Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Brexit Negotiations

Thomas Byrne


27. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will report on preparedness for a no-deal scenario in Brexit negotiations in his Department. [2981/19]

As of today, 26 sitting days remain until 29 March. As well as our economic prosperity, all-island economy and relationships with our young people and among themselves, our students stand to be dramatically affected by Brexit. While there were some stakeholder engagements with the Department of Education and Skills some time ago, we have not heard much about the plans for the education system.

Coming from a Border county, a no-deal Brexit is the worst possible outcome and would not be in the interests of the UK, Ireland or the EU. While I, along with my Cabinet colleagues, continue to watch developments in the UK closely, my Department continues work to prepare for the UK’s exit. This work, at national and EU level, continues to intensify, taking account of all possible outcomes.

Central to all planning scenarios, the maintenance of rights and privileges under the common travel area, CTA, will protect much of the valuable and rich co-operation which takes place between education on a North-South and an east-west basis. My officials have engaged with colleagues in the Department for Education in the UK on a set of principles which are designed to maintain and build on this co-operation. I am working closely with my Cabinet colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, to conclude this process. It is important to note that, notwithstanding the type of Brexit, the CTA will be in place.

Naturally, I do not wish for a disorderly Brexit, but prudently, I am preparing for this. As part of my Department’s contribution to the Government contingency action plan, an amendment to the Student Support Act 2011 has now been included as one of the parts of the proposed miscellaneous provisions (withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill. This will facilitate the continued payment of SUSI grants to Irish students attending UK and Northern Irish higher education institutions and to UK and Northern Irish students studying in Irish higher education institutions.

As well as that amendment, I also recently announced that EU fees would continue to apply to UK and Northern Irish students for the 2019-2020 academic year. This brings certainty to UK and Northern Irish students who can be assured that the EU fees will apply for the duration of their studies in Ireland. However, equally important, both of these actions will ensure that Irish school leavers seeking to pursue their higher education in the UK and Northern Ireland will have certainty as they are making their CAO or UCAS choices at this time.

My Department will continue to monitor all Brexit developments carefully. I can assure all stakeholders in education that the contingency planning is being constantly refined to reduce risks arising from Brexit substantially.

I will leave the memorandum of understanding to my colleagues who deal with Brexit and foreign affairs. However, we want legal certainty for students. A year and a half ago, I and my party suggested that we would unilaterally say that, at the very least, students resident in Northern Ireland would qualify indefinitely. Why can we not simply say that students resident in the North, as well as in the UK, will be entitled to the same status as every other Irish and EU student for the foreseeable future? We believe that would send out a positive signal and, in all likelihood, would be reciprocated. It would at least ensure that there is no hard educational border on this island for students.

I note the changes which will be made to the SUSI legislation, which has to happen. Will the bilateral agreement that the Department has in place remain regardless of the Brexit negotiations? Will any aspect of this bilateral agreement or the memorandum of understanding have to be legislated for? If so, will it have to be done before 29 March? What is the status of the memorandum of understanding in the context of a British crash-out and the EU stating it does not agree to aspects of it? Does it have to be run past the EU?

I agree with the Deputy on bringing certainty to these matters. We are already in the first fortnight in January and students in Northern Ireland do not have certainty. It is not good enough if we are going to look at long-term planning or long-term commitments to North-South co-operation as well as the movement of people. Statistics show that the number of students from the South going North has gone down over the past five years. However, the number of students coming from the North to study in the Republic is going up. At the same time, we have to give a little more certainty. People do not live in six-month, nine-month or 12 month vacuums. Students who are doing their junior certificate or their GCSEs are in that space of thinking ahead to where they will get their university education.

I aim to work with the Deputy on that point.

The Deputy asked about guarantees in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I suppose the honest answer is we do not have any guarantees of any variety in the space in which we find ourselves. My officials and I, with the Cabinet as a collective, are trying to control what we can with these omnibus Bills. The free fees aspect of the matter is outside legislation and will be covered by an administrative or policy change. Over 200 students are in the Irish SUSI system this year from the United Kingdom and nearly 1,500 students are getting grants in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, so we must ensure that aspect is protected at all costs.

