Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle for taking this matter and I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House. I extend my best wishes to the Minister and his staff. I was sorry to hear of the fire and was glad that no one was injured. I compliment the fire service on the wonderful job they did to save public and private property.
This matter is a major issue in the Carrowkennedy area. It is an area which was the location of a famous ambush. Many well known people came from the area, including the parents of former Minister Jim Tunney. If he was in the House I am sure he would support this request for an extra classroom for Carrowkennedy national school.
There will be 14 extra students starting in the school this year and only three leaving to go on to second level education. The total number of students will be 59 in September. The numbers have increased and the school is entitled to a third teacher. However, there is only classroom accommodation for two teachers and the classrooms are badly overcrowded. In September one teacher will have to teach 35 children in a room which can only accommodate half that number. All but the basic furniture has to be taken out to accommodate the students. The extra room, which is used as an office, will now have to be used as a computer room.
This area is three to four miles outside Westport. It is a good news story. Deputies are always looking for extra teachers because the numbers are falling. In this case the numbers are increasing. Many of the parents work in Westport but they want their children to be educated in Carrowkennedy. This is a reasonable request. Fifteen extra students are coming into the school and it is entitled to an extra teacher but there are only two classrooms.
I hope the Minister of State has good news for the school. There is talk of building a prefab. However, this is an isolated area situated in open countryside. A prefab would not withstand bad weather and I have no doubt it would be blown away and could be dangerous for children.
The Department should sanction the extra room and make sure that a stone building is constructed. It is important that the Minister of State makes the announcement quickly so that construction can commence. It would be unreasonable to request that it be ready by September but if it was sanctioned now it could be ready before Christmas.
This school is not like others which expect to maintain teacher levels while student numbers decline. The numbers are going up in the area and many new houses are being built. This will cause a further problem down the road. I hope the Minister of State has positive news. His officials will give him the usual line. However, he is a rural man and he has an understanding of rural life and schools. These teachers are working under difficult circumstances and I compliment them for an excellent job.
People who have come to Westport and the area have done well over the years. There is a fine standard of teaching and the parents want their children to be educated in the area. They do not want to have to bring their children elsewhere.
Property in Westport has become expensive as a result of the pilot scheme. People cannot afford to buy property in the town and they are looking to outlying areas and building houses. They are prepared to work in Westport and Castlebar but they want their children taught locally. I hope the Minister of State will grant the extra classroom and ensure that a stone building is constructed.