Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Questions (56)

Bríd Smith


56. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a school (details supplied) will be established on a site in Dublin 10; his plans for the site; if discussions have been held with interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29556/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

I hope the Minister will not fob me off and say the closure of the De La Salle school in Ballyfermot is a private matter and there is nothing he can do about it. This school, which is due to close at the end of this summer - and may already have closed - is quite famous and has been used in many movies, including "Rocky Road to Dublin". It is a massive complex. Will the Minister consider acquiring this complex with a view to it being used to provide Educate Together and Gaelscoil facilities for the Dublin 10 area?

On the school property to which the Deputy refers, the school patron has informed my Department that the school currently operating at this property will close on 30 June 2019, when the last group of pupils will have completed sixth class. The school patron has been working with the four Catholic schools under its patronage in Ballyfermot in regard to reorganising these schools. I understand the outcome of this interaction undertaken by the patron is that three of the four schools, other than the school referred to by the Deputy which is a senior boys' primary school, have changed to co-educational status following consultation with the parents, staff and boards of management.

On the Deputy’s query as to whether a school under a different patron body will be established at the school property, there are no plans in that regard.  The property is not in my ownership, nor, according to Department records, does my Department hold any other legal interest, such as a charging lease, over the property. In that context, the plans for the property are a matter for the school trustees, as owner, and it is my understanding that it is their intention to sell the property.

I understood the school was to close this September but I note from the Minister's reply that it will close in June when the last group of pupils has completed sixth class. The remaining children have been relocated to the St. Michael's Dominican campus, where there are three other schools. All of these schools are full, as is St. Ultan's school in Cherry Orchard. This area is one of the few areas in Dublin where social housing is being built and, as such, demand for school places will increase.

This property should not be sold. It belongs to a religious order that is indebted to the State under the redress deal agreed under former Minister, Michael Woods, and to the people of Ballyfermot, Cherry Orchard and Dublin 10 generally. It should be sold to the Department at a reduced rate or taken over by the Department to provide Educate Together and-or Gaelscoil facilities for the area, neither of which exist in this heavily populated area.

The Deputy asked if the Department envisages a need for an additional school in the area. I am told that while there is some house-building taking place in the area and an increase in enrolments is expected, there is significant capacity in a number of the existing primary schools in the area. The outcome of the demographic exercises indicate a surplus of available accommodation over the next four years across the school planning area. This was not an area wherein the Department identified a need for an additional school.

On the issue of diversification, we have two initiatives in place, namely, the divestment procedure established by former Minister, Ruairí Quinn, and the live transfer, which I have just initiated. In neither instance do we have a prospect of an offer being made of property to an incoming new patron.

On the issue of paying redress, I agree with the Deputy that we need to see additional payment from the religious orders. The indemnity arrangement which she mentioned limited the amount they contributed but it has always been the Government view that 50% of the cost should be contributed by the religious orders. We would welcome contributions from the sale of sites or otherwise towards the substantial cost that has been incurred in this area.

It is clear that although the Minister believes in divestment and agrees that the costs in this area should be shared on a 50:50 basis, the Government is prepared to do very little to insist this happens. We have moved on. The Taoiseach said recently that he is in favour of the separation of church and State. I am not asking for that. Rather, I am asking that the Department investigate the possibility of negotiating with the De La Salle Trust the acquisition of this very important site for use by the community of Dublin 10 and its environs for Educate Together and-or Gaelscoil provision, neither of which are available in this highly populated area. The Minister mentioned that he has been told there is significant capacity in the other three schools. That is not true. I know from talking to principals, teachers and parents that the other schools are at capacity and additional places will be required when the new housing in the area is completed. We need a definitive approach from the Minister to all of these lands and facilities that are in the possession of the church, which is indebted to this State. It is not sufficient for the Minister to say he does not believe that will happen. He needs to be much more proactive and ensure it does happen.

The Department has never acquired new buildings where it already has existing capacity. The Department's demographic process, which is based on the very best information available from local authorities, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the census and so on, is applied evenly and equitably to all areas. Where it is identified that a new school is required, these are the schools we seek to establish, 42 of which were recently announced. There is a separate process for transfer of patronage.

There is a survey going on in all 16 education and training boards, ETBs, to establish locations where we could seek a transfer of patronage. I refer to a live transfer, as it is described, not requiring closure and a transfer of property. That, unfortunately, has made the Ruairí Quinn approach difficult. The truth is that in the vast majority of cases where we have been able to open a school under that previous process, they have been in other State properties. They have not been in properties released by the majority patron. That system has not been successful because of various legal constraints.