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Capital plan should fund Holy Family School new accommodation - Senator Reilly

1 October, 2015

Sinn Féin’s Seanad Education Spokesperson, Kathryn Reilly, this morning reiterated calls for the Minister for Education to provide funding to the Holy Family School in Cootehill for new accommodation. Senator Reilly called on the government to use the newly announced capital plan to provide the funding.

Senator Reilly said:

“The Holy Family School in Cootehill is still in limbo with respect to funding for the provision of new school accommodation. Indeed, since I came into the Seanad and this issue was raised with me, we have been getting the same reply and there seems to be no commitment to have financial provision made for this project.

 “I have raised this issue here in the House this year alone through Commencement Matters on 11th and 25th June 2015. I wrote a letter to Minister on 2nd July 2015 and got a response on 8th July 2015.

“The stock answer from the Department is that priority is afforded to where ‘population growth has been identified’ and that there is a ‘demographic challenge facing the education system’.

“The Holy Family School in Cootehill caters for pupils with severe and profound learning disabilities, moderate and multiple learning disabilities and for pupils with autism. This September the student population has increased again. If you look at the growth in school figures over the last number of years, the figure keeps rising and in terms of the new school and planning the school has had to change the goalposts repeatedly to cater for the demand for places they experience every year.

“I want to ask what needs to happen so that the project can get funding? What is your definition of demographic need or population growth?  Parents don’t have the luxury of being able to pick and choose where to send their children. The catchment area for this school is beyond a parish or town or even one single county. It serves a number of counties and parents have to send their children here to receive the high standards of education the teachers and staff there provide.

“This is a particular demographic with a real and pressing need. The growth in demand for places every year is real. You need to consider the need for wheelchairs for example and other specialised equipment that are in use in this school. The current space is being used to max capacity and it is unfair for the children to have to be taught in that environment. The teachers, staff and parents are doing their best but it is now time for the Department to intervene in a real way.

“The Government this week announced €3.8 billion in capital funding for education.

“Speaking on the Budget in the Seanad yesterday the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said of health, education and social protection that ‘our commitment to our citizens in these areas requires that we consider these trends into the future and plan accordingly’. He later spoke of ‘our prioritisation of special educational needs’.

“The Government now needs to put its money where its mouth is and use the capital funding to provide the new accommodation for this school and these students. The need is there, the trend is there and according to the government, prioritisation is there. So respectfully I ask that once and for all the funding be put there."

Responding to the Minister's comments in the chamber, Senator Reilly said:

“The Minister has acknowledged that enrolments have increased by 24% over the past five years. The demographic growth is there. The goalposts keep changing because of increasing year on year demand, which has led to the request to increase the brief to provide for an additional 5 permanent classrooms. There can be no further delay on providing funding and the recently announced capital plan should be used, despite the school not having been included on the five year construction plan in 2012."

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