The Minister has critiqued the decision he made last week simply to give certainty for this year. He said he agreed with me and would work with me on the issue. As the Minister said, this is an administrative measure and I urge him strongly to take a unilateral administrative decision to allow students from Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom the same status as Irish and EU citizens from now on, whatever academic year in which they start. It would be really positive and it would not be any skin off anybody else's nose but it would certainly indicate our education system is open and we do not want a hard border. Fianna Fáil suggested this a year and a half ago and I simply cannot understand why it is done on an ad hoc basis every year.

If a person is thinking of going to university in his or her own jurisdiction, that person may make a late decision. If the person is thinking of going to a different jurisdiction, the decision will not be made six weeks before the Central Applications Office, CAO, deadline, and it will not be made just because the Minister has made this decision in January. I suspect anybody thinking of coming to the South or from Britain would have made such a decision some time ago. Perhaps the Minister's announcement would have been too late. If he had taken Fianna Fáil's proposal, this would not have been an issue at all.

Let us see what we can do in the space. For example, the University of Edinburgh announces measures one year at a time and I know a student who is looking to go to the Netherlands, with that decision possibly taken two years ago. Let us look at the creative space in which we can allow ourselves to work, whether it is on a North-South or east-west basis. I am prepared to work with the Deputy on that.

Special Educational Needs Staff

Kathleen Funchion


28. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills if consideration will be given to working with the Teaching Council to propose a specific special education teacher category to register with the council in view of the increasing number of autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units being established in primary schools nationally and the increase in the number of children being diagnosed with autism nationally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2765/19]

Given the increasing number of autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units being established in primary schools throughout the State and the increase in the numbers of children being diagnosed with autism nationally, would the Minister consider working with the Teaching Council to propose a specific special education teacher category for registration with the Teaching Council? This comes from many special needs assistants in the sector who wish to qualify as special education teachers.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The Teaching Council is the body with statutory responsibility for the regulation of the teaching profession, including the registration of teachers in Ireland. The Teaching Council (Registration) Regulations 2016 set out the requirements to be registered as a teacher in Ireland. Under these regulations there are four defined routes to registration, namely primary, post-primary, further education and other routes. My Department has no plans to amend the Teaching Council (Registration) Regulations 2016 to include a special education teacher category.

Under section 38 of the Teaching Council Act, all initial teacher education programmes in Ireland that lead to registration must have professional accreditation from the Teaching Council in accordance with the criteria and guidelines for programme providers published in June 2011 and revised in March 2017. Under the council’s criteria for initial teacher education, student teachers in all accredited programmes are required to undertake study in inclusive education, including special education. Schools should endeavour to assign experienced teachers to special classes with appropriate qualifications and, wherever possible, a background in working with students with special educational needs. Schools should also be proactive in meeting the continuing professional development needs of their special class teachers, in addition to developing and reviewing their whole school polices in the education and inclusion of students with special educational needs. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, support service delivers a range of professional development initiatives and support for teachers working with students with special educational needs in special classes. Schools planning to open special class provision should contact the NCSE support service as soon as they receive their letter of sanction in order to facilitate planning for training of teachers.

I thank the Minister. It is disappointing that the Minister has specifically ruled out even considering this as an option. We all know there has been a massive increase in the number of children with additional needs and autism in particular. We know the difficulties they face and I certainly raise it regularly, as the Minister is aware at this stage. There is a constant effort by parents to get these children into ASD units.

A specific special education teacher category would help to address such issues, including the hiring of appropriate staff. It would also help the Department. If a special needs assistant, SNA, wishes to become a special education teacher, there are currently only two options open to that person. He or she can enrol on the level 8 degree with St. Nicholas Montessori College, which is bizarre, or the Hibernia College master's programme. This must be looked at, along with the general way the Teaching Council approaches everything, including the length of time it takes for student teachers to get a number. That can take up to six months. The council's approach, unfortunately, does not seem to be one of encouragement or assistance when SNAs seek advice on how to progress and become a special education teacher. It is why I am raising the matter.

