Adjournment Debate

School Accommodation

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise the urgent need for an extension to Nicker national school — Roll No. 142314 — in County Limerick. The school has 94 pupils and it is forecast that this figure could reach 120 within four years.

The school seeks the necessary funds to carry out major important work to the school. The main school building has two mainstream classrooms, a smaller room used by the resource teacher and a similar room serving the dual purpose of office and staff room. There are two pre-fabs, both used as mainstream classrooms, which have been on the site for more than 40 years. These are in very poor condition and in no way represent an appropriate environment for the safe and successful education of children. We know, from experience of these situations, that changes of temperature in very warm or very cold weather make these classrooms very uncomfortable and unsuitable for teachers and pupils. There is also a small pre-fab that was bought some years ago by the school. It is used by the learning support teacher.

The toilets are in a separate building at the rear of the main school building. It is totally inappropriate that children must go out into the open when using the toilets. This would be totally unacceptable in any school in Ireland and should not be the case in Nicker school in County Limerick.

The issues I have raised make for a very unsatisfactory, sub-standard and defective working environment. They present all kinds of health and safety issues concerning the children and their welfare, especially when children are leaving the classrooms to use the toilets.

The wall in front of the school is between 18" and 24" from the ground on the inside, but there is a drop of 4 ft. on the road side. Due to the very limited play area at the back of the school, the younger children must use the area between the front of the main building and this wall. Despite the constant and watchful eyes of those on yard duty, this is an accident waiting to happen. We are concerned for the safety of the children who play in this area. We cannot tolerate putting children in danger.

The board of management has purchased a piece of land adjacent to the school. The plan is to build the extension onto the rear of the present main building and use the land that was bought as a play area. The extension will involve two mainstream classrooms, a classroom for the learning support teacher, an office, indoor toilets and a general purpose room. There is no facility to build indoor toilets unless the extension is built.

The land was purchased last February at a cost of €23,650. I congratulate the board of management on a very successful fund-raising event, which places it in a position to provide the specified local contribution for the capital works the school wishes to undertake. Alternatively, the board would be happy for the Minister to look at allocating funding under the devolved grant scheme, if that would be more suitable.

I ask the Minister to prioritise this school in the next schools building programme, because of the condition of the toilets and the prefabs and for the safety of the children.

I am taking his Adjournment debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Mary Coughlan.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the Government strategy for capital investment in education projects and to outline the current position of the application for capital funding from Nicker national school, County Limerick.

Modernising facilities in our existing building stock as well as the need to respond to the emerging needs of areas of rapid population growth is a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure that appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.

The planning and building unit in the Department of Education and Skills assesses all applications for capital funding. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need arising, based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings, site capacity, etc., and leads ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution.

The staffing level at Nicker national school comprises a principal, three mainstream teachers, one shared permanent learning support teacher and one shared permanent resource teacher. The school had an enrolment of 94 pupils in September 2009. In July 2010, the school submitted an application for grant aid for major capital works to the school building. The application is for an extensive refurbishment of the existing accommodation and an extension to provide additional classrooms, a general purpose room and other appropriate ancillary accommodation. The application is being considered and assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects. This assessment process will take account of the factors to which I have just referred.

The priority attaching to individual projects is determined by published prioritisation criteria, which were formulated following consultation with the education partners. There are four band ratings under these criteria, each of which describes the extent of accommodation required and the urgency attaching to it. Band 1 is the highest priority rating and band 4 is the lowest. Documents explaining the band-rating system are available on the website of the Department of Education and Skills. When a band rating is confirmed for this proposed project, it will be added to the list of all assessed applications for major capital works, which is also available on the website.

The progression of all large-scale building projects — including this project — from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not currently possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project.

In the interim, I can confirm that the school authority applied for funding under the summer works scheme 2010 for external works to the school. This was the category of works which the school chose to prioritise in its application. I am pleased to be able to confirm that the school's application was successful and that it received funding under the summer works scheme earlier this year. These works have now been completed and all the funding has been drawn down by the school authority. The school was also awarded contingency funding in respect of works to the building earlier in the year. I am pleased to confirm the school authority has also drawn down this funding.

I again thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position regarding the school building project for Nicker national school, County Limerick. I took note of what he said earlier and of the queries he raised in respect of this matter. I will bring his comments to the attention of the school building section.

