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 Header Item Schools Building Projects Status (Continued)
 Header Item Cork Mail Centre: Motion [Private Members]

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 984 No. 6

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh] In addition, as with any building contract, issues may arise that form disputes between the design team and the contractor. There is nothing unusual about this and the public works contract provides dispute resolution mechanisms to deal with such matters. A number of issues of this nature have arisen on the Holy Family project and these have been referred to conciliation in accordance with the contract. Most of the matters are still being considered within the conciliation process, so I am limited in what I can say in that respect.

Let the House be in no doubt that I consider that the delays which have arisen in recent months are completely unacceptable for all concerned, particularly as the school will have to continue to operate from unsatisfactory conditions with an increasing number of enrolments until its new building is ready. The programme provided by the contractor which had indicated a completion date in July was most recently changed to provide for a completion date in October. Westmeath County Council has expressed to the contractor its disappointment with the level of resources on site and the slow progress of the construction programme. However, I can inform the House that the council reported to my officials earlier today that there has been a significant improvement in the activity on site. The project is well over 80% complete, with only the installation of doors remaining to make the project fully protected against the elements. On that basis, I am hopeful that the project will be completed in October as now planned. I am conscious that lists of dates have been previously mentioned and that we are now giving another date, this time in October. I am also conscious of the deep frustration of parents and the board of management and I wish to acknowledge the various stakeholders who have been persevering with the project. Deputy Burke cannot be accused of ignoring this issue. He keeps raising it with me formally and informally and I know that is something that will ensure that we can meet the October deadline.

In the meantime, my Department has met and worked closely with the patron and school authorities of Holy Family in order to put in place contingency arrangements to ensure that the needs of the school for the coming academic year are met. It is unfortunate, given that the building will not now be ready by September 2019, that these plans will have to be activated. As already stated, the school authorities and the patron of a school in Kinnegad have kindly agreed to provide temporary accommodation for a number of special needs pupils as an alternative to home tuition for those children. The Department will be providing the funding needed to facilitate this arrangement. I wish to express my thanks to the patron and school management of that school and the personnel, including the clerk of works, whom I met in a portakabin on the site when the Deputy and I visited it. I thank them for their efforts to ensure that we will achieve this timeline in October. One of my team members is from County Westmeath and is very aware of this project, which he raises on a weekly basis. Decanting from the old to the new school will not be a problem because the new premises is only around the corner. We will keep it on the agenda and I have no doubt that the Deputy will keep me up to date over the summer.

Deputy Peter Burke: Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke I thank the Minister for his detailed response. I am heartened that the project is more than 80% complete and that activity on site has increased. However, we need to keep pressure on day and night and move mountains to ensure that the project is delivered by October. I am thinking of the children with special needs who will be upset at being moved to Kinnegad, their parents and all those affected. It is not good enough that they are upset because when the Department commits to a school being ready and provides funding in its capital budget to deliver the school, that commitment should be met. Through the history of this project, I have dealt with a series of boards of management. The only person who has been consistently involved from the start in the push to relocate the school is its principal, Mr. Michael Molloy. I appeal to the Minister to expedite the delivery of the school.

The equipment in the school has depreciated over a number of years. I appeal to the Department to look favourably on providing upgraded equipment for the new school. That is the least we can do in light of the circumstances everyone involved has faced in the course of the project.

We must bear in mind that legislative change in respect of tender law in this country is required in order to bring in a traffic light system for new projects such that past performance is taken into account before a contract may be awarded. We need to protect ourselves. For me, there is nothing worse than walking into a room in front of 40 new parents and them asking what I can do about this. The worst part is that procurement law cannot be overridden in terms of the contract that was signed with the contractor. We must accept that. However, we need to pursue the contractor to deliver the project and ensure the October deadline is met. That must be cast in stone.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I will not repeat myself. I am sure the parents of children in the school do not want to hear the same thing over and over again. One thing I can say for certain is that this project is not out of sight or out of mind. It is on the radar and I know the Deputy will keep it there.

On the Deputy's question on equipment, departmental officials asked the school to evaluate or assess which items of equipment and furniture, including ICT equipment, can be transferred to the new school. That is currently being assessed. If there is a need for support in regard to furniture, equipment and ICT needs, we will step up to the plate.

I hope that decanting from the old school to the new one will take place in October. I do not like setting deadlines as too many have been missed, but we must do so in order to keep the pressure on. The project is 80% complete and will soon be protected from the elements. The necessary work will soon be completed.

I again acknowledge the board of management, the parents' association and the various stakeholders. The role of the clerk of works is of great importance. Last October, Deputies raised the issue of the importance of following regulations and so on in schools building projects. The role of the clerk of works is very important. I saw the clerk of works for this project in action and I wish to acknowledge that he is doing an incredible job and putting his personal time into the project to ensure it gets over the line.

Cork Mail Centre: Motion [Private Members]

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry I move:

That Dáil Éireann:
— the decision by An Post to close the Cork mail centre by March 2020 with the loss of 240 jobs;

— the devastating effect this decision will have on the workers concerned and their families; and

— the negative effect this will have on the local economy in the short-, medium-, and long-term;
further notes:
— the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 and National Development Plan targets to make Cork the fastest growing city in Ireland for the next two decades with a 2040 population of 320,000-360,000; and

— the dissonance between such targets and a decision to shut down a mail centre in the heart of this area;
— the opportunities presented to An Post by the rapid growth in demand for parcel delivery services; and

— that this increase in demand has already resulted in a 60 per cent growth in demand for An Post parcel delivery services in the last two years; and
calls on the Government to:
— instruct An Post to reverse this decision; and

— instruct An Post to enter negotiations with the workers’ trade union representatives to draw up a plan by 1st January, 2020, to expand An Post’s parcel delivery services without resorting to job losses.

I am sharing time with Deputies Paul Murphy and Boyd Barrett.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I am sharing time with Deputy Gino Kenny.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach The Deputies have 20 minutes between them.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry At 10 p.m. on Wednesday last, workers at the Cork mail centre in Littleisland were told that An Post will shut the centre by March of next year with the loss of all 240 jobs. The news came as a bombshell to the workers. Some had taken out mortgages on the strength of their wage packets from the centre. More than one worker went home crying in their cars that night. An Post stated that the closure is inevitable and that the demand for An Post letter delivery services is down 7% year on year. However, the decline in demand for letter delivery is only part of the story. Demand for An Post parcel delivery services is up 60% in the past two years. This is part of a global phenomenon. In Bremen, Germany, Amazon is building a logistics centre which can house 280 delivery vans. In October, Australia Post will open the largest superhub ever built in the southern hemisphere. The challenge facing An Post should not be one which involves closing hubs and axing jobs. Rather, it should involve transitioning from a letter delivery company which handles parcels to a parcel delivery company which handles letters without resorting to job losses.

An Post has consistently refused to publish the McKinsey report which advised it on the future of its business. The report should be published. There should be no secret reports, especially when they are being kept secret to protect senior Cork politicians. I wish to state for the record that I am opposed to the closure of the Athlone mail centre as an alternative, even if that is recommended in the McKinsey report.

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