This is an area in which I have a massive interest as well. The investment this year alone in the special educational needs area will be approximately €1.75 billion, which is a 44% increase since 2011. Special classes numbers have gone from just under 500 to approximately 1,500 and we still have a long way to go. I know from parliamentary questions and letters that there is a massive pressure for additional ASD units, and I am very conscious of the fact we need to do more. I am also very conscious that there is a cohort of people in the SNA sector, as referenced by the Deputy, and 16,000 SNAs will work in the system this year. They are waiting on the implementation of recommendations from the recent SNA review. I met with the Ulster-Connacht division two weekends ago and I committed to trying to complete that as soon as possible. I will deal with that personally.

With regard to training, my confidence lies in the social inclusion and special needs aspect of teacher training. I am also conscious that SNAs have very much been part of the wonderful journey taken so far that has led to a success story. I know they have more to give and that is why we must consider the recommendations for continuous professional development for them.

In fairness, I know the Minister has an interest in the area and it is part of the reason I have raised the matter with him. There have been obvious improvements with the increase in the number of ASD units. As the Minister has stated and we know from representations made to us, this is currently not enough. For a special needs assistant to complete the Hibernia College master's degree, according to a stipulation from the Department since 2012, he or she must take a career break of two years, with the degree programme costing €15,000 for the full-time course. The reality is most people cannot afford to do it and it suits people to do it on a part-time basis. The other option from the St. Nicholas Montessori College seems out of sync with the rest of the Department of Education and Skills.

My question is specifically about the Teaching Council categorisation and I urge the Minister even to consider the possibility of reviewing it. We need to be inclusive in schools and I am the biggest advocate of that. We must also acknowledge that there are very specific and specialised needs for children with additional needs. It might be time for the Department to introduce a specific course for teachers who will work with children in ASD units. The Minister mentioned earlier that schools should endeavour to get the most suitable staff but that is not always possible. If a course existed, people with an interest in the area would be funnelled into those positions.

I am certainly happy to look at this to see how we can improve and what supports we can provide for SNAs who are willing to retrain and re-skill, which is really important. I will be working very closely on the very good recommendations made in the SNA review.

I am challenging myself on the language we use regarding autism. I met AsIAm before Christmas and my officials since. On inclusiveness, are we using the proper titles? Even a term like "ASD unit" has all sorts of connotation; perhaps, therefore, it is time to really look at the language we use. I constantly use the term children or young people with autism, which is also wrong. They are autistic; it is not something that will be here today and gone tomorrow. I will work closely with the representative groups, but I would also like to hear Deputies' viewpoints on our use of language, even in the circulars I issue. I know that my officials are very conscious of this issue. It is a class, not a unit. It is not a disorder; rather, it is something people are born with. With the proper supports and services, they will get through life as well as anybody else who is not autistic.

School Staff

Thomas Byrne


29. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills when talks will commence with representatives of school secretaries as recommended by the Workplace Relations Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3026/19]

When will talks commence with representatives of school secretaries, as recommended by the Workplace Relations Commission? There was an adjudication a number of years ago between the Department, school secretaries and their respective unions. The adjudication recommended a four-year plan and that talks commence this year. When will those talks commence?

I thank the Deputy for this question about an issue that is close to my heart. While in opposition I highlighted the important role played by school secretaries. As somebody who worked in a secondary school, I realise the burden they are under and the important role they play. I recognise the very important work done by them and other support staff in the running of schools and I am grateful to them for the contribution they make to the education system. I have spoken to a number of school secretaries about their employment conditions.

Schemes were initiated in 1978 and 1979 for the employment of clerical officers and caretakers in schools. The schemes were withdrawn completely in 2008. They have been superseded by the more extensive capitation grant schemes. The current grant scheme was agreed to in the context of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress which was published in 1991. The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools now receive assistance to provide for secretarial, caretaking and cleaning services under the grant schemes. It is a matter for each individual school to decide how best to apply the grant funding to suit its particular needs. Where a school uses the grant funding for caretaking or secretarial purposes, staff taken on to support these functions are employees of individual schools. Specific responsibility for pay and conditions rests with the school.

On foot of a chairman's note to the Lansdowne Road agreement, my Department engaged with the unions representing school secretaries and caretakers, including through an independent arbitration process in 2015. The arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period. The arbitration agreement covers the period up to 31 December 2019. It was designed to be of greatest benefit to lower paid secretaries and caretakers. For example, a secretary or caretaker who was paid the then minimum wage of €8.65 per hour in 2015 prior to the arbitration agreement will, from 1 January 2019, be paid €13 per hour, a 50% increase in that individual's hourly pay rate. Following the arbitration process, grant funding used by schools to fund the salaries of ancillary staff was improved to enable schools to implement the arbitration process outcome. My officials have advised me that the Workplace Relations Commission has not been in communication with them on this matter. If the representative organisations of the secretaries contact the Workplace Relations Commission, my officials will be a position to deal appropriately with it.

