SCOIL na Mainistreach in Quin will have to wait for funding for a PE hall and general-purpose facilities, after it was revealed by Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan that funds were not available for the project at this time.
Responding to a parliamentary question posed by Clare Fianna Fáil Deputy, Timmy Dooley, Minister O’Sullivan said, “Due to the competing demands on my department’s capital budget, imposed by the need to prioritise the limited funding available for the provision of essential additional school accommodation to meet increasing demographic requirements, it is not possible to provide for a PE hall at this time.”
Deputy Dooley heavily criticised a visit to the school by former Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, before May’s local elections.
He commented, “I am extremely frustrated and angered that Minister Jan O’Sullivan has reneged on a promise by her predecessor to ensure funding was made available for PE facilities at Scoil Na Mainistreach in Quin. In a deeply cynical pre-election move last May, former minister, Ruairí Quinn and Deputy Michael McNamara visited the school to view the ongoing extension project. There is a great need for general-purpose/physical education facilities at the school and to suddenly change direction after the local elections is a substantial blow for the school, its students and the board of management,” he said.
He highlighted that Scoil Na Mainistreach is the only school of its size in Clare, which does not have these much-needed facilities.
“With the public finances on a seven-year high, I am calling on the five local Government Oireachtas members in Clare to persuade the minister that the project warrants investment. The deeply cynical pre-election appearance of Minister Quinn at the school will not be forgotten by locals in Quin, unless this terrible and wrong decision is reversed,” Deputy Dooley said.
Commenting on the minister’s decision, school principal, Anne Fitzpatrick said, “We haven’t been sanctioned funding for a PE hall, despite an application. We had been very hopeful of it. We had a visit from Minister Quinn in May of this year and, when he was on site, he said if there was funding available, it would be considered as part of the current phase, which is the eight-classroom extension. We are very happy with that and it is due to be completed by December. We always saw that as phase one of the project and we believed it would make best economic practice to provide phase two following that, particularly a lot of the surfaces that we are putting down presently would be pulled back up again in order to facilitate a PE hall, which will have to be provided for a school of our size into the future.”
Currently, the national school, which has 293 pupils enrolled, has no physical education facilities.
“When the weather is good, we bring the children out into the school field and to the school yards but, as soon as the weather gets bad, we do not do PE and teachers have to make do by getting the children to do very minor exercises in the classroom, which is totally inadequate,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
She added that the school will continue to campaign for the funds to provide a PE hall and was not planning to fundraise locally.
“These are essential course facilities and, while parents are willing to fund additional IT and resources like that, I think it would be unfair to expect parents to fund what we would see as key and essential resources, such as a PE facility, particularly at a time of recession, when parents are very tight for money. The parents of this community have fundraised a huge amount to date. When there was money available, parents did fund a beautiful field and dressing rooms but that money is no longer available to parents. On principle alone, I would not see, nor would the board of management see it as the role of parents to provide such key facilities, because you are talking about a few hundred thousand. We are only asking [from the department] for what is being provided to other schools of our size in the local area. The minister states that there is no funding for PE halls with devolved grants; however, we feel that isn’t consistent. We do want to work with the department and we do want to work with the Minister for Education and we do take heart from her statement that, should money become available, the application is being kept on file and we would hope that money would become available sooner rather than later so we can put these resources into place for our students as soon as possible,” she said.
Ms Fitzpatrick also highlighted that a contractor is already on-site and it would be more cost-effective and practical to have the school extension and the PE hall constructed at once, to minimise disruption to the operation of the school.
The contractor has pointed out that it would be a logistical nightmare to try to get machinery back into the site area to put in a PE hall again, MS Fitzpatrick said.
“Plus the fact of the disruption to the children’s learning. They have already been disrupted for the last 12 months and the community has been very patient and we have worked through those disruptions. It would be most economically practical to provide the extension now, while the contractors are on-site and we are campaigning for that on an ongoing basis. We will continue to apply for a PE hall and general-purpose facilities until they are provided. We are very happy with our current extension and we have state-of-the-art mainstream accommodation but we have always seen that as phase one of the project. With a population of our size, we need to provide general-purpose facilities and learning support facilities going forward,” Ms Fitzpatrick added.
Parents and staff at the national school have sent letters recently to the public representatives, who have been raising the issue with the minister.
“The minister has decided at this stage that there is no point in meeting a delegation from Quin school. While we are disappointed with that, we are still taking heart from the minister’s statement that should funding become available, Quin school will be considered in the light of that funding,” she concluded.