Need for progress on Athenry Vocational School

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The need for a new school building for Athenry Vocational School was raised by Galway East TD Paul Connaughton in a Topical Issues Debate in the Dáil last week.

Speaking during the Debate Deputy Connaughton noted that a new school building has been promised for many years. ‘We have heard for so long how close we were to getting a new school. At one stage, it was believed that parents, pupils and teachers would walk through the front door of a brand new school on 1 September 2014. That certainly did not happen.’

He noted the great work done by local people over many years in an effort to bring the project to fruition, including Cllr. Peter Feeney and said that what the people of Athenry need is answers.

In reply Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan TD said, ‘Athenry has been identified as an area of demographic growth. In that regard, a major project to provide a new school building for Gairmscoil Mhuire, Athenry, to cater for 1,000 pupils has been included in the current five-year construction plan announced in 2012. A new site is required to accommodate this new school building. The Deputy will be aware that I signed a memorandum of understanding between my Department and the County and City Managers’ Association in 2012.’ Speaking of the memorandum of agreement, the Minister notes that sites have to identified and purchased and the conveyancing process can be a long one.

‘In this instance, my Department has worked closely with Galway County Council towards acquiring a permanent site to meet the needs of the school. In the course of the site acquisition process, some matters arose which required further technical assessment and consideration. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that all of these technical matters have now been addressed to the extent that the site acquisition can proceed. I have been informed by my officials that, subject to no issues arising, it is expected that contracts can be signed shortly.

‘I am afraid I have to use the word “shortly,” even though the Deputy wants something more specific. It will then be possible for the project to proceed to architectural planning. I assure the Deputy that the project to provide a new permanent building for Gairmscoil Mhuire, Athenry, will be progressed as soon as possible.

‘Officials from my Department will be in contact with Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board in that regard as soon as the site acquisition is completed. I thank the Deputy again for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the current position regarding the site, although I am not sure I have told him anything he did not already know. It is important to note that “shortly” means “in the very near future.”

Responding, Deputy Connaughton thanked the Minister for her reply an added, ‘although the word “shortly” will cause some frustration among people in Athenry tonight.’

‘I welcome the fact that a lot of the technical issues have been sorted out and that we are very much nearing the end of the process. However, I ask the Minister and her officials to redouble their efforts to get this over the line as soon as possible. Having met parents and, in particular, teachers, I note that although this is a school with a proud history and a bright future, they are teaching in a school that is not fit for 2015 and are in desperate need of a new premises. They grow frustrated daily at words such as “shortly.” I understand that conveyancing can take time and that legal issues can arise, but it is important to get around them as soon as possible. If possible, we should put timelines in place within the next month or two.

Deputy Connaughton invited the Minister to visit all three schools in the town to familiarise herself with local concerns and see first-hand the developments taking place in the town and hinterland.

‘We need to bring these schools up to the necessary standard, and I urge the Minister and her officials to get the matter over the line as soon as possible. Let us get building this school, because Athenry and Gairmscoil Mhuire deserve a new school in 2015.’