I do not understand the last point because my reading of the adjudication was that talks should commence this year. As the matter has already been adjudicated on, it is about the Minister and Fórsa agreeing to meet this year. That is what the adjudication states - that the Minister and the union should meet this year prior to the plan running out at the end of the year. When will the talks happen? The truth is that school secretaries are part of a two-tier arrangement. There are school secretaries who are on a contract from many years ago, while others in education and training board schools, particularly those in primary schools, are education and training board staff with pensionable jobs. What is happening - this is a point made forcefully by the unions - is that there are competitions for the patronage of schools, including schools in Dunshaughlin in my constituency where the education and training board is a competitor patron. If the education and training board is awarded patronage, its secretary will be paid directly from the State's resources as a State employee and have a pensionable job, but if one of the other competitors is granted patronage, the secretary in the school will not have that privilege. It is a crazy situation that must end. When will the talks start? They are mandated to take place as part of the adjudication dating from 2015.

I do not have a specific date. Communication has now been initiated between the representative organisation and the Workplace Relations Commission and my officials are happy to work with them. I will be happy if it happens sooner rather than later. I am also conscious of the fact that there have been so many anomalies in the schemes over the years, including the 1978 and 1979 schemes. The scheme was not supposed to continue for as long as it did. When retirements occurred or people left their jobs, they were replaced for a period, but that stopped in 2008. We have had different provisions for school secretaries and there are anomalies. It is something of which I am very conscious and I am of the same opinion as the Deputy on the need for the conversation to start sooner rather than later because the arbitration agreement covers the period up to 31 December 2019.

With respect, I am not looking for the Minister's opinion. I am certainly happy to work with him, but it is not necessary in this case. What is necessary is for him to make a decision. The arbitration decision states the parties should in the course of 2019 engage to consider the nature of an agreement to apply with effect from 1 January 2020. It is not unreasonable of me, therefore, to ask the Minister when the talks will begin. I do not think anybody needs to contact the Workplace Relations Commission. Contact should be made between the Department and the unions and it should happen as soon as possible. If the unions cannot get anywhere with the Minister, perhaps they might go to the Workplace Relations Commission, but the decision needs to be made as to when the Minister will decide to start talks. The matter has already been adjudicated on and it needs to happen this year.

I appreciate the Deputy's insistence that the talks start straightaway, but it also requires people to talk. I met the union representative group in County Donegal two weekends ago. They were very generous in letting me know that they were going to start a campaign the following week. It only started within the past ten days and the group knows what it wants to do. I support people in sitting around a table and talking to each other, but, obviously, contact between the representative groups must be made. Tá an doras ar oscailt.

Junior Cycle Reform

Kathleen Funchion


30. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on whether the proposal to remove history and geography from the core curriculum at junior cycle is a progressive development for future generations of schoolchildren; the type of consultation that has taken place in the development of this proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2766/19]

How was the proposal to remove history and geography from the core curriculum at junior cycle arrived at; what consultation has taken place to date in the development of the proposal; and does the Minister believe it would be a positive step in the education system, if pursued?

Since arriving in the Department, I have spoken publicly about how vital it is that young people learn from the past in order that they can plan for the future. At a national, European and international level, it has never been more important for people to understand the lessons of history. As we face the very difficult challenges of Brexit, while also addressing the many aspects of the War of Independence and the Civil War, the decade of commemorations will question the importance of understanding the historical context.

I have met officials of the NCCA and asked that a review of the optional nature of history under the new framework for the junior cycle be carried out. I expect to receive a report from the NCCA by the end of the first quarter of this year.

Prior to the introduction of the framework for the junior cycle, history and geography were core subjects only in voluntary secondary schools, which make up 52% of schools. However, it is important to note that currently 90% of students across all school types choose to study history and that 92% choose to study geography at junior certificate level.

