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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
MAXWELLS DUBLIN Education Minister Norma Foley
Invest in education

Schools 'at risk' due to lack of legal agreements between Department and patron bodies, report reveals

Investment to the tune of €4 billion made over the past 8 years hasn’t been safeguarded according to a new report.

GOVERNMENT IS INVESTING in school buildings and upgrading infrastructure in buildings owned by third parties which could be sold on in spite of this investment due to a lack of legal agreements in place, according to a new report. 

The latest report from Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy shows that the Department of Education spent €4 billion on new schools and school extensions between 2012 and 2019. 

In 2019 alone, some €665 million was spent on capital works projects, of which €69 million related to site acquisitions. 

There are around 4,000 schools in the state, which accommodate more than 900,000 students, but just 13% of those are on Government-owned or Education and Training Board (ETB) sites. 

The majority of the remaining schools are run by patron-bodies such as church organisations. The Department, however, provides maintenance funding for those schools.

In the report published this week by the C&AG, he warns that a lack of legal agreements with those patron-bodies leaves the Department at risk of losing those schools despite significant investment in recent years if the patron-body was to sell the buildings. 

He writes: “An estimated 87% of the school estate is on land that is not owned by the Minister or ETBs.

“Despite advice from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office (CSSO) in 2009, and the expenditure of over €3 billion in major capital works in schools since 2012, the Department has not implemented legal agreements to provide for the continued use of funded buildings as educational facilities.

“As a result, there is a risk that the State’s investment may not be safeguarded should the circumstances of the patron change or the site is sold to a third party.”

McCarthy also states that these agreements should be put in place as “a matter of urgency”.

It notes 162 projects have been completed since 2012 on patron-owned sites, including ten Public Private Partnership projects, reaching a total investment is €847 million.

“The absence of legal agreements between the Department and the relevant school authorities relating to these and earlier projects creates a risk that the Minister’s investment is not currently safeguarded should circumstances change for the patron body.”

The report adds: “A further 32 projects have been completed on ETB owned sites with a total investment of €271 million. The absence of a legal agreement in these cases is not a concern because disposal of ETB assets requires the Minister’s sanction.” contacted the Department of Education for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publication. 

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