EDUCATION Minister Batt O’Keeffe cannot guarantee that work will start on any more school buildings this year despite promises from his predecessor that projects would be given the go-ahead after Easter.
Mary Hanafin announced in February a list of 30 schools in developing areas, mostly in Dublin, to be designed and built for this autumn.
In the same statement she said that further projects to be allowed go to construction would be announced after Easter, but no announcement has been made since then.
Mr O’Keeffe said he has been reviewing his department’s spending plans, including the proposed €586m spend on school buildings this year, since being appointed Education Minister a month ago.
“There was an earlier announcement and it was understood that perhaps there might be another one.
“But it’s far too early to speculate whether there will be any further announcements this year,” he told the Irish Examiner.
“Obviously, I share the concerns that parents and teachers have about some of the buildings which, of course, need to be upgraded,” he said.
But the minister said he would not make himself a hostage to fortune and now give commitments for which there was not the requisite funding. “I want an opportunity to sit down and see what is left in the kitty for 2008,” he said.
Mr O’Keeffe also responded to claims by some schools that the building queue in which they have spent a number of years has been skipped by new schools in Dublin because the Department of Education failed to plan for the capital’s population growth.
“In the first instance, you have to look at the fact that some kids have no roof over their heads and they have to get a classroom. We are absolutely committed to finding classrooms and finding teachers for those children, that has to be an absolute priority,” the minister said.
Labour Party education spokesman Ruairi Quinn said the image in yesterday’s Irish Examiner of children queuing to use an outside toilet at Kilfinane National School in Co Limerick is shocking but not surprising.
He said progress on building projects appears to have come to a halt despite countless schools being given the impression that their projects might be moved along soon.
“I seriously doubt if the minister will be making any announcements in this regard this side of September. In the meantime, pupils, parents and staff will become even more frustrated, disappointed and disillusioned,” he said.
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