Seanad Éireann - Volume 128 - 25 April, 1991

Adjournment Matter. - Rathkeale (County Limerick) School.

Mr. Neville: I should like to thank the [1172] Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke, for coming into the House and taking this motion. I will be brief because this was raised in the Seanad on 7 June last year when the Minister of State, Deputy F. Fahey took the debate. At present there are two schools in Rathkeale, the vocational school and the secondary school run by the Sisters of Mercy. As far back as 1967 the Department announced major plans for school development in Rathkeale. In 1973 the staff of both schools were informed by the then Minister that there was a need and a decision made to rationalise the educational facilities in Rathkeale. On 29 May 1983 the then Minister authorised the provision of a new community school to incorporate the secondary and vocational schools. In December 1983 a joint committee consisting of management of both schools, and the teaching staff of both schools, was formed to expedite the programme for the new school, ensure that a good structure was provided for the new facilities and ensure that they were up to the standard of modern educational needs.

In 1985 a site was identified adjacent to the vocational school and in 1986 a schedule of accommodation was agreed. The draft plan was finished in 1988 and in June of 1988 Rathkeale Community Council met the Minister for Education and was informed by her that the school was in the top five priority for construction.

In 1989 the draft plan was sent back requesting comprehensive changes which were completed in January 1990. On 7 June 1990 I raised the issue on the Adjournment and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy F. Fahey, informed me that planning had reached stage two but was being reviewed in the context of demographic trends. On that occasion the Minister stated:

When this review is completed and the pupil numbers to be catered for in the long term are established it will be [1173] necessary to prepare a new schedule of accommodation. This in turn will necessitate some alterations to the plan and design of the project by the design team. It will be appreciated therefore that any changes required will arise from a careful reassessment of the future requirements and I am satisfied that the new school when completed will meet the needs of the community for the foreseeable future.

A full range of facilities will be available for the courses to be conducted and for the number of pupils who will enrol there. Every effort will be made to have the review of requirements completed as soon as possible so that planning can proceed without undue delay.

In December 1990 the plans were changed to that of a community college and the Minister sanctioned the construction of a community college under the VEC in Rathkeale. The VEC, the Sisters of Mercy and the Department agreed that a community college was now the right approach for Rathkeale.

Ten months later I am asking and imploring the Minister to provide proper teaching facilities for Rathkeale immediately. It is not right to have children, and teachers, in 25 year-old prefabricated buildings; some of them are even 30 years old. They are now in very poor condition and it is costing money to keep them in reasonable repair. I do not think it is right that in 1991 pupils must cross yards and roadways in all types of weather to go between classes. Rathkeale deserves proper educational facilities and I ask the Minister to provide them.

A report of a recent meeting of the vocational educational committee in the Limerick Leader last week stated:

“Rathkeale Lines up for Community College.”

Work can now begin on a community college for Rathkeale. The Minister for Education has approved the development, the county VEC board heard at [1174] their recent meeting this week. The college will be given top priority and the VEC vowed to move quickly to make the new ventue a reality. Agreement had already been reached locally for a merger of the two secondary schools in the town, St. Anne's and the Rathkeale Vocational School.

I am asking the Minister if she will put dates on when “work can now begin on the community college” as reported at the last VEC meeting. The people of Rathkeale are under the impression, and I hope the Minister will confirm it, that work can commence in 1991 and that this school will be available early in 1992. I want to sincerely thank the Minister for her attendance and I look forward to her reply.

Minister for Education (Mrs. O'Rourke): I thank Senator Neville for coming to the House and raising this matter. Of course I wish to reply to it but he very skilfully glossed over what was the most important factor in the whole debate, that the scenario has changed dramatically. We were committed, as the Senator knows, to a community school and that was the procedure. A proposal came to us in late autumn last year so that it should become a community college. I wish to pay tribute to the Sisters for their long-standing commitment to education in this area and I understand the reason for their decision.

A new proposal has been submitted to my Department by the two school managements to the effect that the two post primary schools in Rathkeale be replaced by a community college and not by a community school. A community college is under the aegis of a VEC. What the VEC state at their meeting, as reported in the local paper, is a matter for them; I do not answer for them. I have recently conveyed my approval for the proposed change in management which is a major change. For a community school we are the clients, the people who proceed with the planning [1175] and authorise the school. It now becomes the duty of the VEC to so do.

Arising from this development County Limerick VEC will now be the client for the design. It is a major change and one I hope the Senator will understand. Therefore, the design team responsible for planning will now be reporting directly to the VEC and not to the Department of Education. The way is now clear for the planning of this project, and I stress, the planning of the project, to commence. I am not putting any dates on this because the planning is only now beginning. Planning has shifted in a major way in two respects, one, in the numbers — we agreed to reduce those earlier this year from 500 to 400 — and with regard to the people who will be responsible. My Department have told the VEC to make the necessary arrangements in this regard.

I have absolutely no control over what is reported in local papers about how the VEC do their business. We have now given instructions to the VEC to commence the planning process. The Senator [1176] will be aware that a second level school is a major project. There are professional steps to be taken which must be carried out correctly and rigorously in order that the considerable public investment in this school is correctly identified and the planning work is carried out professionally. That is now commencing under the aegis of and through the authority and offices of the County Limerick VEC. We have told them to proceed accordingly. We await developments from them.

Mr. Neville: Will moneys be provided by the Department for the construction of this school in this financial year?

Mrs. O'Rourke: Whether it is by guile or inadvertently, Senator Neville is not listening to me. The planning process is now beginning under the aegis of the County Limerick VEC. How quickly they go ahead with their business is their business but we await developments from County Limerick VEC.

The Seanad adjourned at 4.15 p.m. until 12 noon on Wednesday, 1 May 1991.