Dáil Éireann - Volume 586 - 26 May, 2004

Adjournment Debate. - School Accommodation.

  Ms Enright:I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera. I know she does not have direct responsibility for the school building programme and I regret the other Minister has left. Like me, he has had a long day here.

This is a very urgent issue. Gaelscoil Portlaoise was established in 1998 and was granted official recognition shortly afterwards. Since then it has been in a number of different locations, with ensuing problems. There are 30 junior infants enrolled for next September so it will have a total enrolment of 175 pupils. At one stage it was located in the prison officers’ club but it is now located in the Portlaoise GAA Centre.

There is a problem with the provision of education at both primary and post-primary levels in Portlaoise town in general, with schools at both levels being overcrowded, unsuitable or in poor condition. I have put down parliamentary questions on this matter but I am constantly told that the schools will be considered in light of the McCarthy report, with which the Minister of State is probably familiar. It is famous in County Laois. The Minister told me yesterday that his officials are concentrating on the needs of national schools in the town and while I welcome that development, those involved in the post-primary sector do not feel those problems have been resolved. The Minister stated that there are adequate primary school places, but unfortunately I cannot judge that. I put down a parliamentary question on this issue and the reply I received yesterday was that due to the resources required the Minister could not give me that information unless I specified exactly what I wanted.

It is clear that the provision for Gaelscoil Portlaoise is inadequate, and the situation is the same for Emo national school, which is down the road. The school sought development costs for a site at Midland Dairies 18 months ago and parents agreed to raise funds to defray some of the Department’s costs. This site fell through because there was no decision from the Department even after planning permission was granted. Since August 2003 another application has been with the Department.

The school is currently housed in the GAA centre and while the GAA has been very obliging, the school is effectively operating in a licensed premises. The planning permission for this arrangement is temporary and ends in June, as does the lease. This is a very urgent issue. There is a proposal before Laois County Council next Monday which seeks to rezone land for housing and educational purposes, and naturally councillors are reluctant to rezone more houses unless there is sufficient educational provision to go along with them, which is a common-sense approach on their part. However, there have been no guarantees from the Department that temporary accommodation will be provided at this location at this time. They want to move to temporary accommodation on this site because they can be guaranteed it is for educational purposes and they will not be in a prison officers’ club or a GAA centre.

A letter was given to the Minister. The developer has agreed to charge only what the GAA charges. Therefore, the cost to the Department will not impose any extra burden. Given that this is an extremely urgent matter I look forward to the Minister of State’s reply. I cannot stress enough that this gaelscoil needs to have a guarantee in regard to temporary accommodation from September next. In the long term, like other schools in Portlaoise, it needs to know, aside from the McCarthy plans, what the Department’s plans are for the provision of education in the town.

  Miss de Valera:I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides [735] me with an opportunity to outline to this House the current position regarding plans for the long-term accommodation of Gaelscoil Portlaoise.

Gaelscoil Portlaoise was established with provisional recognition from the Department in September 1998 to cater for the demand in the Portlaoise area for primary education through the medium of Irish. The school was granted permanent recognition in September 2000. It has a current enrolment of 135 pupils and it has a staffing level of a principal and four classroom assistants.

The school is currently located in temporary accommodation on the grounds of Portlaoise GAA club and the Department grant-aids the rental costs of these premises to the tune of 95%. The lease on the GAA premises is due to expire at the end of the current school year. The Department’s planning and building unit is currently examining a recent proposal submitted by Deputy Fleming on behalf of the school authorities to move the school to a site in the Kilminchy Road area on a temporary basis. By way of explaining the background to the development of a long-term plan for the provision of primary and post-primary school accommodation in the Portlaoise area, recently Dr. Tom McCarthy was appointed to assist in this process.

Following receipt of Dr. McCarthy’s recommendations, it was decided that educational provision at post-primary level required to be addressed as a matter of urgency. As this has now been finalised, officials in the school planning section of the Department are examining educational provision at primary level with a view to establishing the best way forward. This will include an examination of the options for the long-term accommodation needs of Gaelscoil Portlaoise.

Dr. McCarthy’s recommendations suggest that the long-term accommodation requirement for the school is likely to be eight classrooms. He also recommends a measure of reconfiguration of existing primary accommodation in Portlaoise. The outcome of such a reconfiguration could result in surplus accommodation becoming available which could be used to house the gaelscoil on a long-term basis. Discussions have been initiated with primary providers in Portlaoise on foot of Dr. McCarthy’s recommendations to bring this matter forward.

I assure the House that the approach being taken by the Department in planning the provision of long-term primary infrastructure for Portlaoise is consistent with best planning practice. The Department is confident it will deliver state-of-the-art facilities based on a thorough assessment of the future educational needs of the area.