Pledge to build 70 schools was 'too optimistic' - Bruton
Announcing that 70 school building projects would start construction in 2015 "may have been over optimistic", Education Minister Richard Bruton has said.
After it was revealed in the Irish Independent that around 20 of the promised developments are not yet 'shovel ready', Mr Bruton said a number of issues have arisen which in most cases were "completely outside" the Department of Education's control.
Of the 70 announced with much fanfare in December 2014, the minister said 64 "have either been completed, are on site or are in advanced architectural planning".
"The remaining six school projects announced for 2015 have not advanced as the department expected due to difficulties with acquiring sites and issues arising in the planning process," he said.
However, Fianna Fáil's education spokesman Thomas Byrne accused the minister of "trying, but failing to spin the situation by mixing up architectural planning with construction".
"What was promised in 2014 was not that the schools on that list would go to architectural planning but would go to construction, that building would start," said Mr Byrne.
"It is a nonsense to say they are in architectural planning because the assumption was that they were well planned in 2014 when the department and the minister's predecessor announced they would be built commencing in 2015."
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Bruton said his department was "put to the pin of our collar to meet the demographic growth".
He said despite delays to some projects, others were progressing in their place, thereby ensuring none of the money allocated was going unused.
"The way we plan is to have several school projects at different stages in the architectural planning phases from the initiation, design, detailed architectural drawings, approval, evaluation, tender and on into construction.
"That is a pipeline and the department works to the best of its ability to keep them all moving. We use every cent we get," he said.
However, Mr Byrne said the minister was "facing the challenge the department set itself by saying that these projects would go to construction in certain years and that has not happened in many cases".
"This is a fantasy list and it dates back three years," he said.