Wednesday, 1 July 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We resume on amendment No. 18 in the  names of Deputy Mac Giolla and Deputy Garland. Amendment No. 19 is an alternative, amendments Nos. 20 and 23 are related and No. 21 is an alternative to No. 20. Therefore, amendments Nos. 18, 19, 20, 21 and 23 may be taken together. Unfortunately, as we do not have present either Deputy concerned, we proceed to No. 19 on which we will have the same grouping and that leaves it in order for me now to invite Deputy O'Shea to move amendment No. 19 in his name.
The section of the Bill which deals with the functions of the college was fairly generously amended on Committee Stage by the Minister for Education. He also introduced another amendment this morning which we had sought on Committee Stage.
The three amendments in my name to this section relate to section 5 (1) (c) which gives the Minister the powers to determine the conditions under which regional colleges may engage in research, consultancy and development work and to provide such services in relation to these matters as the governing body of the college consider appropriate. There are divergent views on this side of the House in relation to the retention of the phrase “subject to such conditions as the Minister may determine.” In this case it is appropriate that the wording remains because we are dealing with the colleges becoming involved in research and development work; the later subsection — (1) (e) — deals with the colleges becoming involved in limited liability companies so that they can pursue research and development work on behalf of the colleges.
Because of what is involved here, particularly as quite an amount of money can be involved, if things go wrong with research and development there must be a safeguard for the colleges in relation  to any difficulties which may arise for companies with whom the colleges are involved. By and large I agree with the retention in section 5 (1) (c) and (e) of the phrase “subject to such conditions as the Minister may determine.” It is also important to insert a democratic principle in the Bill and that is why I am seeking that section 1 (c) should read “subject to such conditions as the Minister may, by order, determine”. I also want to introduce an amendment to section 5 (1) (e) to include the phrase “by order”. The other amendment I am seeking is that wherever an order is proposed to be made under this section, a draft of the proposed order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and that the order shall not be made until a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each House. It is important in this area that the Houses of the Oireachtas have a function in relation to the conditions laid down for the carrying out of research and development work by the colleges and indeed the colleges becoming involved in what can be loosely called campus companies to pursue such work.
The principle of giving greater autonomy to the colleges is one which we all support but in this area, because of the nature of the work involved and how it will be carried out, the conditions laid down should be subject to the approval of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The colleges are located in different regions throughout the country and the collective wisdom of the staff as conveyed to local public representatives, councillors, Deputies or Senators should be taken on board. It is important, when the regulations are presented, that the benefit of such consultations should also be taken on board before the conditions are enshrined in law. If the Minister is agreeable to these amendments the orders made by him under this section should be subject to ratification by both Houses of the Oireachtas. That is the rationale behind the amendments and I ask the Minister to consider my argument sympathetically because it will safeguard the colleges and students.
Mr. Garland: This is another question of the Minister seeming to take more power than is necessary and that is why it is very important to delete “subject to such conditions as the Minister may determine”. I will be interested to hear what the Minister says in justification of this. He has made an effort on Report Stage to amend the Bill as dealt with on Committee Stage, much of which involved decentralising power which he had taken to himself. I am very glad about this and I appeal to the Minister to give a little more and to trust the regional technical colleges and the vocational education committees to do things as they see fit. He should not try to impose ministerial edicts in this area.
Mr. J. Higgins: I agree with the retention of this section. Prior to the adjournment we were extolling the virtues of research and development and looking forward to a new era involving the regional technical colleges. In particular, we laid a heavy emphasis on the catalyst of the regional technical colleges for regional growth and how they should emphasise, correlate and interact with outside and native enterprises to develop indigenous industry.
