PARENTS in the western suburbs who for many years have struggled to find secondary places for their children could see construction commence on a new school at Mungret College as early as 2016, according to Cllr Tomas Hannon.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan raised eyebrows when he recently said the need for a new secondary school for Mungret/Raheen/Dooradoyle was “not clear”. He was speaking to Limerick Shannon Rotary Club on the future of the 200 acres around Mungret College signed over to Limerick City and County Council from Nama.
“I think the minister was being a little cagey in relation to it. The feedback I’m getting is very positive. I would it expect it to commence in 2016 or 2017. The Department have requested the council to retain land for it and I am happy with that,” said Cllr Hannon, Labour.
And Santhi Corcoran, who chaired the Secondary School Campaign Mungret, is confident that the new school will have the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board (formerly the VEC) on board as patron.
“We came together in 2010 and said why don’t we campaign for a secondary school like what happened in Castletroy, which is a great school jointly run by the VEC and one that has made such a big difference in that locality,” she said.
After contacting local politicians, Ms Corcoran’s group successfully campaigned to have a new secondary school identified as a priority in the local area plan for Mungret/Dooradoyle/Raheen covering 2011 to 2016. The proposal was not site-specific at that stage and only later were the Mungret College grounds identified as the most suitable location.
After positive discussions with the then VEC, Ms Corcoran said “we
felt it was important to see something on paper so we put a proposal into the VEC board to say ‘Look, are you prepared to be patrons if such a project takes place?’ and they responded positively, having voted unanimously, which we were delighted with.”
Correspondence from the VEC in 2012 confirmed it would be happy to assume patronage of the proposed school in Mungret.
At a subsequent meeting with Ruairi Quinn, the Minister for Education was at first unconvinced of the need for a new school in the district. But Cllr Hannon believes that has now changed after a proposal to expand Crescent College Comprehensive was turned down by parents there and the fact that a multi-denominational secondary school at Mungret fits in with the minister’s reforms of patronage.
But the main reason for a new school is simply the strength of numbers, according to Cllr Hannon, who expects most of the future population growth of the city - spurred on by investments like Regeneron and the expansion of the hospital in Dooradoyle - to take place in his area.
Ms Corcoran agreed a second level school in the area was warranted because of “the explosion in population alone”.
“There is a desperate need because of population in the area and within a couple of years there will be a school-sized population of children looking for secondary school. It is fantastic to have Croom and Pallaskenry but I don’t think we will be able to accommodate everybody there.”
The costs of having children commute to schools in County Limerick had become an acute issue in the area after job losses in Dell and elsewhere in recent years, Ms Corcoran said.
Cllr Hannon said people had accused him of supporting a new school in Mungret at the expense of the viability of the planned expansion of Colaiste Chiarain in Croom - but he does not accept this.
“By the time Mungret comes online, the population will have increased anyway. I get emails accusing me of taking away from Croom but we are not. We are hopeful it won’t be delayed any further. It is badly needed in Croom and it was on the minister’s list to be built in 2013 anyway. The problem was the planning issues,” he said.
Ms Corcoran believes Croom and Mungret can complement one another and it was important for students not to let Croom or any other school become too big. Besides, Ms Corcoran said, it was appropriate to have children go to school in their own community.
“Children should be able to walk or cycle to school if the government is serious about the obesity problem. Schools should be part of the local social structure rather than children spending inordinate amounts of time commuting and not being engaged in their own local community,” she said.
Ms Corcoran, who stressed she was not a member of any political party, said parents were grateful for the assistance of Cllr Hannon and other politicians who had helped their campaign.
“I don’t know how far we could have got without Tomas because when you are a novice in how local government and the system works, it is incredibly tricky to go about trying to get something like a school going,” she said.