Sunday 26 May 2019

Issue of new site for St Michael's raised again

Ongoing delay in providing new 14-classroom school has been raised in the Dail

Fergal Maddock

Five children with special needs have been left without a school place at St Michael's Special NS in Skerries which is currently operating in a building that 'is not fit for purpose', a local TD has claimed.

The issue of providing a new school was once again raised in the Oireachtas with Sinn Fein TD Louise' O'Reilly seeking an update on the situation.

She said the conditions in which the school was delivering services was unacceptable and the building was not fit for purpose.

'My understanding is that Fingal County Council has confirmed that it has found a site. As far as the local authority is concerned, its work is done as the site is located and it is over to the Department.'

She said there was a board of management meeting, where a phone call was placed to the Department to get an update on the position and the board of management has not received an update yet.

Deputy O'Reilly said: 'I represent the constituency with the fastest growing population in the State. Having many young people in the constituency is good but not being able to look after the children in the constituency is not good. As we speak, there are at least five children for whom there is no school place. These are children who have special needs.

'These are children who would benefit significantly from being in St. Michael's school. If I had an hour, I could spend it talking about those involved and the good work that they do.

'I do not know how the staff manage to put up with it. The accommodation they are in is wholly inadequate and unsuitable and extreme temperatures, either hot or cold, show that up.'

In response, Minister for State at the Department of Education Mary Mitchell O'Connor said: 'The Department is committed to providing a permanent accommodation solution, and in that regard a project to deliver a new school building for St. Michael's House special school on a greenfield site has been included the Department's six-year capital programme.

'It is planned to provide a new school building for St. Michael's special school to accommodate a 14 classroom school, expandable to 16 classrooms, to include classes for pupils with mild general learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorder, multiple disabilities and severe and profound disabilities.'

She said the site acquisition process for this school had been ongoing for some time.

Initial efforts were focused on acquiring land in the vicinity of the school's current location which was preferred by the school authorities, she explained.

'Efforts in that regard were unsuccessful and subsequently the current site option was identified.

'The acquisition process was paused for some time while the Department engaged with the school authorities regarding potential alternative accommodation which was available at the time.

'Based on the outcome of this engagement, the site acquisition process recently restarted and negotiations with the relevant landowner are at an advanced stage.

'I confirm that a potential permanent site option has been identified and is being progressed.'

She said the Department, with the assistance of Fingal County Council, was engaging with the landowner.

'Department officials are working to clarify some technical issues on the development of the site and this assessment process is expected to be completed in approximately two weeks, assuming no issues arise,' she told the Dail.

.Once these technical queries have been clarified, agreement on the terms of the site acquisition can be finalised and it is anticipated that the conveyancing process can then be advanced by the respective solicitors..

Reacting to the Minister's comments, Deputy O'Reilly said it was not a date and that it was her understanding that a permanent site option had been identified and that this process was under way.

'The Minister of State also referred to clarifying some technical issues. I appreciate she will not have the information with her here but she might provide to me in writing what exactly those issues are.

'If there are stumbling blocks and the staff, parents or any of the local representatives can help in any way with that, we certainly will because there is great affection for the school in our local area.

'It would be preferable if we could identify a date,' Deputy O'Reilly said.

'The Minister of State will appreciate, and she alluded to it in terms of the pausing of the process, that it is something that has had a lot of false starts which have not been helpful.

'There are five children for whom there may not be a place to go to school. They are children with special needs.

They are the children we should be looking after the most. They and their parents do not have sight of what school the kids will be going to in September. There is definitely a need. My fear is by the time the school is built, the need will have outstripped even the new school.'

In response, the Minister said: 'I am sure the Deputy can appreciate, as most people in the country can, that dealing with legal conveyancing takes time.'

She added: 'I confirm the Department is committed to progressing this project and will continue to liaise with Fingal County Council. The acquisition process for a permanent site is under way.

'The Department is aware of the limitations of the current temporary accommodation and every effort is being made to progress the permanent accommodation for the school as quickly as possible.

Fingal Independent