I propose to take Questions Nos. 469, 481 and 482 together.
In accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, it is the responsibility of school management authorities to have a safety statement in place in their schools. Schools are obliged to identify possible hazards, assess the risks to health and safety and put appropriate safeguards in place. Individual school authorities are responsible, in the first instance, for ensuring the safety and welfare of children and others in their care.
The demand for additional accommodation in schools has risen significantly in recent years mainly due to the rapid expansion in teacher numbers, particularly in the area of special needs, the growth in the school-going population in rapidly developing areas and the demands to cater for diversity through the recognition of new gaelscoileanna and Educate Together schools.
Between 1998 and 2004, almost €2 billion has been invested on primary and post-primary educational infrastructure on 7,500 individual building projects, site purchases, dust-asbestos and radon remediation programmes, science initiatives, contingency, furniture and equipment. The current focus within my Department is to empower schools to resolve their accommodation needs, wherever possible, in a permanent manner rather than relying on temporary accommodation. In order to reduce the amount of temporary accommodation at primary level a new initiative was launched in 2003. The purpose of this initiative is to allow primary schools to undertake a permanent solution to their classroom accommodation needs and to achieve the best value for money. The feedback from the 20 schools in this pilot of the initiative was very positive and the initiative was expanded to include 44 additional primary schools in 2004. Over 70 schools have been invited to participate in this initiative in 2005.
My Department has also used other innovative solutions to deliver urgently required permanent accommodation for schools in rapidly developing areas. An example of this is the new 16 classroom primary school for the Griffeen Valley Educate Together national school, Lucan, which was delivered through the use of a design and build contract within 13 months.
The Government remains committed to continuing the work that it started and to consolidating the substantial progress that has already been made in order to ensure that the needs of schools throughout the country are met over time. Proof of this commitment is that this year's school building programme is the largest in the history of the State. Out of an overall capital budget of €493 million for schools, €270 million is available for primary school investment.