Seanad Éireann - Volume 148 - 19 June, 1996
Adjournment Matters. - Mallow (Cork) Gaelscoil.
Mr. Sherlock Mr. Sherlock
Mr. Sherlock: In Mallow, 180 pupils and eight teachers have spent the past decade in prefabricated buildings. Gaelscoil Thomás Dáibhis is just one of the many primary schools whose pupils are expected to learn in appalling physical conditions. They are accommodated in prefabricated temporary structures; and “temporary” is the key word here as ten years is a long time for pupils and teachers to put up with temporary accommodation.
Last year Gaelscoil Thomás Dáibhis was included in the Department of Education's capital expenditure programme and was earmarked for a new building. This year, I understand the Department has been negotiating with Cork County Council for the purchase of a site at Summerhill adjacent to the vocational education committee land. It is vital that building work commences as soon as possible on this project. Neither pupils nor teachers can be expected to put up with the current situation for much longer.
Gaelscoil Tomás Dáibhis is not the only example of underfunding and long fingering in the primary sector. The greatest inequalities in our education system are not at third level — as some would have us believe — but at primary level. In many parts of this country  approximately half of our children leave school with no qualification, let alone a degree. That is a damning indictment of our education system.
Our so called free system of primary education is anything but free. It is estimated that a primary education can cost parents approximately £3,000. Our primary class sizes continue to be among the highest in the EU and the ratio in our infant classes is the worst in the OECD. At primary level, Ireland spends less than half per capita than Germany, Sweden, Switzerland or the United States. However, tremendous work is being done by the parents of the pupils in Gaelscoil Tomás Dáibhis. For every £1 spent on primary education, we are spending £4.41 on third level education. This is an imbalance which, in the OECD, is exceeded only by Hungary.
Our primary students are expected to learn in a physical environment which ranges from the decrepit to the dangerous. It is unacceptable that in 1996 we still have primary schools without adequate indoor sanitation. It is also unacceptable that, as we approach the 21st century, almost a quarter of primary schools lack a supply of drinking water and that 64 per cent do not have access to a typewriter let alone a computer.
Democratic Left believes in a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach. We believe that access to third level education will remain inequitable until all children have equal access to a solid foundation at primary level. Phasing out these so-called temporary structures and replacing them with modern, purpose built learning environments would be a step in the right direction. I appeal to the Minister to use all her influence to expedite the provision of adequate accommodation for the pupils and teachers of Gaelscoil Tomás Dáibhis. I also pay tribute to the parents who have campaigned for a new building and who  have ensured that this issue is not allowed to slip down the agenda.
Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Allen) Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Allen)
Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Allen): I thank Senator Sherlock for raising this matter. It gives me an opportunity, on behalf of the Minister for Education, to clarify the position. Gaelscoil Tomás Dáibhis was established with temporary recognition in 1985 to meet a demand in the Mallow area for education through the medium of Irish. Permanent recognition was granted to the school in May 1990. The school is located in prefabricated accommodation, which is less than satisfactory, adjacent to Mallow Vocational School. An application from the school for minor improvement works is being examined in the Department as a matter of urgency.
The Department accepts that the existing accommodation is not adequate for the school's needs and that permanent accommodation is required. There are two options for the provision of permanent accommodation for gaelscoileanna. One is to provide a new school building on a new site, and the other is to secure existing primary school accommodation which has become surplus to requirements due to falling enrolments, as in the case of Mallow. Where there is surplus existing accommodation which is suitable and can be made available for a gaelscoil, the Department must give it serious consideration as an alternative to the cost of a new site and building. The Senator will appreciate that the Department must make the most effective use of public moneys, particularly at a time when the demand for capital expenditure exceeds available resources.
In view of the urgent need for permanent accommodation for Gaelscoil Tomás Dáibhis, the Department is also examining the acquisition of a site. A potential site, which was identified by the board of management of the gaelscoil, has been inspected by a Department  architect and is considered generally suitable. The Department has been in contact with the owners of the site regarding its availability. The site, however, does not have direct road access and the question of arranging such through an adjacent site is being examined at present. The Senator can  be assured that the question of providing permanent accommodation for the school is being treated as a matter of urgency in the Department.
The Seanad adjourned at 7.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 20 June 1996.
Seanad Éireann 148 Adjournment Matters. Mallow (Cork) Gaelscoil.