Thursday, 18 April 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
Tomás Mac Giolla: As the Minister is aware everyone has agreed that this Bill is non-controversial but when I spoke earlier I raised some controversial issues, in particular the publication of reports by the existing Bord Scoláireachtaí Comhalairte, the Scholarship Exchange Board. The last report received by the Library of this House was the report for 1983. I presume therefore that that was the last report issued by them. I do not blame the academic staff in the Scholarship Exchange Board for this as they have done an excellent job. However there has been a number of Ministers for Foreign Affairs since 1983 and I must pose the question of whether any of them inquired if the board ever issued a report or if they even cared. Indeed, did they even care that this board existed because it seems that the board has been defunct for many years? It is extraordinary that no Minister has asked why there has been no report for seven or eight years. It is stated in this Bill that the board must report annually but who is going to care whether they will report?
I stated earlier that as this is an educational matter and so should be the function of the Minister for Education. The Minister for Foreign Affairs does not give a damn as to whether the board exists. However, the Minister for Education should be very concerned because of the benefits to be gained from an exchange of ideas which is of vital importance to the educational sector. I do not know the reason the scheme is of importance to the Department of Foreign Affairs — perhaps an element of goodwill is involved — but it appears that the earlier fund was set up as a tribute to Senator Fulbright. It presented a useful way to Senators or those who wished to have themselves commemorated by way of a scholarship to stash away some American dollars tax free. There is nothing wrong with that. It might be an excellent idea  if the new commission tout around the United States asking people to avail of an opportunity to have themselves remembered for life or commemorated by way of a scholarship by giving them 100,000 dollars.
Tomás Mac Giolla: ——“and give us $100,000 and you might bring in some money that way”. If they are set up by an American forum for a particular type of scholarship, naturally the Minister for Foreign Affairs will not have much interest in them and there will be nobody responsible for seeing whether they report and, if they report, whether they produce a financial report. I got the 1982 report, which was excellent from an academic point of view, but there was no financial report for that year. Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs have any interest in whether the new commission make a financial report or any report? I raise these questions not to create controversy in relation to the Bill. As I said, the idea is good and we are all in favour of it, but will it be just allowed to die away?
The other question I raised was whether the Irish Government intend to put as little into the new body as they put into the last one which, apparently, was nil. If they put anything into it I am sure the Minister would have told us so in his introductory speech. If there has been some input we have not heard of perhaps the Minister will tell us in his concluding speech.
Section 16 provides that “the Commission may import free of import charges necessary equipment for official use”. I am sure the Department of Education, and our educational institutions — universities, institutions of technology, secondary and even primary schools — would love to have the advantage of being able to import free of import duty equipment necessary for official use. How is such a concession given to one small commission of an educational nature who come under the Department of Foreign Affairs when all education levels, from  primary up to universities, are unable to avail of such imports free of import duty? I may be wrong and the Minister for Finance may have told us a few minutes before he left that such duty free imports are allowed to education establishments. I have not heard of them. Why is that provided in this Bill? Will it be brought into other education institutions and, possibly, the proposed education Act? It would be very useful.
Educational, cultural exchanges and scholarships of this nature, the exchange of ideas and all that is involved in this from various institutions in the US and here, are an excellent idea. Have the Department considered establishing a similar commission to spread this idea or assist other countries on an international basis? Why is there not one body in Ireland to promote and regulate educational exchanges between all countries, such as Ireland and the UK, Ireland and France, Ireland and Germany or whatever? There is a need for such a commission if one is being established to regulate exchanges between Ireland and the US. How are the other exchanges operating with no commissions being in place? Have we no educational exchange with any country other than the US?
I find it difficult to understand this except on the basis that we are in the old begging bowl routine. The US offers us $150,000 a year and we say we will set up a commission to run this for them. They are putting up the money and we are assisting them in the operation, but we have no idea, purpose, aim or objective in promoting educational exchanges between conutries generally and other cultures. Deputy Higgins in his speech set out a very broad policy and outlook on the whole idea of cultural and educational exchange. Have we any such vision or idea in the Government or any such objective in mind? If we have, should we set up a commission to promote and regulate educational exchanges with countries other than the US?
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