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‘The yard is too small; we’ve to tell pupils not to run too fast’: The school working out of prefabs for 30 years

Pupils at Clondalkin primary school to protest outside Leinster House this week over delays to new school building

When pupils were first enrolled at Gaelscoil na Camóige primary school in 1994, staff assumed the prefabs in the yard would be replaced by a permanent building within a few years.

That was 30 years ago and the children of some of those pupils are now attending what was their parents’ school – with the same temporary structures dotted around the yard. School principal Aoife Ní Raghallaigh said day-to-day life was challenging to say the least.

There are nine small classrooms accommodating 236 pupils, as well as teachers, special needs assistants and ancillary staff.

“Classes are cramped. There’s no area to display work, we don’t have space for active teaching and learning. It’s freezing in the depths of winter, and in the summer you’re melting,” she said. “We’ve no sports hall, no area for assemblies. We rent a scouts’ hall across the road for PE, but it means crossing a busy road and carrying all the sport equipment with us there and back.”

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Ms Ní Raghallaigh said the school would love to hold “normal events” like sports days and grandparents’ days, but this was a struggle due to the shortage of space.

“Even the yard is too small; we’ve to tell pupils not to run too fast in the yard,” she said.

There have been false dawns in the long wait for a school building, such as in 2015 when it was listed as part of a fast-track programme.

“It was described as ‘accelerated delivery’,” she said of the project announced almost a decade ago now. “It was beset with problems and delays... plans had to be resubmitted, there were changes in design and regulations... we haven’t always been informed why there were delays.”

The latest plan is that Gaelscoil na Camóige will be based on an all-Irish school campus, with another Gaelscoil – Gaelscoil Chluain Dolcáin – and a gaelcoláiste, Coláiste Chilliain. There will also be an all-weather pitch for use by the schools and the local GAA club. The plan is at tender stage.

The campus would also be a step forward for the promotion of Irish locally, as Clondalkin is one of five areas outside the Gaeltacht that is part of the “líonra Gaeilge” or Irish language network.

There was encouraging news last week when Minister for Education Norma Foley announced the €800 million roll-out of the next phase of her department’s school building programme. It is planned that almost 90 school building projects at tender stage will be authorised to proceed to construction over the course of this year and next.

“This is a record level of investment in school buildings,” Ms Foley said. “It will expand the number of school places, significantly increase provision for special education, and upgrade and modernise our school infrastructure. The impact of this will be felt in communities right around the country.”

At Gaelscoil na Camóige, however, they are not taking anything for granted. The school is pressing ahead with a protest outside the Dáil on Thursday and pupils have recorded an Irish version of Sean Linn – Stand By Us – on YouTube as part of their campaign.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll see progress soon, but we’ve heard promises before and we’ve been let down,” said Ms Ní Raghallaigh. “We’ve love to be able to plan for the future, to grow our school. But at the moment, we just don’t have the space.”