A staggering 37 per cent of families in the Mullingar Area have a child under the age of four, way above the national average.
Councillors at the recent Mullingar area meeting were stunned by the figure and say it must be borne in mind as the Area plan to 2020 is being developed.
The population of Mullingar has almost doubled to over 21,000 since 1991, and councillors heard that the town has a very young population.
Town engineer Terry McCague said that key areas such as recreation and schools have to be planned for by the council.
Cllr Aidan Davitt gave a practical example of how one of the town’s three GAA clubs, St Loman’s used to have around 60 children under six for Saturday morning training. In recent weeks however, there have been up to 115 children attending.
He said there’s an urgent need to ensure that some of those families, who have little interaction with the town, its institutions or their neighbours have opportunities to integrate.
It’s noble to attract people to Mullingar, “but these people are on our doorstep and the onus is on us to reach out and involve them,” he said, describing the number of young children as “almost frightening”.
“I’m concerned about social issues going forward if we can’t get people involved, and I’m distressed that people consider themselves still to be from Dublin or Poland but not as Mullingar people.”
“We have to get the best out of them and they have to get the best out of them,” he said of the huge population of younger families in the town.
Mr McCague said Cllr Davitt’s experience is probably replicated in other clubs and highlights the need to structure proper growth.
However, although the issue of youth facilities has emerged through the council’s consultations, there is no funding to provide these services. But they can be planned for, Mr McCague said.
Cllr Denis Leonard pointed out that children need the facilities before they are too old to enjoy them.
“In Dublin the kids moved out before the playgrounds were built,” he said, urging that the council not be behind that curve.
He also said school facilities should be available after 4pm so there’s a more integrated approach to recreation and education for the entire community.
Cllr Dollard said Mullingar’s community college needs to relocate to a bigger campus.
Mr McCague said there is a “bulge of young school-goers” and within five or six years there will be a justification for a new secondary school or upgraded facilities for another school.
Director of services David Hogan said the council is in discussions with the Department of Education and a new school is planned for the Ardmore Road.