Garda Training

The Garda college in Templemore, County Tipperary, is probably one of the best police academies in Europe if not the world. In an effort to accommodate the increasing numbers of recruits who were attending the college some years ago, a number of facilities were removed in order to put in place an accommodation block. The facilities to which I refer were used for the purposes of skills training and included a streetscape that was used as a firing range and to train officers in dealing with public order offences.

Unfortunately, the Garda Síochána is not recruiting at present. However, in 2006 the authorities in Templemore had the foresight to purchase a plot of land some miles from the college, on which facilities similar to those to which I refer were to be put in place. In the interim, the lands to which I refer have lain idle and the necessary facilities have not been put in place. The terrain at the site in question is particularly suited to training officers to use four-wheel-drive vehicles. The plot in question incorporates a mixture of terrains, including ordinary land, forestry and an area of bog. The authorities at the Garda college are of the view that it would be suited to accommodating an automated firearms range for the purposes of training.

The relevant facilities have not yet been put in place. If a streetscape such as that which previously existed were put in place, officers could be trained to deal with bank robberies, etc. With a little effort and a modicum of investment, the facilities to which I refer could be provided. Such a project would not have to be completed immediately and could proceed on a staged basis.

Will the Government provide the funding necessary to ensure the skills of members of the Garda Síochána remain at the required level? Will it provide the facilities to which I refer and which, sadly, are not currently available? The authorities at the college have put forward a plan in respect of this matter and the Office of Public Works has been working on this for a number of years. All that is missing is investment on the part of the Government. What would be involved would be an industrial-type development and the provision of some sheds. The terrain could be developed to allow for training in the handling of four-wheel-drive vehicles on normal land and through wooded areas. Will the Minister of State indicate when the required investment will be made in order that the Garda Síochána will retain its place as one of the finest police forces in the world? There is no question that it is one of the finest forces in Europe. I ask that the investment to which I refer be provided.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, to which I will respond on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern.

The Garda college is the national centre for police education and development in this country. It provides a total of 280 training courses, programmes and training interventions annually. In 2010, in excess of 13,000 members of An Garda Síochána participated in programmes at the college. The Garda College provides a significant four-wheel-drive training programme for the organisation, utilising a number of locations throughout the State including Templemore, certain military lands and the site referred to which the Deputy refers. The provision of a dedicated four-wheel-drive training circuit at this site is currently being examined by An Garda Síochána.

The Garda authorities have advised that extensive public order training is provided to members of the force by means of a multi-phase approach. This is done within the student-probationer programme, within divisions for public order teams, at operational command level for inspectors and superintendents and for public order instructors. In addition, the Garda authorities have confirmed that there has been considerable investment in the provision of firearms training facilities for members of the force in recent years. This investment has included the provision of two prefabricated modular firearms ranges, one at the Garda college and the other in the Dublin metropolitan region. These ranges are designed to facilitate live fire shooting in a carefully contained environment which adheres to all range safety requirements.

A number of firearms automated training system units are also utilised by An Garda Síochána. These have proven to be a very successful and have facilitated the development of tactical firearms training as well as traditional marksmanship training in a non-live fire environment. An Garda Síochána also has access to a number of Army ranges.

In late 2006, the Office of Public Works purchased the site referred to by the Deputy on behalf of An Garda Síochána for use as a long-term practical training centre. I am advised by the Garda authorities that plans for the further development of this site are currently being refined by the Office of Public Works. The provision of Garda accommodation, including training facilities, is progressed on the basis of An Garda Síochána's identified accommodation priorities. The further development of this site will be progressed on the basis of these priorities and in the context of available resources. The Garda authorities have reported that, in the interim, use will continue to be made of the site to facilitate training.

Water and Sewerage Schemes

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting what is an important topic for me. While it may not be of interest or importance to many people, it is extremely important to me as it pertains to the place in which I live, namely, my native village of Golden. I am highly disappointed because requests have been made for many years for a new plant to be put in place for the sewerage scheme in Golden. Although it is terrible to say this in this day and age, raw sewage is flowing freely from a pipe beside the houses in the village right into the River Suir. The village is one of the most picturesque in the country and the river otherwise also is one of the cleanest. Moreover, the farming community has made great efforts in that area to keep it clean and to do the best for the environment. However, on arrival in the village, one can see that raw sewage from houses, be they public or private, is flowing into the river.

