Adjournment Debate. - Ballina (Mayo) School.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for giving me the opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment and the Minister for coming in to reply.

May I share my time with Deputy Hughes?

I am sure that is agreed.

The problem relates to Rathbane national school, Ballina, a three teacher school comprised of a main structure of two rooms and a prefab, built in 1910 and due for replacement since last year.

There are 58 pupils and three teachers in the school, located in a rural area with a great reputation for its academic achievements. The school is now infested with rats and the Western Health Board has advised its closure because of the risk to health. The parents and board of management, correctly, have done so as rat infestation poses the danger of a virus disease with a high mortality rate. Naturally the parents wish to send their children to a safe school. The Minister and her Department must provide alternative local accommodation immediately, the Department agreed replacement of the school in 1995. Since building the new school should have commenced already, there is no sense in spending money on the old school.

I call on the Minister for Education to provide immediate suitable alternative accommodation for its pupils and teachers at no cost to the board of management and to commence the construction of the new school approved since last year. Planning permission by Mayo County Council is already in place and the Department sought contractors in August last. I cannot understand why the Department has not availed of the relevant contract and put this work in train.

Since the school is located in a disadvantaged area and has disadvantaged status, will the Minister advise the board of management, in writing, that the local contribution will be 5 per cent in keeping with that status?

I fully support everything my colleague, Deputy Moffatt, said. Parents of the children attending the school will meet on Sunday next and, dependent on the contents of the Minister's reply this evening, will determine their attitude to the future education of their children. The children have been withdrawn from the school indefinitely because, for the second time within two years, it has been condemned by the Western Health Board, on both occasions because of rat infestation.

Quite properly this matter was covered not only on local radio but on the main national news programmes and newspapers today. It is atrocious that once again a rat infestation occurred, scaring young children out of their wits.

The problems associated with this school have been known to the Department for a number of years but it appears that the departmental mechanism moved at a pedantic pace, regardless of the urgency of the position.

As my colleague pointed out, what is urgently required is an immediate decision by the Minister to fund the transfer of the 58 pupils, principal and two teachers to temporary accommodation. It is a matter for negotiation, but it has been suggested that the GAA club house or community centre should be used as temporary accommodation while the building work is in progress. Both these premises should be examined urgently with a view to upgrading the heating system and the accommodation facilities.

Will the Minister give an assurance that the Department will fast track the selection process for a contractor? Will he confirm that within the past 24 hours the Department authorised the invitation of tenders for this school? The tendering process can sometimes be slow, and the examination of tenders can be extremely slow, depending on the will of the Department. The examination of submitted tenders and the selection of the approved contractor should be considered urgently with a view to completing the new school as soon as possible. It will take a minimum of six months to build the school and the Department should put a maximum time scale of one year on its completion. It is not satisfactory for pupils to be educated in a community facility which should be available to the wider community. A public meeting will be held on Sunday and this will determine the attitude of the board of management and parents to this serious issue.

On behalf of the Minister for Education I am pleased to outline to the House the Department's position regarding Rathbane national school, Boffenaun, Crossmolina, County Mayo. The school, which has a staffing level of a principal and two assistant teachers and an enrolment of 58 pupils, is currently housed in a two classroom permanent structure and one prefab. The Department accepts that these conditions are unsatisfactory.

A building project for the school was included in the 1995 capital programme announced by the Minister. The design work has been completed and the new school will comprise three classrooms and ancillary accommodation. The contracts section of the Department has also completed the pre-qualification tender process for the project. I am pleased to inform the House the Minister is now in a position to allow this project to progress to tender. Tenders will be invited next Tuesday and contractors must submit tenders within three weeks. It is anticipated the contractor will commence work after the Christmas break. The school management has been informed of this development and is exploring the possibility of securing alternative accommodation while the building work is in progress.

I assure the House the project will be progressed quickly. The Minister looks forward to the successful completion of the new school.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.25 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 26 November 1996.