Pressure to deliver St Michael's House
The Minister for Education has been challenged by a local TD to 'fast-track' the delivery of school places in Fingal for people with special needs, particularly in the Skerries area and finally deliver a new home for St Michael's House.
Deputy Clare Daly (Ind) raised the issue with Minister Richard Bruton in the Dáil.
Deputy Daly said: 'There is an overall shortage of spaces for special needs education, particularly spaces for autistic children in the Skerries area in north Dublin.
'Second, residents are particularly keen to know where the new premises for St. Michael's House will be. This has been long promised but has been kicked to touch between the council and the Department. It is just not good enough.'
In response, the Minister first addressed the situation at St Michael's House.
He said: 'There is a project to deliver a new building at St. Michael's House. It will provide a new 14-classroom school, expandable to 16 classrooms, which will potentially increase its capacity from 30 students to 96. A potential site has now been identified after initial efforts were unsuccessful. A site acquisition process is now under way.
'We intend to establish this coming September, 17 new special classes in County Dublin. I do not have the details on where they will be but I understand some will be in the area the Deputy is concerned about. The NCSE is working with communities on expansion.'
Deputy Daly said: 'The Minister's colleague Senator James Reilly has raised this issue in the Seanad. I will not repeat the points made on the overall shortage of places. Residents in the area in question, who have organised into a group, as the Minister correctly stated, have identified at least 12 children from Skerries alone in need of places at national school level.'
She added: 'My main concern today, however, is that the report the Minister has given me on St. Michael's House has been given on numerous occasions previously. I am not blaming the Minister for that but the reality is that the site acquisition process has long been completed in the sense that Fingal County Council has said it proceeded as far as it can go.
'It has the site, it has completed all the negotiations and it states this issue is blocked - it is blocked - at the level of the technical assessors in the Department. We have been getting this report for over a year. The children in question are in school in an old farmhouse. They have been in it for over 15 years.'
However, the Minister appeared surprised there was any snags in developing the school and said: 'It states in my documentation that the Department is committed to providing a permanent accommodation solution for the school and that a project to deliver the new school on a greenfield site has been included in the six-year programme.
'It is stated a site acquisition process is currently under way. This sounds like there are no technical problems with the site. A potential permanent site option has been identified as being progressed. It does not sound like there are technical flaws. There may be commercial issues to be worked out in the acquisition process but it does not sound like there are problems with the site.'
Deputy Daly said: 'I would be really grateful if he could come back to me on this. Some of his party colleagues, and probably all the Deputies in the area, have been in touch on this. Collectively, we really want this project delivered as soon as possible. The site has been pinpointed for a very long time. It is shameful if the project is being kicked between the council and the Department and getting nowhere.'