FF using school projects for own gain: teachers
EDUCATION Minister Batt O'Keeffe is at the centre of a new controversy amid concerns that Fianna Fail TDs are getting early access to the school building programme to boost their popularity.
The Department of Education has not yet published the €579m 2010 list, but Fianna Fail TDs have been making local announcements.
The department's annual school building programme is one of the most eagerly anticipated announcements in the education calendar.
There are almost 1,200 schools awaiting major works, many in dire straits and waiting for well over a decade for action, some concerned that they have been leapfrogged.
On Friday, former junior minister Frank Fahey provided the names of five schools in his Galway West constituency that he said had been approved and would on the list this year.
The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) last night expressed serious concern about Mr Fahey's premature announcement.
"Such actions fuel suspicion that school buildings are being used for political purposes," said a spokesman.
The INTO said they checked with the department and were told that no announcement on school buildings was imminent -- "yet here we have a public representative announcing building projects on local radio".
It said that several other schools around the country had also been contacted by politicians to let them know that a building project would proceed.
"Schools are entitled to know what is going on," he said.
The INTO said it was well used to government politicians contacting individual schools a few hours in advance of an official announcement by the department wanting to be the first to deliver good news to schools.
"This is different. Here we have a government politician making public announcements of which the department appears to have no knowledge."
The INTO said the union had long sought increased openness and transparency in the school building scheme.
Mr Fahey contacted Galway Bay FM on Friday morning and was interviewed on its lunchtime bulletin, when he welcomed funding for the five schools to advance to different stages in the process, from design to construction.
Mr Fahey stated that "they have now been put in the programme for 2010". The schools were named as Maree Primary School, Oranmore; Oughterard Primary School; Scoil Naisinta Sailearna, Indreabhn; Gael Scoil Dara, Renmore; and Tirellan Heights primary school in Galway city.
Mr Fahey said it was "obviously good news for schools concerned but somewhat of a disappointment for a number of other schools that hadn't been included".
He said they were constantly in touch with Mr O'Keeffe with a view to advancing projects.
A spokesman for the minister said there had been no announcement and TDs hadn't been told anything. But he added that an announcement was expected very soon.