across the Dublin Bay South area, although I have asked a specific question today. There is a serious lack of publicly accessible playing fields and sports pitches in Dublin Bay South, in particular Dublin 6 and 6W.
My question relates to the allocation of funding for the construction of an AstroTurf playing pitch at Harold's Cross Educate Together Secondary School. As I said, it also relates to the broader context of the lack of playing fields more generally. I have written to the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, most recently in late April, regarding the planning application for permanent accommodation for the new Educate Together secondary school in my local area in Harold's Cross. This followed representations made to me by the school's principal, Mr. Padraig Conaty, on behalf of the board. The school has very much welcomed positive updates on the planning application for permanent accommodation but concerns remain, most notably regarding outdoor play areas.
In particular, the school community is very disappointed to learn the schedule of accommodation has no provision for an AstroTurf playing surface. This will seriously hamper the ability of the school to offer a full range of sports opportunities to children and pupils. As the Minister of State will be well aware, this development is part of a much bigger campus development, including the site acquisition and construction of the Harold's Cross Educate Together Secondary School and an Educate Together primary school. Harcourt Terrace Educate Together primary school is also located there in temporary accommodation.
As part of the overall development of what was the Greyhound Stadium in Harold's Cross, the State is committing a significant amount of funding to deliver the important project. It seems to me and to the school community that it would be a shame, therefore, if, on full development, the campus would still have no space for pupils to play Gaelic football, hurling, soccer or rugby, the four most popular team sports in Ireland for children. Given the lack of public playing fields available in the local area, the school would be very limited in what provision it can make for pupils to play, train and exercise outdoors.
We know there are costings from the Department to convert two of the basketball courts provided for into one large divisible AstroTurf playing area. However, the Department has requested that the schools would have to pay for this and this is not financially feasible.
I ask the Minister of State to consider allocating funding for the AstroTurf finish and to ensure this will be done in one or two of the ball courts. This will provide greater flexibility and enhanced delivery of the curriculum. School officials tell me that at minimal additional cost they could use a dividing mesh curtain to separate and use the two ball courts simultaneously for physical education, PE, activities, outdoor lessons and so on. This would be cost-effective and is standard for many schools and sports facilities around Ireland. The AstroTurf finish, in particular, would enable the school to provide a full PE curriculum involving a full range of contact sports and individual athletic events.
The school is very concerned that without the AstroTurf finish, it will be unable to offer any team sports in a meaningful way, aside from basketball. Its athletic lessons would also be limited. It is concerned about having to rent facilities in the area, which are not readily available locally. This will have a negative impact, even if the school was able to find such facilities, because there would clearly be a great deal of time involved travelling to and from such off-site locations.
The Department has told the school it is not a feasible proposition to provide an AstroTurf finish on one or two of the ball courts. I ask the Minister of State whether it would be possible to find a way to do this that would be feasible.