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 Header Item Student Accommodation (Continued)
 Header Item Schools Property

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne] We could also have a capital plan for student accommodation.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The current provision of purpose-built student accommodation exceeds the target set in the plan published shortly after the housing plan. We are meeting and exceeding the targets. The application of the rent control regime to the student accommodation sector is a little more difficult than the Deputy suggests in that rent arrangements in student accommodation are by way of a licence, not a traditional tenancy. There is not the same tenancy security provided in student accommodation, which is part year and often involves fairly short tenancies and fresh lettings. The issue that needs to be examined is whether this alternative model, which is built around licences and short-term lettings, can be adapted with the same sort of evidence base to apply the rent pressure zones as has been the case in ordinary housing tenancies. This work is under way between the two Departments. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy English, will report progress in that regard soon.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The issue of licence distinction is one of the first things one learns when studying law in college and it is a red herring in regard to this particular issue. There is no reason that the rent pressure zone regime cannot be applied to this sector. It is simply a matter of drafting the provision in the appropriate way. We can restrict price increases for licences. We have done so in respect of leases even though we were told there were legal difficulties with doing so. We were told that could not be done and it would be unconstitutional but it was done. There was a messy compromise involved but it was done. It has not been perfect and it needed to be stronger. There was massive resistance to it from Government. We were told at the time that if we did not accept what was on offer we would be throwing tenants to the wolves and so on. Some progress has been made, but much more is needed. Let us not get bogged down in the issue of legal distinctions. Let us instead put a proper plan together because the targets set are not sufficient and students on the ground cannot access accommodation. We need a much wider take-up of the ability to provide student accommodation, particularly by institutes of technology and the technological universities that are soon to be established.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I accept the Deputy's point that we need to look at introducing a scheme of a similar nature, but the nature of the student market is different. We have all learned about the law of unintended consequences. It is important that we allow the work being done between the two Departments to continue rather than try to cobble together something that would not work. There is a degree of focus on this matter which matches the level of concern expressed by the Deputy.

Schools Property

 56. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton if a school (details supplied) will be established on a site in Dublin 10; his plans for the site; if discussions have been held with interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29556/18]

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I hope the Minister will not fob me off and say the closure of the De La Salle school in Ballyfermot is a private matter and there is nothing he can do about it. This school, which is due to close at the end of this summer - and may already have closed - is quite famous and has been used in many movies, including "Rocky Road to Dublin". It is a massive complex. Will the Minister consider acquiring this complex with a view to it being used to provide Educate Together and Gaelscoil facilities for the Dublin 10 area?

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton On the school property to which the Deputy refers, the school patron has informed my Department that the school currently operating at this property will close on 30 June 2019, when the last group of pupils will have completed sixth class. The school patron has been working with the four Catholic schools under its patronage in Ballyfermot in regard to reorganising these schools. I understand the outcome of this interaction undertaken by the patron is that three of the four schools, other than the school referred to by the Deputy which is a senior boys' primary school, have changed to co-educational status following consultation with the parents, staff and boards of management.

On the Deputy’s query as to whether a school under a different patron body will be established at the school property, there are no plans in that regard.  The property is not in my ownership, nor, according to Department records, does my Department hold any other legal interest, such as a charging lease, over the property. In that context, the plans for the property are a matter for the school trustees, as owner, and it is my understanding that it is their intention to sell the property.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I understood the school was to close this September but I note from the Minister's reply that it will close in June when the last group of pupils has completed sixth class. The remaining children have been relocated to the St. Michael's Dominican campus, where there are three other schools. All of these schools are full, as is St. Ultan's school in Cherry Orchard. This area is one of the few areas in Dublin where social housing is being built and, as such, demand for school places will increase.

This property should not be sold. It belongs to a religious order that is indebted to the State under the redress deal agreed under former Minister, Michael Woods, and to the people of Ballyfermot, Cherry Orchard and Dublin 10 generally. It should be sold to the Department at a reduced rate or taken over by the Department to provide Educate Together and-or Gaelscoil facilities for the area, neither of which exist in this heavily populated area.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The Deputy asked if the Department envisages a need for an additional school in the area. I am told that while there is some house-building taking place in the area and an increase in enrolments is expected, there is significant capacity in a number of the existing primary schools in the area. The outcome of the demographic exercises indicate a surplus of available accommodation over the next four years across the school planning area. This was not an area wherein the Department identified a need for an additional school.

On the issue of diversification, we have two initiatives in place, namely, the divestment procedure established by former Minister, Ruairí Quinn, and the live transfer, which I have just initiated. In neither instance do we have a prospect of an offer being made of property to an incoming new patron.

On the issue of paying redress, I agree with the Deputy that we need to see additional payment from the religious orders. The indemnity arrangement which she mentioned limited the amount they contributed but it has always been the Government view that 50% of the cost should be contributed by the religious orders. We would welcome contributions from the sale of sites or otherwise towards the substantial cost that has been incurred in this area.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith It is clear that although the Minister believes in divestment and agrees that the costs in this area should be shared on a 50:50 basis, the Government is prepared to do very little to insist this happens. We have moved on. The Taoiseach said recently that he is in favour of the separation of church and State. I am not asking for that. Rather, I am asking that the Department investigate the possibility of negotiating with the De La Salle Trust the acquisition of this very important site for use by the community of Dublin 10 and its environs for Educate Together and-or Gaelscoil provision, neither of which are available in this highly populated area. The Minister mentioned that he has been told there is significant capacity in the other three schools. That is not true. I know from talking to principals, teachers and parents that the other schools are at capacity and additional places will be required when the new housing in the area is completed. We need a definitive approach from the Minister to all of these lands and facilities that are in the possession of the church, which is indebted to this State. It is not sufficient for the Minister to say he does not believe that will happen. He needs to be much more proactive and ensure it does happen.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The Department has never acquired new buildings where it already has existing capacity. The Department's demographic process, which is based on the very best information available from local authorities, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the census and so on, is applied evenly and equitably to all areas. Where it is identified that a new school is required, these are the schools we seek to establish, 42 of which were recently announced. There is a separate process for transfer of patronage.


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