Dáil Éireann - Volume 571 - 02 October, 2003
Mr. S. Ryan Mr. S. Ryan
Mr. S. Ryan: I thank the Minister for coming in to take this debate this evening. I hope that together we will resolve this problem. The education system has been in crisis in Donabate in recent years, and that is true for both first and second level. The Donabate boys' and girls' schools are filled to capacity. The media reported on two incidents some weeks ago where families who had taken up residence in Donabate were  unable to get their children into school. There are huge waiting lists for those schools for next year. At the same time, Donabate Portrane Educate Together is unable to get the necessary support from the Department of Education and Science – while acknowledging some support that it received – to locate a temporary building on a site identified and owned by Fingal County Council. The children are being taught at Turvey Golf Club. The school furniture must be removed each day to facilitate the social dimension of the club in the evening. That is totally unacceptable and I hope that the problem can be resolved.
Donabate is a developing area with no second level school. According to the Department of Education and Science, pupils from Portrane and Donabate reside in the Swords catchment area for post-primary school purposes. Already significant numbers of students attend the second level schools in Swords. However, those schools, which already cater for a population of more than 30,000, are filled to capacity. That is the reality and parents have to find alternative second level schools. There are currently more than 160 second level students living in Donabate and Portrane who attend schools in Malahide, Portmarnock and Baldoyle. Those are second level schools. Malahide Community School will not be able to accept new students in September 2004 from Donabate, and that will make things worse.
The vast majority of those students rely solely on the existing inadequate rail service to get to and from school. The train service does not have the capacity to cope with 150 second level students at Donabate railway station. The Minister should try to imagine the situation when the children attempt to board a train already filled to capacity with commuters along the line from Drogheda. On numerous occasions I have witnessed the jostling before the train arrives, not only with the students but with hundreds of commuters trying to get on to an already overcrowded train. I have seen incidents where children have been cast aside on the platform and thrown off the train by frustrated adults trying to get to work. The position will get infinitely worse as the population grows in north County Dublin, including Donabate. A solution is required before a serious accident or death occurs.
On numerous occasions, children have been left behind, which results in their being late for school, which affects their education and disturbs the classes when they arrive. The principals of Malahide Community College, Portmarnock Community College and St. Mary's secondary school in Baldoyle have outlined to the parents, the Department and myself the implications for the students in question and the management of the schools. Irish Rail in a written document has also made submissions to the Department outlining the difficulties being experienced by commuters, including students, and supporting the  provision of alternative transport – in this case a direct bus service.
The Minister has the responsibility to provide education for the children of the Donabate-Portrane area and to provide reliable and safe transport. This is being denied to the students. I am not prepared to accept a statement from the Department that it has no plans to depart from the terms of the school transport scheme in this case. The current situation is untenable and will get worse and should be accepted as a special case. I have discussed this matter with the Minister off the record as has my colleague, Deputy Glennon, which is in the interests of the education and safety of our children. It is not as if this case is being manipulated. A major problem exists. One has only to go down to the platform in the morning to find 150 or 160 students with school bags on their backs trying to board. I ask for the Minister's support in finding a resolution to this matter.
Mr. N. Dempsey Mr. N. Dempsey
Mr. N. Dempsey: I thank Deputy Ryan for raising this matter. I give him great credit for his persistence and his continual raising of this matter with me. If I turn a corner of Leinster House any evening, either he or Deputy Glennon raises the matter. However. I am afraid I cannot give him much comfort in regard to this matter.
One of the main objects of the school transport scheme is to provide a basic level of service for children who live long distances from school and who might otherwise experience difficulty in attending regularly. In urban areas, schools are generally closer to the pupils' homes and public scheduled transport is normally available.
Where children in urban areas qualify for school transport under the terms of the scheme, they are issued with term tickets subject to payment of the appropriate term contribution. For the purposes of the post-primary education scheme, the country has been divided into catchment areas, each of which has its own post-primary centre. Recognised post-primary pupils who live at least three miles from the post-primary centre of the catchment area in which they live, are eligible for transport under the school transport scheme to that centre.
While it is the parents' prerogative to send their children to the school of choice, that does not mean the State is in a position to incur the additional expense entailed in facilitating that choice. To provide for choice of school would add enormously to the cost of the scheme by duplicating transport services all over the place.
Mr. S. Ryan Mr. S. Ryan
Mr. S. Ryan: They have no choice here.
Mr. N. Dempsey Mr. N. Dempsey
Mr. N. Dempsey: In such instances, eligible pupils who wish to attend a post-primary centre other than their appropriate one, may be allowed transport from within the catchment boundary of  the centre being attended. This is subject to spare accommodation being available on an existing service and provided that no additional State cost is incurred. Pupils availing of this concession are known as catchment boundary pupils.
My Department may not sanction transport into any adjoining catchment area as an encroachment would constitute an infringement of the terms of the post-primary transport scheme. My Department has to consider the operation of the school transport scheme as a whole and the requirement not to breach guidelines, which would have financial and policy implications for the transport service overall. As the Deputy has pointed out, the pupils from this area reside in the Swords catchment area and are eligible for transport to the schools in Swords.
Eligible pupils from the Portrane-Donabate areas offering for transport to post-primary schools outside the Swords area are being facilitated with term tickets for transport on the public scheduled service from the nearest point inside the catchment area. The availability of such transport is subject to the normal conditions of the transport scheme.
The Deputy gave the answer to the question and asked me not to repeat it. However, I had better do so for the record. My Department has no plans to depart from the normal terms of the scheme in this case.
By way of being helpful to the Deputy, there is now a school transport appeal body in place. It may be worth his while to put in an appeal to that body and ask it to consider the special circumstances outlined to me. I appreciate they are special circumstances.
When a scheme is in operation, civil servants do not like making special exemptions. In relation to the school in that area which the Deputy mentioned, we have good news. Fingal County Council is providing the site.
Dáil Éireann 571 School Transport.