I welcome the fact that the Minister for Education and Skills is here to take this Topical Issue and I thank him for his attendance. The issue relates to the purchase of a site for a national school in County Cork, Rochestown Educate Together national school. It is a relatively new school that was set up in 2013. It is a fabulous school under the leadership of Dr. Alan Sheehan. Having visited the school on a number of occasions, I can say that there is a palpable sense of enthusiasm within the school. They are passionate about education, but they are facing serious accommodation difficulties.
Since the school was established three years ago, staff and students have been accommodated in temporary accommodation in the grounds of Douglas Hall soccer club. They are grateful for that and it has worked reasonably well since then. However, the reality is that the school is growing rapidly and for the forthcoming school year, 2016-17, it expects to have in the region of 140 pupils attending the school so it will have to split across two campuses, Garryduff in Rochestown and the existing site. Clearly, that presents practical difficulties for parents and staff but they will get over them. The prize they are awaiting is confirmation that a site has been purchased for the permanent school building.
I am hoping the Minister can shed some light on this issue today. At the end of 2015, the school was included in an announcement by the former Minister as going to construction in 2017. It is now July 2016 and there is still no confirmation of a site being bought so that deadline is looming large on the horizon. I hope the Minister can provide some clarity on that issue.
I know from communicating with NAMA that a site of over 20 acres in the heart of Douglas is being sold by a receiver appointed by NAMA. I understand that this site is "sale agreed" with the Department of Education and Skills possibly with a view to accommodating Rochestown Educate Together national school and the new second level Educate Together school which is due to open in temporary accommodation this September. The Department will not confirm that and has informed the school that the site is not being purchased with a view to accommodating the school. I hope the Minister can provide some clarity on this issue.
I observed a Topical Issue debate last night where the Minister of State with responsibility for training and skills responded to another Deputy about a school. The Minister of State said the existing contractual commitments for 2016 now fully account for the funding that was allocated for 2016 under the previous Government and implied that no new commitments would be made in terms of school buildings as in contracts signed.
Will the Minister confirm if that is the case? Does it also relate to entering into a contractual commitment to buy sites? Will the Minister confirm if the Department is in a position to do that because the contracts are with the Department for the site in question, which is in the heart of Douglas and which the Department says it is not buying with a view to accommodating this particular school. It is sale agreed. The Department is doing work in terms of land surveying and geotesting on that site. I hope the Minister can provide clarity for the teachers, staff and parents so they can at least see a pathway to the acquisition of a site and the building of a permanent school building.