In relation to research and development, I accept the arguments put forward by Deputy O'Shea — with which I am sure the Minister agrees — that in its regulation there needs to be a supervisory role. While we advocate the use of research and development facilities in the college to assist small industries who do not have their own research or development or access to the kind of material and research which regional technical colleges have in relation to assessing the markets, etc., it is important that any research and development — we said this in relation to the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill — should be educationally related and involve something which will benefit the students. There seems to be a need for a regulatory procedure and I am sure the Minister will not have any problem in relation to being satisfied about the bona fides of  those involved and giving the necessary assent.
Mr. Kemmy: I welcome most of the provisions of this section of the Bill because they are student orientated. I am glad that regional technical colleges will be updated and made more relevant to universities and industry because the day has gone when technical education was seen to be in a vacuum. It must now be seen as a transition to industry, based on changes in industry and relevant and sensitive to those changes. The link with universities is also important because, unless standards are updated and values improved, education in this sphere will lag behind changes in Europe and indeed throughout the world. I welcome what the Minister is trying to achieve in that regard.
It is also important to encourage initiative, the Irish expression is: Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh siad.” We must also recognise talent and the Minister must, like his predecessors, go to the colleges to award prizes and to encourage the students at that level. He should not be seen as issuing diktats and asking people to carry them out. It is important for the Minister to lead the way in this respect.
While I accept what the Minister has said, that he wants to encourage the best students to avail of these provisions, if European Social Fund grants are curtailed as and from next September he will defeat the purpose of what he is trying to achieve, which is the best possible mix of students in third level educational courses. If the Minister curtails or cancels maintenance grants from next September he will cause distress for both parents and students who are planning to enrol in September. This would negative and defeat the purpose of the Bill. What the Minister should do is encourage the best students to come forward to avail of these provisions. I can see no logic in his argument. On the one hand, he is laying down high standards in the section but, on the other, he is going to deny students access to these facilities.
 I should say that the Minister is not responsible, rather his predecessor is, but I ask him to review the section, otherwise it will be flawed. It does not make sense to lay down standards, which is laudable, and to then prevent people availing of these provisions. Again, I appeal to the Minister to restore the grants, otherwise he will do much damage and cause distress to students.
Mr. S. Brennan: Amendment No. 18 seeks to remove the provision that the Minister may determine conditions in relation to research, consultancy and development work, while amendment No. 20 seeks to make a similar change in relation to the section that deals with limited liability companies, that is, companies that exploit research. Amendments Nos. 19, 21 and 23 provide that the Minister may only determine these conditions by order. I do not think I need to overstate the case as both Deputy Higgins and Deputy O'Shea have made it for me. They have argued that the Minister should have a reserve power in this area to avoid duplication and for financial reasons. I thank them for their support.
In response to Deputy O'Shea, I do not think it is necessary to proceed by way of an order. While I know what the Deputy is trying to achieve, to ensure it is made public, I give an undertaking that the conditions will be published. Such a procedure would be less cumbersome. Indeed, if we were to proceed by way of  an order we could slow down the procedure having regard to the fact that limited companies operating in the national or international field and dealing with fast moving business might not want to wait for a ministerial order if the matter can be dealt with more quickly.
As I said on Committee Stage, it is not our intention to ensure that each project should seek clearance; I am more interested in laying down general guidelines and conditions outlining those areas where they will have to seek the permission of the Minister. However we wish to avoid this, where possible. While I share the Deputy's objective it would be much simpler if I gave an undertaking to ensure that the general conditions will be published. In effect, therefore, we will derive the same benefit.
We have deleted the word “Minister” from a raft of sections of the Bill but this is one of the areas where I want to retain it. As I explained the last day, I had considerable experience in my previous portfolio of dealing with a whole range of subsidiary companies. I learned that one has to be extremely careful about the reporting mechanisms between subsidiary companies and the main company. I pointed out that if anything were to go wrong in a subsidiary or campus company, Deputies would want to know what controls were in place.
The points raised by Deputy Kemmy about the ESF grants are not strictly relevant but I should say it is not our intention to cut students out by proceeding with the changes; rather we are trying to attract more students by introducing equity into the system as between the regional technical colleges and the universities. I agree with the Deputy's comments that the regional technical colleges must be relevant in the real world and that is what we are trying to ensure here.