The new junior certificate programme has greatly enlivened subjects, with a new emphasis on projects and self-directed learning. As part of the roll-out of the new framework for the junior cycle, history and geography were introduced to schools in September 2018. The minimum time allocated for the teaching of history and geography is 200 hours over the three years of the junior cycle programme, which is the equivalent of three 40-minute periods per week. I understand that for many schools this will lead to increased time provision for the teaching of history and geography.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but I am concerned. In general, I do not like the idea of anything being mandatory, particularly in education. I would love to do many things in the education system differently. Currently, Irish, English and maths are mandatory subjects. The Minister has mentioned that a report will be presented in the first quarter of this year. I am interested in knowing what will happen next because I am concerned that, if priority is not given in the junior cycle programme, the number of students taking history at leaving certificate level will be substantially reduced and that, ultimately, the number pursuing the subject at higher level will be decreased. In Britain the subject is currently only available as an elective to those aged 16 years and just 40% of students elect to take it.

As the Minister made reference to it, just as important as our national history, which it is important to know - it is particularly apt that we are discussing this issue the day after the events celebrating an Chéad Dáil - is international history. I am particularly concerned about the teaching of history in looking at Brexit and all of the different things happening throughout the world. I also mentioned geography, but I am particularly concerned that if there is an option, students might sometimes think history is boring and choose to opt out of taking it. It can actually be a good and exciting subject when taught correctly.

In the first part of her question the Deputy asked what would happen next. At the end of the first quarter of this year the NCCA will report. I am conscious that it has a decision to make and I do not want to predetermine the outcome. I have met the NCCA, my officials and many individuals and groups on the teaching of history. One of the motivations in having Irish, English and maths as core subjects in the junior certificate programme is that they benefit literacy and numeracy, but no subject is of more benefit to one's literacy than history. It is of benefit to one's research skills and in analytical and critical analysis. The Deputy is correct in pointing out that if fewer students take history at junior certificate level, the potential and propensity to take it at honours level in the leaving certificate examinations will decline. There is a little time to work through the issue. I have also asked for the curriculum to be looked at. Perhaps it could even include stair na teanga, the history of the Irish language, which takes us back 3,500 years and can open a lot of doors in respect of our placenames and who we are as a people. I hope that now in the decade of commemorations, the time has come for history to take its rightful place.

I welcome the Minister's response because he seems to be quite positive about the subject. I certainly support his comments on the history of the language. I am not fluent sa Ghaeilge. I wish I had studied it a little more at school. It is certainly something which should also be looked at. If one looks at the recent centenary celebrations in 2016, at how much children bought into them and they learned in school, it shows that the teaching of history can be very beneficial and helpful and it would be a real shame to lose it. We do not want it to be a case of fee-paying against non-fee-paying schools. We do not want it to become an elitist subject, where only those attending fee-paying schools will have the option to study history. I welcome the Minister's points because he seems to be quite supportive of the idea of keeping history and geography as core subjects and promoting and supporting them more. As I said, sometimes history can be viewed as not the most exciting of subjects, but that is a bit of a myth. If it was promoted differently, there would be a greater uptake and more students would take an interest in it.

On the Deputy's reference to the Irish language, there is a lovely seanfhocal, with which the Ceann Comhairle will be familiar - ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine, which means that we live in one another's shadow. We are living in the shadow of the people who went before us. Tá dualgas don chéad ghlúin eile orainn. We have a responsibility to the next generation. Whether in respect of cultúr, teanga ná oidhreacht, we have that responsibility. In the evolving and fast-changing society in which we live, taking a step back and reflecting can be more important than ever. Táim dóchasach go mbeidh an comhrá faoin ábhar seo dearfach.

Schools Building Projects

Joan Burton


31. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills the location and size of the site for a school (details supplied); when works will commence on the site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2755/19]

Will the Minister confirm the size of the site acquired for the Edmund Rice college on the site of the Phoenix Park racecourse adjacent to the local GAA club, St. Brigid's? Will he confirm when work is likely to commence on the site? Has it been formally acquired? Will there be an agreement to take up the very kind offer of St. Brigid's GAA Club to share sports facilities and, perhaps, other facilities with the school on the site of the Phoenix Park racecourse?

