Fianna Fáil TD for Laois Sean Fleming says the construction of a new second level school in Portlaoise and the replacement school for St. Francis Special School must be a top Government priority.

Deputy Fleming made the comments during a special Dáil debate yesterday where he called on Minister for Education Richard Bruton to set out a clear timeline for the projects.

“The last two censuses showed that Portlaoise is the fastest growing town in Ireland outside of the major cities. It has been well acknowledged that there has been a major increase in the population of 10 – 20 year olds. This has led to a massive increase in demand for school places,” explained Deputy Fleming.

“St. Francis Special School on the Timahoe Road, Portlaoise currently has 90 students. Prefabs have recently been put in place but this is only a temporary solution. The Board of Management and all concerned are clear that a new school building is urgently needed.

“St. Paul’s National School is currently being relocated and the school patrons have agreed to make the site available for the construction of a replacement building for St. Francis Special School once St. Paul’s school moves out. Minister Bruton needs to ensure that the demolition of the old school and the construction of the new school begin without any undue delay.

“A new second level school has been approved for Portlaoise to meet the growing demand for school places. The existing three second level schools are at maximum capacity.The patron for this new school will be Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board with An Foras Pátrúnachta (Gaelscoil community) as trustee partner. This is a welcome development but a timeline is needed for construction work.

“I understand a site has been identified at the old Centrepoint Shopping Centre, Mountrath Road, Portlaoise for this school. Minister Bruton needs to ensure that construction work is not delayed as work needs to commence as soon as possible. The Minister acknowledged that Portlaoise is under severe pressure for school places when I raised the issue with him in the Dáil. I will keep the pressure on so that these two projects are not delayed.

“I also made the case directly to the Minister for a new school for Kolbe special school which caters for students with profound physical and other challenges. There is an opportunity for joined-up thinking in terms of the co-location of the Kolbe and St. Francis special schools on the site that will be vacated by St. Paul’s national school on the Borris road. There is an excellent opportunity to accommodate both schools on that site,” said Deputy Fleming.