Mr. O'Shea: In his response the Minister attributed to me something that I did not say. As I have stated already, I agree that conditions should be applied in relation to section 5 (1) (c) and (e). I also made the point this morning that the colleges should be able to respond and  carry out all the research and development work that is available within the region. Therefore I do not share the Minister's view on that point.
The conditions and regulations that I would envisage would be macro in nature. I would not envisage the Minister introducing regulations in respect of each project at each regional technical college. As I said, the regulations that should be applied in this case should be macro in nature. Therefore, I do not believe the argument the Minister has made, that we might be slow to respond to international companies, is relevant.
I wish to make the criticism that since I became my party's spokesperson on education at the commencement of this Dáil we have not had a great number of opportunities to discuss educational matters in the House. It is my belief that these matters should be discussed as often as possible given that the position is ever-changing and that we react to new situations. In this context the procedure whereby an order would have to be made would not inhibit the proper development of the conditions that we are talking about in relation to research and development and campus companies.
As I said, the regulations should be macro in nature. In light of our experience it may be necessary to amend them but before the package is agreed the documents should be published and approved by the House. While we all support the concept of devolving authority, to which the Minister is committed, the Oireachtas as distinct from the Minister and his Department should have an ongoing creative role in education. As I mentioned earlier, there is a need to debate educational matters in the House — this could very well be an exciting new departure — and all Members should have an opportunity to make a meaningful input before such conditions pass into law.
Mr. J. Higgins: As I accept your ruling, naturally enough I will not pursue this matter other than to say that with your permission I would like to make a few brief comments in relation to the spirit behind it.
A phenomenon of Irish education has been what has been described as the rat race, the growing pressure on young people. The points race is very much a reflection of the rat race but when one enters third level education, there is an equal amount of pressure. Having won the points race one then enters a further intensive element of competition. This is based on higher standards and the fact that if one fails one's first or second year examinations the scholarship is lost for that particular year. Standards are improving and the pressure is intensifying.
Pressure on pupils is becoming intense and we are now very much aware of the tragic but common phenomenon of suicide, particularly among young people. I ask the Minister, irrespective of the charge involved, try to enshrine in all education legislation the need for greater counselling and support services. Very often in colleges they tend to forget the need for this type of service. In all colleges we should establish ease of access to counselling and support services. There should be a system of early identification of students who are under such intense pressure that they may be  tempted to do what has often been done in the past. We should instil into the student population who may be under such pressure the feeling that there is a shoulder that they can lean on.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair is happy to note that the passing comments did not take very long. In future we will apply a more rigid interpretation of the rules of the House. I wish to remind the House that the question will be put at 6.30 p.m. and, generally speaking, we exercise maximum economy of words in the debate.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Amendment No. 24 is in the names of Deputies J. Higgins and T. Ahearn. Amendment No. 25 is an alternative. Amendments Nos. 26, 27, 28, 29, 35, 37a, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98 and 99 are related. I propose therefore, that amendments Nos. 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 35, 37a, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98 and 99 be taken together.
This amendment seeks to determine that the chairman of the governing body will be selected from the membership of the governing body. We debated this issue at some length on Committee Stage and during the debate on the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill. The same points were made. We have dwelt at length on the  competence of the governing body to run and handle their own affairs. When one looks at the composition of the governing body one will see that it consists of six members of the vocational education committee which represents a good democratic input.
Indeed, in a subsequent amendment I suggest that the representation be increased to seven because of the considerable anxiety expressed by the chairman of the IVEA. I have a subsequent amendment which states that of the seven, five should be elected representatives because it is important to recognise the role of elected representatives as distinct from the valuable but, nevertheless, subsidiary role of people who are nominated to such committees. People who go through the rigours of local elections and put their reputations on the line are entitled to a more dominant position. I do not believe the representation should be three and three.
