Ceisteanna—Questions. Priority Questions. - Primary School Capital Funding.

Micheál Martin


5 Mr. Martin asked the Minister for Education the criteria used to allocate funding to primary schools under the primary school buildings capital programme; the reason there is still a significant number of schools in substandard condition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1932/97]

The criteria used to allocate capital funding to primary school projects are set out in the "National School Capital Programme" publication which was published in 1994 and issued to all schools at the time. The categories outlined in the booklet were as follows: category 1 — essential and very urgent; category 2 — desirable and urgent; category 3 — desirable but not urgent. I will send a copy of the publication to the Deputy.

Since 1993, the Government has allocated over £97 million in capital funding to primary schools. Major projects have been completed at over 100 schools while capital grants have been paid in respect of over 7,000 applications for assistance. Notwithstanding the progress that has been made in the past four years, there is still a significant number of schools requiring attention. The Deputy will be aware that there were substantial cuts in capital funding for primary schools in the 1988-92 period and these cuts caused a large backlog in projects which will take time to address. The Deputy will be aware also that I am devolving £11 million of the capital budget directly to schools to enable them to undertake improvement works to their buildings, services and furnishings without reference to my Department.

I challenge the Minister's assertion regarding the period 1988-92. From 1987 significant funding was spent on the primary school capital programme despite the economic and fiscal policies of the time which were essential for the wellbeing of the economy and which have produced the extra revenue which is now spent on this programme.

The Minister has not adhered to the categories or criteria in allocating funding to primary schools. Often the presence of a Labour Party Deputy in a constituency is of more importance with regard to whether a school will receive capital funding. If £97 million was available since 1993, Urbleshanny in County Monaghan should not be in its current state nor should the school in Kilglass, County Galway and other rat infested, damp schools which we have seen on television over the last two months——

The question is too long.

The Minister spoke for a long time too.

I want to reach the questions from other Deputies.

Our Lady of Lourdes School in Ballinlough and Crab Lane National School in Ballintemple should also be mentioned. Basic, emergency work, which should come under category 1, is required in these schools and I cannot understand how other schools were given precedence except through political interference or influence.

I resent the accusation of political interference. It followed a remark about the years 1988-92. I will establish the inaccuracy of the Deputy's first statement which will allow me to dismiss the second accusation as being of equal importance.

In 1988, £20.7 million was allocated for the building programme. In 1987, the figure was £29.6 million.

Fine Gael had spent all the money in 1986.

That is right.

The figure dropped to £20.7 million in 1988.

That is not relevant.

It is relevant because the Deputy said money was available. This is the source of the problem. In 1989 the figure deteriorated to £16.9 million. It got even worse in 1990.

We could still repair schools and achieve better value for money. We certainly repaired more schools in Donegal.

The Minister has been in office for four years. What has she done?

Let us hear the Minister.

The Deputy is trying to shout me down because I am putting on record the track record of the Opposition Party in Government. In 1990 the figure was £16.7 million. Those figures damaged progress in eliminating substandard buildings. With regard to Urbleshanny, which the Deputy mentioned, that school was given the go ahead but it was taken off the list because only half of the funding was secured. In 1996 there was not a shortage of capital but a long backlog of sheer, criminal neglect. I spent £30.9 million last year and we are completing two capital building programmes a week. However, although there has been extraordinary input and commitment by the Government, the neglect in the years I mentioned have made it difficult to eliminate the backlog as quickly as should be the case.

I do not take all the glory. I recognise the responsibility of other people. I also admit a significant number of schools still require attention. However, in the case of schools that have benefited from the recent injection of funding, the school communities will take responsibility for those schools and for maintaining the standard of the buildings. I would like to be able to say that the investment made available to me by the Government was such that I had eliminated the backlog of problems. Nevertheless, the improvement has been enormous and the Deputy will see from the booklet that there is an order in which projects are dealt with. Equally, the boards of management have the responsibility of coming to the Department of Education for funding.

They also like to meet the Minister.

I am satisfied that the building projects which require capital funding have been brought to the attention of the Department and, in the next day or two, I will make announcements about the 1997 building programme.

A number of Deputies are offering and I wish to facilitate them. I urge Deputies to be brief. I will call Deputies O'Hanlon, Crawford and Kitt before proceeding to the next question.

The Minister said £20.7 million was provided for the capital programme in 1988. The country was almost bankrupt that year. What was provided in 1996 and what is being provided in 1997? Is it correct that only £15,000 more than last year's provision is being provided this year? With regard to the categories, why does the Minister not publish the list of schools in each category so people will know where their school stands in the list? That would avoid much of the innuendo that other criteria are used. Having received her allocation in November, why is it necessary to publish at this stage the list of schools that will be grant-aided? I am referring to Urbleshanny where there was a public protest two weeks ago. That could have been avoided if the Minister had allocated funding to that school after she received her allocation.

The money allocated in 1996 was £27 million.

It was lower in the Estimates. The allocation was £21.15 million.

