Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Questions (6)

Ruth Coppinger


6. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will report on the delivery of a non-denominational co-educational second level school in the Ashtown and Dublin 7 areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19843/19]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Education)

My question is about the ongoing lack of a secondary school in Dublin 7 and Ashtown whereby people can choose to send their children to a school that is not segregated by gender or religion. We have a changing society but the establishment does not appear to be willing to change at the same pace. Thus there is no inclusive education at secondary level available to people in the area.

In April 2018, the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years, 2019 to 2022. This announcement follows nationwide demographic exercises carried out by my Department into the future need for primary and post-primary schools throughout the country, and the four-year horizon will enable increased lead-in times for planning and delivery of the necessary infrastructure.

While the announcement did not include a new post-primary school for the Cabra-Phibsborough-Dublin 7 school planning area, it was announced that a new 1,000 pupil post-primary school was to open in 2022 in the adjacent Drumcondra-Marino-Dublin 1 school planning area.

The requirement for new schools will be kept under ongoing review and in particular will have regard for the increased roll out of housing provision as outlined in Project Ireland 2040. 

The Cabra-Phibsborough-Dublin 7 school planning area is currently served by eight post-primary schools, including Cabra community college, which is under the patronage of City of Dublin Education and Training Board, CDETB. Cabra community college is multidenominational in nature, provides for the local community and could potentially bring additional capacity of this nature to the area. As I indicated to the Deputy recently, I understand that CDETB and Educate Together have started discussions with regard to possible partnership with a view to Educate Together involvement in existing school provision at second level in the Dublin 7 area.  I am supportive of this initiative, which has the potential to add to and enhance the availability of additional choice in the area, and my Department is engaging with the bodies concerned as required.

Regarding how this issue could be resolved in the immediate term, I agree that Cabra community college is an extremely viable option. I visited the school last week. I met the principal and was shown around, together with Rita Harrold, who is our representative in that area. I was really pleased with the principal's openness. One could see the potential for the people of Cabra to really benefit from a school that would be enhanced and be able to deliver more subjects and more options for their children so it is a really good option. However, if this is to be the site, and CDETB and Educate Together are having discussions, which is really good, we need a definite commitment from the Government that it will fund a new school building that would be required in addition to the existing building that is there. Obviously, we would need other resources as well. Could the Minister tell people, particularly those in the Dublin 7 and Ashtown Secondary Options campaign, which has done great work in progressing this issue, whether the State is willing to fund this immediately if CDETB and Educate Together's discussion is successful?

I, together with Deputies Coppinger and Jack Chambers, attended another packed public meeting regarding getting a second-level multidenominational and, very importantly, co-educational school for this part of the Dublin 15 and Dublin 7 area. I should explain to the Minister that this is my home area. I am very pleased by his comments about St. Dominic's College, Cabra. He could have added Stanhope Street girls secondary school and other schools, which are fantastic schools. However, all of those schools such as St. Declan's College, which is just between those two convent schools, are single denomination schools and there is a very strong demand for a multidenominational and co-educational offering at second level.

The offer relating to Cabra west and Kilkieran Road is an excellent possibility. Obviously, the parties must come to an agreement on that. As a public representative for the area, I can say that there is a need and I will give it all my support, as I have done since the campaign started some time ago. I hope the Minister can recognise and acknowledge it and confirm that we will get this as soon as possible.

I thank both Deputies for their intervention. I assure Deputy Coppinger that we are not redesigning the wheel. We have form here and a history involving Clonturk community college in 2016, which was a partnership between Educate Together and CDETB and has 200 students for the 2018-19 school year. Most schools, particularly those in the Deputy's area with all its population pressures, will continue to grow. Regardless of whether it is Clonturk community college or the ongoing discussions regarding St. Kevin's College in Crumlin, which is another potential CDETB-Educate Together solution, investment does follow as the numbers grow. If there is a need for any investment at an early stage, that is something our Department is willing to look at. However, I do not want to pre-empt any decisions in that regard at this stage because we must find a solution to get to an agreement in the first instance.

We know Educate Together and CDETB have done it before so they are well disposed to doing it again. The difference is that there is an existing building here but one that needs significant enhancement. Interestingly, the school is as sturdy and solid as the day it was built in the 1940s, unlike many buildings we see going up. It would need far more capacity and state-of-art laboratories and so on. I do not think CDETB or Educate Together would be upset if the Minister came out today and said that he is willing to put funds into something they are discussing. It should not be up to patrons to come together and do this. The State should be identifying a need and saying that it will provide it. We have a mad situation - a time lag in this country - because of the interconnection between church and State. It is scandalous that people cannot send their children to a non-segregated gender school in that area that is not run by a religious patron when there is clearly such a demand. This is happening all over Dublin and the country. I would encourage the Minister to give this commitment now. I would tell people to use the local and European Parliament elections to get these sort of commitments from Members and the Government. Solidarity will certainly be holding meetings to expand on this issue.

I am happy to work with the Deputy on this. The last thing I want is to be accused of making a big announcement on the eve of local elections.

But you never did that before.

It is not my form. I do not do it. I do not think it is right to give details regarding what I will do in the future when I do not have any basis to make that decision. We are looking at a school that the Deputy mentioned was built in the 1940s and which is still standing the test of time. In respect of one of the policies that has been changed, although not in my time in the Department, rather than always going for the greenfield site, some schools have been standing for a few hundred years. The school mentioned by the Deputy has been standing since the 1940s. If we can adapt that traditional structure, extend it for new modern laboratories and do up the existing school in an environmentally sustainable way, that is something with which I am in agreement. Certainly I would be happy to work with all the hard-working Deputies in that area.