13. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills when a site is expected to be purchased to accommodate the three-school campus in Buncrana, County Donegal; the timeline of works to ensure that this school campus is completed as soon as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 14259/18 asked on 29 Mar 2018)
Deputy Charlie McConalogue: When is a site expected to be purchased to accommodate the three-school campus in Buncrana, County Donegal? What is the timeline of works to ensure that this school campus is completed as soon as possible?
(Deputy Richard Bruton): I thank the Deputy for raising this. We had a meeting on this not so long ago. The project in respect of the education campus in Buncrana is included in my Department’s capital programme.
The Department is working closely with Donegal County Council in relation to the proposed site acquisition. The site acquisition process to date has been protracted.
A number of options are available to progress the site acquisition process and these options are being thoroughly appraised to ensure value for money for the State. Officials in my Department are working with council officials to determine the most appropriate next steps and the school authorities will be kept informed of developments.
I recently met representatives of the schools concerned and I can assure the Deputy that every effort is being made to expedite the site acquisition process.
Once the site acquisition is complete, the project can progress to architectural planning stage.
Deputy Charlie McConalogue: I thank the Minister for his response. The campus will accommodate Crana College secondary school, Gaelscoil Buncrana primary school and Gaelcholáiste Chineál Eoghain secondary school. The school authorities are at their wit’s end because of the delays in, first, acquiring a site and, second, moving the process forward to the construction of new schools to accommodate their needs. The premises they are in currently are not suitable. Crana College students are cramped in a number of prefabs with no more space available while Gaelcholáiste Chineál Eoghain is based in Tullyarvan Mill, which is not ideal. Gaelscoil Buncrana is accommodated in Buncrana Youth Club, which is not an ideal premises for a school. That school badly needs a new premises.
It is long past time that the dilly dallying by the Department stopped. This site acquisition has been badly mishandled in recent years and no progress has been made on it to date. The process cannot move forward without a site being acquisitioned. I acknowledge the Minister met representatives of the schools together with the education and training board, ETB, at its request. He would have met the chairperson of the ETB, Councillor Rena Donaghey, who is from Buncrana and pushing hard for this to progress. Can the Minister give a timeline and a commitment that he will prioritise the purchasing of a site and that we will at last see progress on this project?
Deputy Richard Bruton: The Deputy will be aware that we had a meeting in Donegal and I took that opportunity to meet those concerned about this matter. It is not fair to say that considerable effort has not been put into this. A number of site options were explored by the local authority on our behalf. Negotiations were initiated with the only landowner who was willing to negotiate. They have proven unsuccessful. There is continuing work under way to see if we can find a solution and every option will be considered. The local authority has undertaken work even since that meeting in Donegal to see if we can find a route to a solution on this matter. It is a difficult one. I fully acknowledge the frustration of those involved but I can assure the Deputy there is an absolute determination to push on with this, but we will have to do so on the basis of the best advice. We are obtaining the information necessary for that.
Deputy Charlie McConalogue: I remind the Minister this is the second occasion on which a site assessment process has been undertaken by his Department. We had one four years ago which was completed by the ETB, where it identified the preferred sites and engaged with the Department with a view to commencing negotiations. The Minister’s Department restarted that process and asked Donegal County Council to do the same process, basically going over the same ground again, which meant the process did not go forward.
It is long past time this matter was brought to a head and negotiations were completed with no further delays and standing back from this matter. The Minister indicated all options will be considered and it is important they would be. It was discussed previously with respect to the potential negotiations and exploring whether a compulsory purchase order, CPO, is an option. The preferred option must be an agreement and negotiation with the preferred landowners. It is most important the Department prioritises this matter, engages and brings it to a head, which must happen, and once we have a site secured we can move on to architectural planning and building and developing the schools. Unfortunately, until a site is secured none of that happen. Can the Minister give me a timeline and the utmost assurance the Department will prioritise this matter and ensure the site acquisition process is expedited?
Deputy Richard Bruton: I can assure the Deputy there is no unwillingness to prioritise this matter. I also believe the switch to Donegal County Council - this is a pattern right across the Department’s portfolio - is not the cause of the delay in this instance. There are genuine underlying problems that we need to sort out. I share the Deputy’s sense of urgency around this but, nonetheless, we have to find a solution, as the Deputy said, and a way in which a suitable site can be procured. The Department will work to achieve that.