Dáil Éireann - Volume 396 - 22 February, 1990

Adjournment Debate. - County Dublin Community College.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I apologise to Deputy Ryan as we have trespassed on his time to the extent of two or three minutes but I know he is capable of making that up.

Mr. Ryan: First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity of raising the issue of the lack of accommodation in September 1990 and the need for a new building at Fingal Community College in Swords. I have been persistent on this issue in the Chamber and such persistence has been demanded by the people of Swords because of the problems of overcrowding, lack of play areas and lack of car parking facilities. As a former member of the County Dublin Vocational Educational Committee, I was directly involved in negotiations with the Department going back to 1985 when sanction was given for the provision of a fourth post-primary school for Swords. In that context I was amazed to hear from the Department of Health on 16 November, in reply to a question I asked in regard to the delay in starting the new post-primary school at Fingal Community College, that Fingal Community College was accommodated in the old vocational school. The question of providing new accommodation for the college was being examined by the Department in the context of the overall long-term requirements for post-primary places in the area. No final decision had been taken on the matter to date and consequently the Minister was not in a position to say when any new building would commence.

[533] I was utterly amazed at this response and I hope it was the attitude of the officials and not the Minister. A new school building is a priority. This is a growth area. Swords has a population of 20,000 and the catchment area includes Donabate, Rolestown, St. Margaret's, Santry, etc. I hope the Minister this evening will put all that in its proper context.

The VEC's original intention was that the site should be located on Drynam Road. However, the Department rejected that in 1986 because the proposed site would join part of the proposed motorway, there were noise and lead pollution problems and aircraft using Dublin Airport. It is ironic that some three years later the same problems did not prevent planning permission being given for the development of 500 houses on the same land. What priority have educational facilities?

In 1985 Fingal College moved to the old vocational school. From September 1989 to June 1990 the 380 pupils are being accommodated in 11 prefabricated buildings on the site as well as in the major structure. The buildings take up about 98 per cent of the site area and there is no room for the children to play. The Minister will appreciate the excellent principal and teaching staff and the very patient parents connected with Fingal community college. In chaotic conditions they have achieved excellent results and parents and teachers must be commended on that. However, because they are so patient they feel they have been taken for granted, and they look at other areas where people have taken to the streets, stopped traffic, etc., thereby achieving their aims. I hope the Minister will take this on board. It is projected that next September more than 400 pupils will be attending that school.

I know negotiations have taken place in regard to valuation of the adjoining land, but I would like a commitment from the Minister this evening that the valuation problems relating to the adjoining site will be resolved as a matter of urgency and the purchase price agreed with the governors. Secondly, I would [534] like a commitment to finance for the additional prefabricated buildings for next September. We want them and we want them located on the new site. We also want space for car parking. At the moment teachers' cars are parked on the road and accidents and damage have occurred. That is not fair to the teachers.

There is a fear that the existing school assembly area could be seen by the Department as an easy way of providing additional accommodation. In no circumstances are either the Minister or her Department to consider using this assembly area for classrooms.

I ask the Minister for a commitment that finance will be made available to build this much needed school for Swords. I ask her to see that the Department and the VEC come together on this. This school is very restricted and it has roads all around it. This matter has been going on for six years, so I ask that there be no further delays. The people of north County Dublin, the parents and teachers at the school, demand better than they are getting and they are looking to me, as their public representative, and to the Minister to deliver on this.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair notes the consideration of Deputy Ryan and especially of the Minister in the matter of the rearrangement of the schedule.

Minister for Education (Mrs. O'Rourke): Thank you, Sir, for the courteous way in which you have handled this half hour of business. I commend Deputy Ryan's tenacity. He has asked for this debate on so many occasions, I thought we were never going to get together, so to speak. Now we have done so, but as we are in public we will be very restrained.

Deputy Ryan has brought before the House this evening the question of St. Fingal's College, Swords. This matter has been going on for six years, as he said. Without castigating him, let me gently remind him that three of those years his party were in Government, but I do not intend to make a point of that.

In November 1987 we agreed a price. [535] Deputy Ryan knows that and I want to put it in context. We were willing to pay the price. There is no point telling what it was as the Deputy obviously knows it. The lands we are buying, which adjoin the site of the old vocational school, are subject to an endowment fund and because of this consent for the disposal of the site to me by the governors has to be obtained from the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland. The governors refused the request on 20 June of last year. The Department appealed via the Chief State Solicitor's Office. The Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests — they do not seem too charitable — turned that appeal down on 21 November 1989. The solicitors for the governors considered the reason for the refusal was that they wanted much more money.

Three weeks ago the Valuation Office were asked to put what they would consider an equitable value upon the land. The building unit of my Department contacted the Valuation Office in the last week and the Valuation Office tell us they will be coming back with the views of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests within the next few days. I put that in context because of Deputy Ryan's strong request that I give a commitment to hassle the Valuation Office and various other parties. We have continued to do that but we are effectively not so much in the hands of the Valuation Office — they have come forward with a price — but of the other body to whom we will be beholden if we get the site at all, and at what price we do not know.

Education has been carried on in the college very satisfactorily and successfully. I hold County Dublin VEC in high regard. They are a growth VEC who have been pioneers in the type of courses they run, in particular post-leaving certificate courses. The development of Fingal college in Swords is very important and I am as anxious as Deputy Ryan to get the impediments cleared as quickly as possible. We are harrying all we can [536] and I hope within a very short period that the permission to sell, and the price, will be agreed. Once that happens I will be able to give a commitment to provide the necessary accommodation, albeit for a short term, for the students next September and the other matters the Deputy spoke of. The Department and the VEC will get together to work on that as soon as possible. My ministerial colleague, who is not here now because he is abroad on official business, has spoken to me quite strongly about this, as is his wont when he is anxious about a matter. The tenacity with which Deputy Ryan has pursued this in the Dáil deserves its own reward.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: What about Deputy Nora Owen?

Mrs. O'Rourke: I am quite sure Deputy Owen is anxious about this too but she is not here. The number of pupils attending the school in September will be 400, and it is still ag fás. I undertake to get back to Deputy Ryan as soon as we get permission from the commissioners to buy and the price is agreed.

Mr. Ryan: We can project that the interim arrangement will be sorted out. Has a commitment been given by the Government that money will be made available for this school?

Mrs. O'Rourke: That is not the problem. The second level programme is a global provision, not an itemised one. The arrangement of the components of primary and post-primary is a matter for myself and the Department. How can the Government allocate separately to every school? That is for me and my officials to sort out. Therefore I cannot give a commitment until we get over this jump first, which is outside my scope, but I am trying to get the matter addressed. If the Deputy has some influence with this body perhaps he can put some pressure on them.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.32 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 27 February 1990.