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 Header Item National Stroke Programme Implementation (Continued)
 Header Item School Accommodation Provision

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 946 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan]  I want to quote from an advocate whose family have suffered strokes. He said: "Tonight hundreds of people will sit down to dinner with their families because of service improvements delivered by stroke teams in every corner of the country in the last six years but a great deal more will not be in their own homes but forced to live away from their families in long-term care because we ultimately did not do enough for them." He is just asking that we look again at how the money is being spent to ensure people do not have to go into long-term nursing care but can go home.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I am particularly conscious that the early supported discharge service for stroke patients requires attention. Indeed, it has been recognised internationally that early supported discharge of stroke patients from hospital improves outcomes, reduces the need for long-term care and increases acute hospital capacity by freeing up beds. I accept those arguments. The programme has helped to establish three effective early supported discharge teams in Dublin and Galway. The Galway service has developed a model whereby the service can be effectively provided in the more rural areas of Ireland. This and other issues for stroke services will be considered as part of the annual Estimates process, which frames the HSE's national service plan for 2018.

I take the Deputy's valid points in regard to quality of life and the return home. We need to develop community rehabilitation programmes and other services in the interests of the patient but also in the interests of cost-effectiveness. I will bring the important issues raised by the Deputy to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Harris.

School Accommodation Provision

Deputy Shane Cassells: Information on Shane Cassells Zoom on Shane Cassells I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise in our national Parliament the concerns and issues of St. Fiach's national school in the small parish of Ballinacree in north Meath. I am very appreciative of the fact it is the Minister, Deputy Bruton, who is present and I thank him for that because, as a Meath man, he knows this area of the county well and knows how this little school is so integral to the way of life in north Meath. It is the most northern part of the county. This little village is made up of the school, the church, the community centre and Briody Beds, which is the main employer in the area. The people of Ballinacree are proud and resilient but that little school, which keeps the village alive, is in dire need of help and attention.

The school, which I visited yesterday, was built and opened in 1961, and the facilities which I inspected with the principal, Dr. Ann Bennett, have changed very little since that time. The changing rooms for the boys are adjoining out-of-date toilet facilities and are unhealthy. The lack of any resource facilities for the SNA teacher is a scandal. The classroom floors bear the scars from the turf-burning stoves, which were only recently removed. I do not think students in any other part of the country could envisage such a scenario. To participate in PE, gymnastics, school drama and assemblies, the children have to leave the school premises and walk to the nearby community centre. Until recently, this was a case of taking their lives in their hands because there were no footpaths connecting the two buildings and they were walking along a busy country road where trucks pass by on their way to the industrial units. As Dr. Bennett told me yesterday, the facilities she had when she taught in Botswana were better than those she has to work with in this little school since she arrived in 2011.

The fact it is a little school and located in the most rural part of north Meath should not conspire against it in terms of access and funding. This is quite a famous little school and two years ago, it received international acclaim because All Blacks fly-half, Beauden Barrett, had attended primary school here when his family relocated from New Zealand for a while, and he even played Gaelic football with the school. This World Cup winner returned to Ballinacree recently and even performed the haka on the front lawn of the school. However, the facilities he saw did not meet world standards - they do not even meet basic health and safety standards, as matters stand.

The school applied recently for funding to construct additional rooms - a general purpose room and classroom facilities - and that application was refused on 10 March. This was despite the fact the school inspector and the senior medical officer in the HSE were in unison in terms of the dire need to progress the plans from a health and safety point of view. The school was awarded an additional teacher in 2011 but due to internal issues at the time, applications for the additional space were not progressed and as a result, the issue of the cramped facilities was compounded. The school's board of management has appealed to the Department to look at this retrospectively and work with it to achieve what is needed for the 94 pupils and six teachers.

The Minister will have prepared notes on behalf of his Department, which I appreciate. However, I appeal to him to look at the needs of this little school again, at what it has achieved and what it aspires to achieve. As Dr. Bennett said to me yesterday, the kids in this school want to kick football in their own parish, not in another one. As a fellow Meath man, I know the Minister will know what I mean by that. To do that, however, and for this community to continue to survive, they need the facilities to so do. I ask the Minister to please look again at this file in order that the opportunity for these kids to develop their critical thinking and to fulfil their thirst for knowledge in facilities fit for this age will become a reality.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I thank Deputy Cassells for raising this issue and I can understand his concern. The backdrop to this, which he probably understands, is the pressure I am under to deliver new school places. Each year we have to deliver at least 15,000 new school places and 5,000 absolutely essential replacements, and, therefore, the Department has to become very selective and prioritise very carefully. Obviously the first emphasis has to be where new places are not available and have to be built. As my written reply states, there is pressure at primary level, with about 25,000 pupils having to be provided for over three years, and the position is similar at second level, which gives the overall figure of 15,000-plus per year. That is the backdrop and it takes up about 80% of the budget. It is for this reason that, when this application was made to convert two existing classrooms into a general purpose room and to build two new classrooms and a resource room, the Department turned it down. In doing so, it looked at pupil number trends, which have been pretty stable in the past few years, and this resulted in the turning down of the school, as the Deputy has outlined.

The Deputy asked that this be re-examined. I understand the school, pretty much simultaneously, has resubmitted the application and the school authorities have asked that this be reconsidered. I note the points the Deputy is making, which are obviously part of the reconsideration, including the added teacher. I also note the school has made an application in respect of the toilets under the summer works scheme and that has yet to be decided. It is in category five under the summer works scheme, which is still under consideration and a decision will have to be made on that.

The Deputy also spoke on the issue of support for SNAs and resource teachers. Bearing in mind the points he has made and the submission the authority has made, I will ask the Department to look afresh at this and to reconsider the application. The difficulty I have is that we are against this backdrop of pressure on our capital budget to deliver the new build that is absolutely essential because, otherwise, children will have no place to go. That has forced us to be very strict in regard to which of the extensions that are not meeting demographic need we can cater for. I will convey the concerns of the Deputy in the context of this reconsideration of the submission made by the school.

Deputy Shane Cassells: Information on Shane Cassells Zoom on Shane Cassells I thank the Minister for the response and I appreciate he gets many such requests. However, the context for engaging with him on this particular file is the fact the school was awarded an additional teacher in 2011 and the plans to progress the much-needed facilities were never implemented. The school needs positive engagement with the Department. I ask the Minister to re-examine that technical issue of how it lost out, in particular in the context of how that has now compounded the cramped facilities. The school management has requested a reappraisal with Brian O'Connell from the buildings works section and a request for a meeting to discuss the intricate nature of the required works has been sent to Tona Redmond in the school capital appraisal section. In the first instance, I ask that the Minister would ensure this meeting goes ahead, that there is positive engagement in terms of the officials actually looking at the case file from 2011, given there is a need to revisit the events that occurred at that time, and that the pressing need to develop facilities is examined.

They are good kids. As I said, the Minister knows this part of the county very well. They just want simple, basic facilities.


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