Go-ahead for 52 school projects 'will not clear waiting-list backlog'
EDUCATION Minister Batt O'Keeffe was urged to reform the school-building programme as he unveiled details of 52 major building projects to go ahead this year.
The planned construction includes 20 new schools and 32 extensions, creating 23,500 permanent school places, with two-thirds of them at primary level.
The minister also announced that 22 more schools had been approved to advance through the design process under the €579m 2010 programme.
The construction industry said the works would lead to 5,300 building jobs.
However, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), while welcoming the "good news for a small number of schools", said it would do "little to tackle the backlog of buildings in need of urgent repair and upgrade".
Mr O'Keeffe said that further projects would be announced during the year under initiatives such as the Summer Works Scheme for schools.
Anticipating criticism that the list includes previously promised building starts, Mr O'Keeffe claimed that none had been announced before.
He also said the reasons why schools could face delays included site and planning issues and competing priorities.
There are about 1,200 schools nationwide awaiting on major building works.
The INTO said that more than half of the primary school-building projects announced by Mr O'Keeffe had featured on lists nearly a decade ago.
One school given the go-ahead to build an extension and refurbishment was Croinchoill NS in Birr, Co Offaly, which first applied for funding in 1999.
INTO incoming general secretary Sheila Nunan said the school-building programme was "configured to create the illusion of progress".
"This allows the minister to make multiple announcements about the same building project over many years," she said.
Ms Nunan said there should be a ministerial explanation of why these schools had not been built.
She added that, contrary to what had been promised, there was no transparency in the school-building process. She called for the immediate publication of a list of all 1,250 schools which have applied for major building works.
"All of these schools want information on where they are in the overall school-building programme. They can only know this accurately when they can see how many schools are in the queue," she said.
Fine Gael's education spokesman Brian Hayes said that in light of the experience in 2009 -- when many projects suffered delays because of a new tendering process -- the 52 projects were "in serious danger of becoming little more than a 'wish list"'.
He said the 2009 programme contained promises for 78 projects, but only seven had actually been completed by December and "50 of the 78 were stuck in planning limbo.
"Alongside that, last year the number of new classrooms built fell sharply by 40pc with 614 built in 2009 comparing to 1,000 in 2008".
The Construction Industry Federation welcomed the news but raised concerns about the length of time taken to turn such announcements into construction work.