Frustrated Tramore Town Councillors have lambasted both Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe and his Cabinet colleague Martin Cullen, claiming to have been repeatedly led down the garden path on the issue of the town’s desperately needed and long promised amalgamated secondary school.
The Council members were angered at their September meeting on Tuesday night by a nonsensical letter on the subject from Mr. O’Keeffe to Mr. Cullen, a copy of which the latter forwarded to them. It was prompted by queries they had made about the school, for which a 14 acre site has been acquired and re-zoned for the purpose.
The letter, described by Mayor Raymond Hayden as meaningless and by Lola O’Sullivan as a mockery, read, verbatim: “Thank you for your recent letter on behalf of Mr. John O’Sullivan, Town Clerk, Tramore County Council, County Council Offices, Convent Road, Tramore, Co. Waterford, in relation to the proposed amalgamation of two Tramore secondary schools.
“Stella Maris Secondary School and the CBS Secondary School, Tramore, have agreed to amalgamate into a Community School catering for 1,000 pupils. Amalgamation is dependent on the availability of suitable accommodation and a decision has already been taken to provide a new school on a new site.
“The amalgamated school was one of 27 new schools announced in September, 2005, to be provided under my Department’s Public Private Partnership Programme 2006 to 2010. The make-up of further school bundles in my Department’s PPP school building programme will be determined on such issues as geographic spread and site availability for each school.
“I hope you will find this information of assistance”.
Aghast at the contents and structure of the letter, the Mayor said it made no sense at all and was a very disappointing response. “It means nothing”, he said, recalling that in 2005 the then Education Minister, Mary Hanafin, announced that Tramore was included in a PPP school bundle 2006 to 2009, “not 2010”. On foot of that announcement the land was acquired and appropriately zoned.
“It is an absolute scandal”, he said, “that children are still attending unfit, prefab excuses for classrooms, on ground intended for play areas. This letter is insulting to the Town Council, it is nothing but a brush-off and it is the Department and the Department alone which is holding up this project”.
Cllr O’Sullivan said the Education Minister clearly hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. “I’m ashamed of him as a Minister and I feel sorry for Martin Cullen having to work with somebody like him. He is sitting on a site (at Ballycarnane) worth four million euro while substantial money is being wasted on prefabs and we’re being denied a proper school which we were promised”.
Cllr Ann Marie Power, a teacher at the CBS, recalled that the amalgamated school had been promised before the last three elections, starting with Mary Harney prior to the 02 general election. She said the commitment was again given before the 04 local elections and by Martin Cullen in the lead-up to last year’s general election.
In the latter regard she made reference to an article by Jamie O’Keeffe in this newspaper, dated March 2007, in which Mr. Cullen, then Minister for Transport, was quoted as saying: “The tender process will commence shortly, so building work can start as soon as possible”.
Cllr Power said she would like a comment from Minister Cullen now. “The people of Tramore gave him over 2,000 votes. They put their faith in him and now is his chance to repay them”, she challenged.
She went on to say the current situation at the CBS was ridiculous, with money being expended on prefabs, of which there were 24 as against three permanent structures. See Page 2
Many were in a rundown state with ceilings collapsing and the conditions were appalling for both students and teachers. “It is going to be a live local election issue next June”, she warned, adding that there was an obvious inequity in educational facilities and Tramore fared poorly compared to the rest of the county.
Former teacher Cllr Joe Conway said it was reprehensible in this day and age that a town the size of Tramore was so badly served in educational terms. As someone who laboured in prefabs in Dublin in the bad old days – foul smelling, poorly heated, damp and rodent infested – it was incredible that they were still in widespread use despite all the affluence of recent years.
He said the attitude of government seemed to be that anything would do Tramore. “Well, we must take a stand and demonstrate that this is not acceptable”, he suggested.
The Mayor said there was no point pushing for a university while there was such a rotten foundation at primary and second level.
He is to seek a meeting with Department representatives and Minister Cullen to ascertain the up-to-date position regarding the new school.
This newspaper invited Minister Cullen, through his press secretary, to respond to the complaints, but he had not done so up to the time of going to press.