I am very disappointed that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who speaks a lot about cleaning up the environment, is not present to listen to what I have to say. Over many years, his Department has granted money to local authorities to build houses. Although South Tipperary County Council has given planning permission for houses, that raw sewage still flows into the River Suir. I ask that a scheme be put in place to alleviate this problem. In the past, South Tipperary County Council has applied under the small capital schemes programme to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and has been quite hopeful in this regard. In fact, Golden was top of the priority list but alas, when it arrived at the aforementioned Department, it was taken out.

I am both extremely disappointed and extremely annoyed. I acknowledge that it is very late, at 11.20 p.m., to raise an issue such as this but it is an absolute disgrace to see what is happening. Over the past ten to 15 years, the Department has ignored it, even though the county council has sought to have this scheme included and dealt with. Since his election to the local authority in 1979, local councillor Councillor Michael Fitzgerald has raised this issue on a consistent basis. Nevertheless, despite his efforts and those of the engineers in the locality, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has simply turned a blind eye. This is not good enough as a considerable number of farmers in the area are involved in the REP scheme keeping clean their environment. Despite this, sewage is flowing into the river, with the blessing of the aforementioned Department. Shame on the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and shame on his absence from the Chamber to listen to what I have to say. Very few villages in Ireland could claim to have put as much effort into their community as Golden. Great effort has been put into initiatives such as the Tidy Towns competition and every aspect of village life, including development of the village, keeping the committee going and building the village infrastructure such as a new GAA field and a top-class music centre. All have been put in place and the only missing link is a sewerage scheme, which has been blocked by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I acknowledge this is not the Minister of State's area of responsibility but this is highly unfair to the people of County Tipperary and the people of Golden. If the Minister of State's response is not good enough — I understand how Adjournment debate answers are delivered — I ask him to make this issue a top priority for the Minister in the coming year.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and I have listened with interest to the Deputy's remarks.

Primary responsibility among public authorities for the protection and improvement of water quality is statutorily assigned to local authorities acting under the general supervision of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. Responsibility for the monitoring, management, protection and improvement of water quality is assigned to local authorities under the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts and related legislation. The EPA has powers to issue advice, recommendations or directions to a local authority regarding the performance by the authority of its functions in respect of environmental protection and a local authority is required to comply with such a direction. Similarly, responsibility for the provision, maintenance and operation of waste water treatment plants is a matter for the local authorities, which in this case is South Tipperary County Council.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government understands, from inquiries made of South Tipperary County Council, that there was a minor overflow from the Golden waste water treatment plant recently. The council has indicated that the occurrence was of short-term duration and related to an operational matter on which it is following up to help ensure that it will not be repeated. The Deputy may wish to liaise directly with the council with regard to the follow-up steps it is taking.

It is understood that the council is considering the provision of an upgraded waste water treatment plant at Golden under the small schemes measure of the Department's rural water programme. Responsibility for the administration of this programme, within the overall priorities set by the Department and subject to the block grant funding provided, has been devolved to local authorities since 1997. The selection and approval of the individual schemes to be progressed under the programme is therefore a matter for the relevant local authority or again, in this case, South Tipperary County Council. The Department allocated a block grant of €450,000 this year to South Tipperary County Council under the small schemes measure of the rural water programme. Almost €2 million has been provided to the council towards such schemes during the past three years.

Finally, the Waste Water Discharge (Authorisation) Regulations 2007 provide for the operation of an authorisation regime by the EPA for local authority waste water discharges. The regulations require discharges from agglomerations with population equivalents greater than 500 to be licensed. In the case of smaller agglomerations, with a population equivalent of below 500, the regulations provide that a local authority will not be authorised to permit a discharge from a waste water works without certification by the EPA. The agency is currently involved in a programme of licensing and certification in accordance with the regulations. The deadline for completion of the certification part of the programme, which commenced on 22 June 2009, is June 2011. Information on progress with this programme is available from the EPA website at www.epa.ie.

I will conclude by stating that the Minister remains fully committed to the provision of water services infrastructure in south Tipperary. Towards this end, his Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2010-2012, which was launched earlier this year, includes a range of contracts at various stages of planning and construction for south Tipperary. I hope this information is of some assistance to the Deputy.