Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn TD went on a school tour to Laois yesterday, where he roundly blamed Fianna Fáil for leaving the largest primary school in the county to rely on 24 prefabs and just eight permanent classrooms.
The Labour Minister viewed construction work on the new primary school campuses in Summerhill and Aghnaharna, before meeting children and staff at Scoil Bríde Knockmay, later going to Scoil Mhuire Fatima in Timahoe, as part of a trip arranged by Senator John Whelan, that also took in Monasterevin and Tullamore.
Speaking to the Leinster Express, Minister Quinn said the Knockmay school, which has 748 pupils and 49 teachers, had been “punished for its own success in accommodating a rapidly growing, new population” in Portlaoise.
“Because the site was so big, they could put on more prefabs, the idea of 24 out of 32 being prefabs is just extraordinary.
One has to ask what the previous government were doing. In the old constituency, Fianna Fáil were so dominant they took things for granted,” he said.
He toured the packed playground of screaming children at lunchtime, accompanied by Principal Muriel Wall-Coughlin, and recently retired principal Ted Laffey, both of whom enthusiastically explained their efforts to build a permanent 32 classroom school.
Scoil Bríde no longer has a grass area for sports, as every available spot has grey prefabs or concrete. Planning permission is obtained but a new school is not planned until 2015, leaving many children on a waiting list.
Minister Quinn undertook to speak with the top official responsible for new school buildings, based in Tullamore.
“Make sure you can proceed, prepare your contract documents, If any additional money is available, be ready for it,” he told the principal.