Dáil Éireann - Volume 468 - 03 July, 1996

Adjournment Debate. - Rathdrum (Wicklow) Vocational School.

Mr. Jacob: I am grateful to you for permitting me to raise this matter and to the Minister for coming in to deal with it. I do not intend to berate the Minister on this issue. On the contrary I am grateful to her for her efforts in this regard in the past.

She was good enough to meet what I would term a high-powered delegation from the constituency, comprising of the Wicklow Dáil Deputies, the manager of Wicklow County Council and the chief executive officer of the Wicklow vocational education committee. However, that was a long time ago. The Minister also graciously met me and spoke with me informally on a number of occasions, to the point where I felt I was pestering her. I am grateful for that, but we still have a problem.

I aspire in the short time available to me to highlight and outline accurately the details of the vacant vocational school property in Rathdrum, County Wicklow, what has been allowed to happen to it, what plans there are for it, how these plans have been frustrated by [466] inaction and what is needed to correct the situation.

The old vocational school in Rathdrum was vacated in December 1991 and pupils were moved to a newly built school. That was almost five years ago. Since then it has been repeatedly vandalised. Windows and doors have been broken, staircases damaged and so on. It has been set on fire on a number of occasions and the fire brigade and the Garda have been called. Young people hang around it at night, especially in summer when visitors abound, drinking and engaging in boisterous behaviour. The near neighbours are absolutely terrified.

I have one letter, which I sent to the Minister when I wrote to her some months ago, from which I will read some extracts. It states: We are writing to you in the hope that you can get the county council or the vocational education committee to do something about the old vocational school. As you know we are living right beside it. It is becoming more dangerous every day... It is no joke trying to rear young adolescents beside it... It is getting to the stage where we are afraid to sleep at night as we do not know if we are going to be broken into. We know that you understand the problem Joe as you have been trying for a long time to have the situation resolved. We hope you can convey our fears to the powers that be.

That letter was signed by Joe and Agnes Kennedy, the parents of a young and growing family.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned and bureaucracy has been fiddling, prevaricating and procrastinating for nearly five years while this school has been burned and wrecked by vandals. The local community, Wicklow County Council and the County Wicklow vocational education committee wish to see the school in the ownership of Wicklow County Council for good, constructive reasons in the public interest.

[467] The county council wants the site to provide a car park and much needed traffic easing measures. It is located on one of the main tourism roads in the county and tourism is being affected seriously by traffic congestion. The local authority is being prevented from dealing with it. The plan is to make the building available to a local committee, headed by internationally known cartoonist Mr. Terry Willers who has resided in the town for the past 25 years. This group proposes to set up a cartoon college which is an innovative measure. It will lead to the creation of a number of jobs and will maintain the building for educational purposes. It is a noble and meritorious aspiration. Wicklow County Council, the Wicklow county manager, Mr. Treacy, the chief executive officer of the vocational education committee, all the members of the vocational education committee and the entire community support these projects.

Wicklow County Council, through the county manager, made a formal offer at a fair price to the vocational education committee for this property. The vocational education committee recommended unanimously to the Department of Education that the sale of the property to the county council should go ahead. The county manager increased this offer several times and the situation remains unresolved simply because a decision will not be made by the Department of Education to authorise the vocational education committee to sell the property to the county council. The transfer by sale of public property from one public body to another for a totally meritorious reason — it is all open and transparent and endorsed by the community — should not be frustrated. I am not given to exaggerated language or sensationalism, but in any decent society and by any ordinary standards this has to be deemed a public scandal.

I know how the parliamentary mechanism which is the Adjournment debate works and I would dearly love to hear [468] good news from the Minister on this issue. I am convinced she genuinely would like to give me good news to take back to the people of Wicklow. If that is possible, I will be very grateful and pleased. If it is not I firmly believe this formidable Minister will infuse some urgency and ordinary commonsense into this situation and demand that the necessary action is taken now to ensure this sorry matter is brought to an expeditious and satisfactory conclusion.

Ms Bhreathnach: I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. It gives me an opportunity to clarify the position.

When the new vocational school was opened in Rathdrum in September 1992, the old vocational school building and site became surplus to the requirements of County Wicklow vocational education committee. However, before the property could be regarded as surplus and disposed of, the Department had to be satisfied it would not be required for any educational purposes in the foreseeable future.

A complicating factor in this case was that the sale of the old vocational school property in Rathdrum had for some time been linked to the acquisition of a school site in the Kilcoole area. It has recently been decided that the two issues should be separated and dealt with individually.

Having carried out a thorough examination, the Department is now fully satisfied that the Rathdrum property will not be required for educational use and the vocational education committee can now proceed to dispose of it. A letter confirming the position to the vocational education committee will issue later this week, with instructions regarding the disposal of the property.