Seanad Éireann - Volume 185 - 22 November, 2006

Schools Refurbishment.

  Mr. Browne: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Perhaps he has not been to the promised land of Carlow as often as he should but if he goes to Old Leighlin, he will see a fantastic community hall based in a magnificent old cathedral in the middle of a small, rural parish. It is one of the best examples of a community hall in the entire country and it was built by local people. It has excellent basketball courts and [488]other facilities and demonstrates the positive outlook of the local community.

Old Leighlin national school has submitted applications to the Department of Education and Science under the permanent accommodation scheme 2007 and for grant aid for major works. In 2002 the school was granted funding for a new classroom under the devolved scheme the Department was piloting at the time. Thankfully the school now needs another teacher and will require accommodation for the new class in September 2007, hence the application under the permanent accommodation scheme.

The second application is the most pressing in terms of addressing the current needs of the school. It has grown from an enrolment of 73 pupils in 2001 to 116 this year and current projections suggest this figure will increase. The school is situated a mile from the village of Old Leighlin on an isolated site and it is vital it be given accommodation to implement the physical education curriculum and to organise whole school activities. Staff and students are at a disadvantage when implementing the music, drama and PE curricula.

I referred to the spectacular community hall but it is too far away to take the children on a regular basis. The school community is supportive and progressive and I hope the Minister of State can give me some good news tonight about this application.

  Mr. B. O’Keeffe: I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the progress being made by the Department of Education and Science under the school building and modernisation programme and to outline the position on capital funding applications from scoil náisiúnta Molaise, Old Leighlin, County Carlow.

Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of under-investment in this area and the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. Nonetheless, since taking office, this Government has shown a sincere determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.

This Government has invested in the largest school building programme in the history of the State. Between 1998 and the end of 2004, almost €2 billion was invested in school buildings, which represents a fivefold increase in capital allocations. In the region of 7,500 large and small projects were completed in schools in this period, including 130 brand new schools and 510 large scale refurbishments and extensions. To build on this extensive progress, in 2006 more than €491 million will be spent on school building projects, [489]compared to just €92 million in 1997. The 2006 allocation in its own right is an increase of more than 9% in real terms on the 2005 allocation.

At the end of last year, the Department outlined its spending plans for primary and post-primary schools for 2006. With €491 million to be spent on school buildings, more than 1,300 projects are active in schools all over the country. This significant investment will allow the Department to continue to progress its major programme of school building and modernisation which includes improving equipment needed for new technologies and ICT.

With regard to scoil náisiúnta Molaise, Old Leighlin, the Department is in receipt of two applications for capital funding, one under the permanent accommodation scheme for 2007 and one under the small schools scheme for 2007. The closing date for receipt of applications for both of these devolved funding schemes was 27 October 2006. The Department is now in the process of assessing the applications of all schools that applied under these schemes according to the published prioritisation criteria. A list of successful schools will be published when the assessment process has been completed.

I thank the Senator once again for raising this issue and affording me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the position for the school’s applications to the Department of Education and Science for capital funding and where all applications under the schemes concerned stand.