The lack of education facilities in Dublin 15 has been the dominant issue of the week.
On Tuesday I was invited to attend a demonstration outside the gates of the Dail which was organized by parents in the Diswellstown area and Joan Burton TD. The parents are deeply concerned as St. Patrick’s NS has been capped as a 3 stream school, which means that many parents now have to send their children to St. Mochta’s in Clonsilla. This is a considerable distance away – too far for young children to walk. At a time when obesity among young people is a major concern, it is really disappointing that kids have to be packed into a car every day and driven to school.
The problem has been caused by the usual failure of planning, where the developer wouldn’t sell a site sufficiently large enough to accommodate a larger school.
Last night I attended a meeting of the Schools Action Group in the Paddocks Pub, Littlepace, called to highlight the problems at both primary and secondary level in the area.
I have an uncle who works in a school in Dun Laoghaire, part of the Minister for Education’s constituency, and he tells me that these days they can’t open an envelope in the school without Mary Hanafin coming in to officiate. Fair enough, she looks after her own constituency. Yet at the same time, she clearly has no clue as to the situation here in Dublin 15. At the meeting I called on Minister Lenihan to bring Mary Hanafin to meet parents and the Dublin 15 Community Council so she can explain the current situation, and most importantly, what she intends to do about it.
The meeting, which was attended by over 200 local residents, was addressed by all sitting TD’s and general election candidates apart from Fianna Fail’s Gerry Lynam and the PD’s Mags Murray.
One particularly striking story I heard during the evening was of one woman whose child will be 5 years and 9 months when she starts junior infants. That works out that her daughter will be 19 ½ when she does her Leaving Cert, way above the national average. Another father made the comment that if the school site at Mary Mother of Hope was a business premises, it would be shut down as a health and safety violation due to the massive overcrowding with 3 different schools sharing a small location.
In the short term, the Minister for Education must come to Littlepace and guarantee the parents that there will be a local temporary site for Phibblestown secondary school and that work will be completed on the permanent building by the start of the 2009/10 school year. She also needs find a solution for the 45 children who are currently on a waiting list for Mary Mother of Hope for next September.
However, in the medium to long term, we need major reforms to our planning system, to compel developers to provide sites or finance the construction of schools. Further, we need institutional change in the Dept of Education, with a Strategic Planning Unit to oversee the use of new and existing schools and a statutory obligation on the Dept. of Education that each time a local authority amends its development plan, the Department is legally bound to review its school building programme for the area. The Green Party is committed to implementing these vital changes if we are elected to government in a few weeks time.