Thursday, 1 February 2018

Ceisteanna (7)

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

7. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the provision of sites for buildings for non-denominational schools in south Fingal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4655/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

My question relates primarily to the provision of school sites in the southern part of Fingal where there was a designation for a primary and secondary non-denominational school as far back as four years ago. Unfortunately, the primary school is operating in a temporary location while the secondary school which was supposed to open last September has no site at all, let alone a temporary one. On behalf of my constituency, I ask for information as to where we are in this process.

My Department has been seeking to acquire suitable permanent sites in the area for some time. In accordance with the memorandum of understanding, my Department continues to work with officials in Fingal County Council to identify and acquire school sites and this process is ongoing. A new site has recently been procured in Mooretown, Swords, and a building project is planned which will provide permanent accommodation for Swords Community College in due course. I am not in a position to provide further details at this time in respect of the schools in Malahide-Portmarnock due to the commercial sensitivities associated with land acquisitions generally. I can, however, assure the Deputy that the provision of sites for schools is a priority for the Department. My Department is in communication with the respective patron bodies in respect of interim accommodation arrangements pending delivery of permanent accommodation.

The Educate Together national school for Malahide-Portmarnock is currently operating 4.5 km from both communities. While that might not seem too far if one is outside Dublin, it is a very significant distance in an urban environment, in particular given traffic on the Malahide Road. It is also accommodated in an unsuitable facility which is in effect a former third-level agricultural college. We are expending considerable moneys to facilitate the school there. The difficulty is that there is considerable demand for that particular school which is growing at a significant rate. However, it is growing in the wrong community and it is not serving the community for which it was designated.

The secondary school has a school principal but no school building. It was supposed to open last year. While I appreciate the sensitivities around land acquisition, the Mooretown site was identified by myself and other councillors over a decade ago, but we are no further along the road of identifying a site that can be acquired in the Malahide-Portmarnock community area. I appreciate that the Department has particular budgetary constraints but if we designate an area for a non-denominational school, we have to back it up with the purchase of a site. I cannot understand how we are no further along three years later with the secondary school delayed and no site for the primary school.

I understand the Deputy's difficulty with this. The Malahide-Portmarnock Educate Together primary school has six classes accommodated in the Teagasc building in Kinsealy.

There was an evaluation of sites but they ultimately proved unviable. A potential permanent site has been identified and is being progressed in respect of the secondary school. In both cases the Department must work with others to bring the project ashore. That is what is being done. It is working with Fingal and the interests concerned to try to meet this demand. It is a difficult area, and this is something we are finding in the city area where potential sites are scarce and difficult to come by but the Department is actively working on the procurement of sites for the two schools.

I do not want to seem as though I am being very critical. I commend the work and the commitment that is there but according to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, we have significant growth in the two communities and the demand for schooling places is now critical in Malahide and Portmarnock, especially at second level. There is a commitment to deliver a new school for Portmarnock by way of a new school building for Portmarnock community school but that commitment must be delivered on now. We identified Malahide-Portmarnock as requiring a non-denominational school. The Department of Education and Skills did that identification. That process began in 2012 and now, in 2018, we still do not have a site. I welcome the fact that the school is operational. We have a significant difficulty with secondary education. I want to float an idea-----

I will do so very quickly. We have two Educate Together schools designated for the general community. Should they not share a site? Were we to co-locate both schools, it would save taxpayers a considerable sum and would offer great opportunities for the Educate Together patron body to get a foothold in the Portmarnock and Malahide area where there is great demand.

The Department works with the patron body and keeps it informed of everything it seeks to do in these areas. I understand that separate sites are identified for these two schools that are being progressed and I shudder to suggest that we should scrap the progress that has been made and come up with another approach. I fear that would delay the project. I do not have the detailed knowledge of the issues being negotiated for the very reason that they are commercially sensitive and are being negotiated with the individuals. My knowledge is that two sites are being progressed and the Department is working in good faith to bring those to conclusion. I will not suggest that we pull back on what is in progress unless the patron body makes a clear case to the Department that it would improve delivery. I appreciate the Deputy's suggestion but I am not going to endorse it.

It is not the first time I have raised it.