In relation to the competence of the group to elect their own chairperson the very analysis of the composition will underpin the points we make. For example, there will be six vocational education committee members and, in addition two people nominated by the academic staff. They will be two people from the top echelon with third level qualifications representing the academic staff and there will be one person nominated by the non-academic staff. I appreciate the Minister taking on board the amendment giving students two places rather than one. There will also be one person nominated by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions — I welcome the ministerial amendment to allow for that representation; I do not understand the reason it was deleted in the first place. Last, but not least, there will be five people nominated by organisations recommended by the vocational education committees, people from commerce, agriculture, the professions and different walks of life. The Minister has enshrined in this section the requirement that these people must have a certain  amount of expertise and also be members of recognised bodies which is desirable.
My amendment is a section from the original Bill presented by a former Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke. It proposes that the chairman should be nominated from the existing membership of the governing body. The Minister makes the point that it is his right to nominate the chairman from outside this group. He said that where he has done this in other colleges, he has always exercised discretion and chosen somebody of a particular competence. I wish to make the point that this body is as cross-sectional as one can get. There are people from the top levels of academia, people who have over the years pioneered vocational education and who, in the absence of legislation, built the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology to their present level, who feel they have a justifiable right to bid for the chairmanship of the governing body.
In relation to the other amendments which seek to increase the membership from six to seven I would suggest that FÁS be included on the governing body. We were unsuccessful in including FÁS in what was seen as the concept of the college — the section states, “the college shall consist of —” though as an entity it will never meet and it has no functions or power. We appealed to the Minister to, from a cosmetic point of view, include the vocational education committee and FÁS. The argument advanced by the Minister for not including FÁS was that when referring to the collective image of the college one meant people from the inside.
We are talking about putting a FÁS representative on the governing body. FÁS are a State agency with a budget of £200 million, funded from the European Social Fund — from which the colleges are funded; which undertakes valuable work in relation to part of their mandate, that is, education, training and apprenticeships. Quite obviously there is an interaction between the two agencies. FÁS is the State agency responsible for training and the Industrial Training Act  states that the vocational education committees have a vital role to play in relation to apprenticeships. The obvious thing therefore is to nominate a FÁS representative on the governing body. As I said previously, it is my belief that EOLAS should be represented on the governing body as well. We have spoken much about the merit of research and development.
In relation to the aspiration of having the chairman of the governing body elected, the Minister acknowledged that the IVEA met him yesterday and that he was extremely impressed by the arguments they advanced for the insertion of powers that have been culled or deleted on Committee Stage. We are grateful to the Minister for having tabled amendments Nos. 6 and 7 re-establishing the role of the vocational education committees. What we want the Minister to do here — I am sure it was a point made to him by the IVEA yesterday, but I am open to correction on that — is allow IVEA to at least have the option at some stage of having their members considered for the post of chairman of the governing body. If the Minister would travel this final part of the road it would do much to allay the anxiety — in some cases the anger — felt by elected vocational education committee members on what they perceive to be a lack of recognition or downgrading of their role.
I welcome the inclusion of ICTU and I would ask that FÁS be included also. I have not heard any cogent argument advanced as to why they cannot be included. It would make a lot of sense to have them, or at least a representative of theirs, serve on the governing body. Last but not least, we advocate that the chairman would come from among the membership of the governing body, whether the number be 17, 18 or whatever.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy's question refers to the discussion  we are now having on the amendment moved by Deputy Jim Higgins. Deputy O'Shea is free to make his comments at any time he wishes, but he can await the Minister's contribution.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister is at liberty to comment on any amendment. When we come to them we will ask the Minister to formally move his, but there can be no subsequent discussion thereon.