I thank the Deputy for the question. As she will be aware, a building project to deliver permanent accommodation for Edmund Rice College Carpenterstown-Castleknock is included in my Department’s six-year construction programme and will be delivered under my Department's 2020 design and build programme. It is intended to provide the new school building on a site of approximately six acres at the former Phoenix Park racecourse at Castleknock. Work on completing the transfer of the site into my ownership is under way.

A project brief in respect of the school is being finalised and a tender competition is already in progress to appoint the project management team for the 2020 and 2021 design and build programme, of which the project forms part. The tender competition is expected to be completed by March. When appointed, the project manager will lodge an application for planning permission and progress the project through the relevant stages of architectural planning, tender and construction.

My Department is working to deliver the school's permanent accommodation at the earliest possible date. In the interim, since September 2018, the school has been based at the former Institute of Horology property, Mill Road, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, on a temporary basis.

First, residents and parents in the area will welcome the news that what we have known for some time has finally been confirmed and that acquisition of the site is under way. There has been massive concern both this year and last year about the lack of second level school places in Dublin 15, Castleknock and areas around Ongar. I know that the Minister was only recently appointed, but since the Government took office, we have gone back to numbers in respect of a crisis that we have not seen for more than seven years. There is a lot of ground to be made up.

On the Minister's reference to a design and build contract, we had a discussion here about the unfortunate events that happened in Tyrrelstown. According to the analysis offered to me by various people involved in building and construction, design and build is not the best model because it means that the architects and the building company that will carry out construction are one and the same. This means that there may not be the necessary oversight. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure the quality of the build and design in order that the unfortunate events in Tyrrelstown will not be repeated?

In her previous contribution, Deputy Burton asked about St. Brigid's GAA club, to which I meant to refer. With regard to playing pitches, in line with all new schools, there will be a high standard of sports facilities on site. Furthermore, it is intended that a public playing pitch will form part of the wider development in the area. The proposed school site is adjacent to St. Brigid's GAA club but any access by a school to off-site facilities is typically by local arrangement. I am sure that the relationship between the school and the GAA club is a conversation that will go on between them. The new school, however, will have plenty of sports pitches.

On the question on trying to deal with the population explosion, we are managing that. This is why we used GIS to identify 42 new schools for areas where there will be pressures. In addition, up to 40% of additional accommodation will be provided by existing schools. There is a great emphasis on forward planning within the Department to ensure this happens.

The Deputy also asked what we can do to ensure that we do not make the mistakes of the past such as not having proper insight into what was happening on a building site. We now have a clerk of works on every one of these sites and that will continue. It is important that this happens but ultimately it is a question that faces everybody who builds in the private and public sectors as ultimately, the designers and contractors have full responsibility in ensuring the buildings they build are safe and fit for purpose.

Perhaps the Minister could clarify that. He has described it as a design and build contract. After we found out about the Tyrrelstown school issues, all of the experts told us it would be much better if there was an independent architect and design area and for the contractor to be separate. When they were wrapped up together, as was the case with Western Building Systems, it seemed to pose a very high risk in respect of the enormous difficulties and the huge work and cost the Department has incurred. How is this different from what happened then? The Minister is using the same description.

On St. Brigid's GAA club I am glad to hear that the Department has a very positive attitude to co-operation between St. Brigid's and Edmund Rice College.

To be clear, it is not the Department, it is the school that is co-operating.

This is what I want to ask the Minister. The six-acre site is a very small site. Is the Minister saying that the school will have to enter into an entirely separate agreement with the GAA? Alternatively, does the Department expect to fund any costs that might arise as a consequence of the school being able to avail of that fabulous local GAA club? They are being very generous in offering this but I do not believe that anybody would like to see them severely out of pocket as a consequence. There may be costs involved.

The only thing I will say with regard to St. Brigid's is that the new site is adjacent to it and like every local parish or community, there are competent people in these organisations who will talk to one another. If there are any issues that need to be resolved, no doubt they will overcome them.

Design-build-operate contracts build good schools if they are built in the right way. It happens throughout the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government also with different types of rapid-build programmes. They work if they are built and done in the proper fashion. Since the introduction of the new building control legislation, we have had a clerk of works on every site. We will ensure that from the day the first sod is turned on this school, there will be a clerk of works on that site.