€2.8bn plan to build schools will see use of pre-fabs end
School pre-fabs are to become a thing of the past under a six-year, €2.8bn building programme announced by Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan.
It includes at least 14 brand new schools to open in the next few years to meet rising population growth.
With the bulge in pupil numbers now moving into second level, 10 of the new schools will be post-primary, six of which will open in 2017 at Carpenterstown/Castleknock, Dublin 15; Portmarnock/Malahide, Co Dublin; Lucan, Co Dublin; Swords, Co Dublin; Portlaoise, Co Laois; and Limerick city (south west).
They will be followed in 2018 with new schools at Limerick city (east); Firhouse, Dublin; and Dublin south city centre, while a gaelcholáiste is slated for Maynooth, Co Kildare, in 2019.
At primary level, new schools will open in 2017 in Pellettstown, Dublin 7; Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin; Ballincollig, Co Cork; and, in 2018, in Dublin south city centre.
No decision has yet been made on who should run the new schools - and the Department of Education will oversee a process where interested parties will be invited to apply.
Population trends indicate that new schools may also be necessary at post-primary level in areas such as south Kildare; Enfield (Kilcock feeder area), Co Meath; Galway city; north-west Dublin city; Dublin 13 and Dublin 17 area; Kinnegad (Killucan feeder area), Co Westmeath; Mallow and Fermoy areas in Co Cork, and, at primary level, in the Milltown area of Dublin.
The programme covers 324 projects, including 50 that were previously announced but will go to construction in 2016. It includes an expansion of facilities for Kilkenny Vocational School on the grounds of St Kieran's College, Kilkenny city, where it has been located since 1979.
The projects are new builds or major extensions, worth at least €1m, and will provide 19,000 new primary school places and 43,000 new post-primary places.
With an election in the air, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton and Health Minister Leo Varadkar also attended the announcement, which took place in a school in the latter two ministers' Dublin West constituency.
Ms O'Sullivan denied that there was any electioneering in the timing, saying it was "part of the natural cycle of Government" and said some developments from the previous plan that have not yet been started had been "restated" to avoid confusion.
Promising that the long-term use of pre-fabs would become a thing of the past, she said they would be used only in the short-term where there is "a sudden expansion of population in an area" or while new schools are being built.
Initially intended as a short-term solution, pre-fabs have been an all-too-familiar part of the Irish educational landscape, with thousands in use at any one time, some for 20 years or more. According to Irish National Teachers Organisation general secretary Sheila Nunan, pre-fabs are either too hot or too cold and generally unfit for purpose.
Asked about the slow progress being made in reducing the dominance of the Catholic Church in primary education, Ms O'Sullivan said she met Catholic bishops last week and intends to meet other patrons in the near future "to find out what are the obstacles".