Amendment No. 24 has to do with the election of the chairperson, from where that person should emanate or whether he or she should be appointed. I have made my position clear on this; I am not in a position to accept the amendment. We should remember that there will be 19 persons serving on the governing body. The Minister will have one nomination, granted an important one, but nevertheless one out of a total of 19. One nomination out of 19, as it were, for the Government of the day can hardly be said to be an attempt to dominate the governing body. In fact, I would think it irresponsible of any Government not to seek to appoint at least one person directly. I grant there is a technical provision that the Minister shall appoint the entire board, but I do not consider one direct appointment to be excessive.
 The chairperson is important. Arguably, of equal importance is the director, since on a day-to-day basis the authority of managing and developing the institution will lie with the director rather than with the chairperson, who will have a more guiding or strategic-type role. Of course, that director will be appointed by the governing body. Therefore, it will be seen there is no attempt on my part, or that of any future Minister, to become involved in the day-to-day administration of the institution by appointing the chairperson. The chairperson will deal with strategic issues and chair the organisation, where as the director will be appointed and deal with the management and development of the institution on a day-to-day basis.
The second point I wanted to make is that, all along, I have rejected the notion that these are just local, regional institutions. They are more than that. They are, as it were, national institutions located in the regions. Students can come from all over the country — I know they tend to come predominantly from the particular region in which a college is located — so they are not just local institutions. Neither do I think they would like to be perceived as such. They would like to be seen as having national importance, to grow in stature and be perceived as truly national organisations. The fact that they happen to be located in, say, Letterkenny, Carlow, Dundalk or anywhere else is not the issue. I reject the notion that these are just local institutions. Their funding comes from national resources and from the European Community. Since their director will be appointed on a national basis that does not mean that their chairperson could not be a local person.
Another point I wanted to make in regard to the appointment of the chairperson — is that he or she can come from within the governing body. We are not saying that the Minister will appoint somebody from outside the governing body and tag them on. If it was decided to appoint somebody already a member of the governing body, then clearly that  person would come from within their membership.
Another point I wanted to make — and I should say this in deference to all Ministers, past, present and future — is that there is an attempt regularly to suggest that Ministers have no democratic mandate, that they are not elected, that the only people elected are councillors who really are elected democratically. Yes, they are; I accept that. But we here in this House are elected too. This and future Governments will be elected. It would be wrong of me to let the record go lest it be seen that I was agreeing to this notion that if a Minister decides to do something it is undemocratic, whereas if local authority members decide to do something it is entirely democratic. I could not accept that analysis at all. Members of this House and Governments are elected. Ministers are appointed under the Constitution and have a democratic mandate. Therefore, it is not correct to suggest that the process is more democratic whenever a vocational education committee or a local authority committee take decisions. That process is democratic, but so too are decisions of the Government of the day.
Deputy Jim Higgins raised the question of FÁS and EOLAS being represented on the governing body. I have some sympathy with what the Deputy is trying to achieve but I do not think it can be done by appointing a FÁS or EOLAS representative to serve on the governing body. For example, the vocational education committee have five nominations open to them. If they feel this is important there is no reason they could not nominate a representative of FÁS or of EOLAS under section 6 (4) if they felt those two organisations should be represented. To an extent I think Deputy Jim Higgins can leave it to them. They have five nominations; it might take all of their time to select which five but they can select representatives of five organisations. If they feel that a representative of FÁS or of EOLAS is the appropriate one, then that is what will happen. Of course, they will have to consider other  organisations such as CERT, which is considered to be important by many regional technical colleges because of the importance of the tourist industry in some locations. The IDA are another important organisation, as are Córas Trá- chtála and Bord Fáilte. There is a whole range of very important organisations, dependent on where the relevant institution may be located. It is better, if the vocational education committee consider any organisation to be important, that they would be able to select that organisation as one of their five nominees.
Amendment No. 25 is restoring the ICTU, and Deputies understand the reason for that. The only reason they were excluded originally was to try to tighten up the size of the board which was becoming cumbersome. However, I accept their legitimate role.