The output was £30.9 million. The allocation for this year was published in the Estimates in November and the Minister for Finance allocated a further £6.5 million yesterday. The Deputy suggested that the names of the schools be published. The Department is examining the option of establishing a point based system for prioritising capital projects. When I took over in the Department of Education every project was included in category 1. The Deputy talked about the funds being halved but the schools condemned as unsuitable in 1985 continued to deteriorate over the next ten years. Money was not available for maintenance. I visited the school in Ballymun which was used in the film "The Commitments", andThe Star and others in the media were happy to take pictures of the school and highlight the appalling state of school buildings in Ireland. A building programme was needed for that school and if memory serves me correctly it was allocated approximately £1.2 million. It was during my visit to that school that I came up with the idea of formulating a policy whereby once schools were completed, we would give the community the wherewithal to maintain them. In the past, large investments were made in schools to help them deal with the problems of neglect but we did not give them the wherewithal to carry out their responsibilities in regard to maintaining the buildings.

Why are the allocations not made for the current year?

The Department has a list of approximately 38 schools which would be categorised as essential and very urgent. They are not yet at the stage where they can be categorised as desirable and not urgent because I am continuing to eliminate the substandard buildings. The Deputy and the public know that. The Deputy made an important point and it is an issue on which we are beginning to move. I want to retain confidence. I want communities to identify the worst schools in their areas and those that are a priority, regardless of whether they have an organised voice of protest. In regard to Kilglass, I do not think the Labour Party has a Deputy in Kilglass. There are areas that do not have Labour Deputies representing them, but every area seems to have schools that have been neglected and are experiencing difficulties. It would be far better if there were common agreement on the schools listed for priority because there would be no need for political games or protests.

We would be happy with that.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has already recommended that we carry out value for money exercises on second level buildings. Priority points based systems operate in other EU countries and that is a method of prioritising capital projects. It removes the idea of political patronage from the picture. We are in contact with other EU countries who are using this system and we are examining the possibility of establishing a points based system.

The Minister is coming up with this idea at the end of her term.

It is at an early stage of development but my ambition is that, on completion of my term as Minister, I will have eliminated that group of buildings in category 1 — essential and very urgent. I do not want to be in a position where I am constantly making promises. I have been accused by deputations who have met me of being the fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh Minister to make promises. I have never promised any deputation that I will make money available. I have said we will list and prioritise schools and that I will find the funding. I ask for the support of Deputies in finding additional funding so that we can totally eliminate the schools on that list.

Will the Minister inform the House of the number of schools remaining in north Monaghan that need repairs? There has been much talk in the media recently about Urbleshanny and I fully support the efforts to have that school refurbished. I hope in the next few days the management will see progress in that regard but there are also schools in Carrickroe, Ballyocean, Scotshouse, Corcaghan and, more recently, Rackwallace, which has been named by the INTO. That is an indication of the serious problems that area is facing. I appreciate the Minister has met many delegations from these areas and that she has listed most of the schools concerned but it is important that they be given a clear indication that their projects will be reached as quickly as possible.

The Deputy is getting very specific.

Did the Minister recently publish a list indicating the school projects that are being funded? A protest took place in Urbleshanny recently about the fact that a so-called list existed which did not include Urbleshanny.

I do not know about a list but I assure the Deputy that such a list did not originate in my Department. Over many years Deputies representing different parishes have called on various Ministers to meet the needs of individual schools. I am giving a commitment that I will keep the level of investment as high as it has been and that we will begin to put in place — and we must all agree on this — a points based system that will list the national and regional priorities of each area. Given the funding that has been made available in the past four years I have every confidence that the areas listed are facing a future that will see schools being built for the education of their children and where the communities will be empowered, through funding, to maintain those buildings. I ask Deputies to remember the new schools that have been established in their areas, the high standards that are applied in those schools and the excitement generated by their establishment. That can happen in other parishes which can then take on the responsibility of maintaining the wonderful buildings that have been erected at the rate of two per week around the country.

I appreciate what this Minister and previous Ministers for Education have done but of the 47 schools identified by the Department of Education——

By the INTO.

——by the INTO, the Minister indicated that 17 of those projects were at the stage where planning was completed. I am aware that Kilglass national school in County Galway is one of those 17 schools; it was also included in the 1995 capital programme. Will the Minister indicate whether those 17 projects will be going ahead and if Kilglass will be included? The list apparently did not include schools suffering from overcrowding as is the case in Clontuskert in County Galway. Will that school be included on an essential category list?

Again we are getting into specifics.

That list was brought to my attention by the INTO. There were 47 schools on the list, two of which had not brought their needs to the attention of the Department of Education; that goes back to the role of the boards of management. Eleven of the schools were not in any of the planning processes but that question is being examined bearing in mind that there are different stages in that process. We have named some schools that entered the planning process in 1995 and we are looking at the culmination of that process. In regard to the way in which primary school projects are announced and funded, every stage is part of a process. The second level comes with a more complete package when the money is available. In regard to the specific schools referred to by the Deputy, I am confident that the schools on the list that urgently require funding will be informed of the position on the completion of my work and the work of the officials in the Department. Once we have dealt with the needs of those schools I have no doubt they will be replaced by a number of other schools seeking urgent funding on the basis that they, too, have suffered years of neglect. Those years of neglect in the school building programme resulted in the awful pictures I saw in recent weeks. However, even in the Deputy's area there have been successful conclusions of building programmes. When that occurs, local Deputies have a role to play in encouraging boards of management to take on the responsibility of maintaining the buildings. I am sure I will have more information for the Deputy next week.

The 17 are going ahead.