Seanad Éireann - Volume 137 - 28 October, 1993

Adjournment Matters. - Killany (Monaghan) School.

Mr. Cotter: I wish to share my time with Senator Gallagher.

I wish to welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Aylward, to the House and I hope he will bring us some good news with regard to the problem I wish to raise. I am trying to force the Minister for Education, and the Government, to provide funds for the provision of a new school for the parish of Killany, which is presently serviced by Ballymackney NS. The people of Killany are anxious that the funds be provided, not some time in the future, but in 1994. My call will be supported by Senator Gallagher, who also has an interest in developments in regard to that school.

Ballymackney NS was built in 1847 — we would all be aware that that was one of the famine years. It has withstood 150 years of great change but has not changed significantly itself, apart from the addition of a prefabricated building in the school yard. That prefab was in good condition 25 years ago but today it is a dilapidated and horrible looking. The entire school is unsuitable for the purpose for which it is intended. It is the oldest school in country. No doubt it was a fine building in 1847 and served its purpose. In 1930 it was probably a fine building, but today it is not.

The school is a fire hazard and it is a danger to the pupils who enter it each morning. If a fire broke out during school hours, pupils might become trapped in the building. Although a fire broke one and a half years ago, it happened one afternoon when the school was closed. The fire was brought under control and it did not destroy the building. Indeed, the people of Killany, Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, are disappointed that it did not. If the fire had destroyed the [1681] building they would have had a better chance of getting a new school.

At this stage the children's parents are up in arms. Senator Gallagher and I are aware of that fact. A public meeting was held in the area a number of weeks ago, which I unfortunately could not attend. However, I got a report of what happened and the parents are angry. They believe they are not getting a fair crack of the whip. They are classified as second class citizens and they deserve better. I want the Minister to make a commitment in regard to the provision of a new school in the parish of Killany to replace the existing school at Ballymackney and that next year's Estimate will include provision for that building. In other words, next years capital programme must include money for the provision of a new school. The local community has organised funding and everything is ready in this regard. Given the pressure placed on local representatives and the fact they have a solid case, the local community expect the project to go ahead next year.

In recent days people have telephoned me about school funding for next year, particularly in light of questions about the £8.7 billion, £7.2 billion, etc. Having looked through the figures, an independent analyst informed me that we are talking about £5.8 billion. That capsizes the Government's plan each year until the end of the century.

Acting Chairman: The Senator should confine himself to the school in Killany.

Mr. Cotter: Sir, you must agree that expenditure on the school in Killany is based on the implementation of the National Development Plan. The sum obtained from the EC will decide whether there is money for any school. It is clear to those examining the figures that a lot of funds find their way into current expenditure in various Departments. Although current expenditure has increased over the years with the help of EC funds, if it is cut it will capsize the proposals. The [1682] capital programme will be cut in order to maintain existing services. I do not want the Minister to give me the standard reply that the Department are looking at the project with a view to giving a commitment, only to find that we are in the same boat next year and the year after, like the school in Shercock, County Cavan. I want a commitment from the Minister that money will be forthcoming next year.

Ms Gallagher: I wish to express my appreciation to Senator Cotter for allowing me time to speak on this issue. The fact we have agreed on this matter shows the concern of the people of Carrickmacross that the Killany school must be included in the 1994 Estimates. The school is located on the main Carrickmacross to Dundalk road and it is surprising someone has not been killed on that road. The children have no play area and they must cross the road to go to an open play field. Children's lives are in danger because of the situation in the school. The school has three classrooms and one prefabricated building. Junior infants must go outside in winter to go to the toilets. Children work in cramped conditions and the teacher has no room to walk between desks in the room.

This is a vibrant area and children are being refused admission to the school because of lack of space. The school has a good reputation and parents have been patient while looking for a new school, but they are not prepared to wait any longer. In fact, they are being punished for being so patient. Justice should be done and the school should be given priority. The Minister must ensure that Ballymackney is included in the 1994 Estimates. It is the oldest school in the country. A site has be acquired on a byroad in the centre of the parish beside the community centre and the chapel. There the pupils would not face the traffic hazards which exist at present. Local funds have been raised and we await the go-ahead from the Minister. I hope the Minister will put this matter on top of her list. Having waited so long, the people of Killany deserve a new school.

[1683] Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Aylward): I thank Senators Cotter and Gallagher for raising this matter and presenting me with an opportunity to clarify the position in relation to this school. This is a four teacher school which had an enrolment of 120 pupils in 1992. Existing accommodation consists of three permanent classrooms and one prefabricated classroom. The Department of Education has approved the provision of a new school to replace the existing unsatisfactory building. The total estimated grant aid for this project will amount to £165,000. The architectural planning of a new school is at an advanced stage and planning permission has been received from the local authority.

As the Senators will appreciate, every school invariably makes the case that its project is deserving of special consideration. The Department would be more than delighted if, in a world where resources were unlimited, every scheme could proceed at the same time. As the House will be aware, however, because of the large volume of major building projects on hand and the limitation on [1684] resources it is only possible to allow a certain number of projects to proceed to construction in any one financial year. Unfortunately, it was not possible to include this project in the national schools capital programme for 1993.

The Department is aware that the conditions in the existing school are far from satisfactory and that exiting permanent accommodation dates from the last century. I am also aware the school authorities have been pressing for a new school for a number of years and that a previous building scheme had to be abandoned in 1987 due to the difficult financial situation. I assure Senators that the Department accepts that this is a project deserving of the highest priority in the context of projects to be allowed to proceed to construction in 1994. Having heard the case put forward by Senators Cotter and Gallagher and the fact the school is over 100 years old and that people have waited for so long, I will recommend that this school be included in the 1994 Estimates.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.10 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 3 November 1993.