Amendment No. 27 is a Government amendment and seeks to restore the vocational education committee's recommendation for membership — in other words, a recommendation must come from the vocational education committee for the appointments.
Amendment No. 28 is consequential on putting back the ICTU representative. Amendment No. 29 is also, in a different context, restoring the need to have a vocational education committee recommendation before the appointments are made.
Mr. O'Shea: First, I would like to compliment the Minister on restoring the automatic place for the ICTU on the board. It is a pity they were removed in the first place. It gave rise to a debate that was unnecessary on Committee Stage. Indeed, I called for a vote on that issue. However, I suppose all is well that ends well and I compliment the Minister on the action he has taken here.
I put down an amendment on Committee Stage looking for an automatic  place on the board for a representative of the employer organisations as well as one for the ICTU representative. I still hold that that would be an important provision. It is not now certain, in the context of the five remaining places to which the vocational education committee can nominate people, that they can nominate people from the categories from which these people come. In the context of the Programme for National Recovery and the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, providing for an automatic place for the employers side would have been a progressive step. I would also like to see provision for a regional representative from the agricultural community, and this is something that obtains on the regional college board of management in my own area. However, we are not dealing specifically with those issues now.
The Minister has spoken about democracy in the context of the Minister of the day. The Minister is elected to Dáil Éireann and is appointed to the Government in a democratic way. The Minister says that he can appoint one out of 19 members to the governing body. Would it not suffice that the Minister's nominee be an ordinary member of the board? That person would consequently have a vote in the election of the chairperson?
The Minister says that in the context of the day to day running of the colleges the director of the college has a strategic role. That is so. What is coming across from the Minister is the idea that the chairperson will be communicating with the Minister in ways other than under the normal procedures as laid down in the Bill. If that is the intention, it is not a good intention. The chairperson conducts the business of a meeting. Communications with either the vocational education committee or the Department of Education would normally come from whoever performs the secretarial duties in relation to the board. It perplexes me somewhat that the Minister's nominee must be the chairman. In as much as the chairman is something of a referee at meetings he would obviously have some function in the putting  together of the agenda for meetings and where so authorised by the governing body, could be instructed to seek a meeting with the Minister of the day or senior officials of the Department on specific issues.
The mandate of the chairman comes from the governing body. Why it is necessary that the Minister's nominee should be the chairman is something I am not quite clear about. There is an inherent danger in this approach in that it will put the appointment of the chairman into the political arena. I am not directing this argument at the Minister personally but at the legislation in the context of the workings of the political system in this country. If a chairman were to be appointed by the Minister of the day, whatever party he or she may represent, that appointment would come within the ambit of political patronage and the appointee would be very unlikely to be of a political persuasion different from that of the Minister. I am not suggesting that this is the Minister's intention. However, the reality is that this is how it would work out in time.
I would ask the Minister to strongly consider accepting the amendments in the names of Deputies Higgins and Ahearn seeking that the chairman be elected. There is some merit in the argument advanced by the Minister that in certain circumstances the appointment of some eminent industrialist or academic would be justified that that input could be made just as effectively by a person nominated to an ordinary place on the board as distinct from the chairperson. I do not see the logic of the Minister's argument that because the Minister can nominate only one out of 19 members that nominee should be the chairman.
The Minister made the point that these institutions are not just local regional institutions. This brings us back to the kernel of the case. The colleges are called regional technical colleges. If a number of colleges are allowed to grow too far towards being national institutions a certain element of specialisation will follow.
I referred this morning to students who may have to attend colleges in other  regions because the entry qualifications to the colleges in their regions are too high. This does not make sense. Deputy Kemmy referred to ESF grants. From the point of view of the best utilisation of resources, students should be facilitated in every way in pursuing courses at the colleges in their regions.
It is illogical to regard regional technical colleges as national institutions as distinct from regional institutions. The Minister sought to some extent to justify his proposal that the chairperson should be appointed by the Minister of the day on the basis that the appointment would reflect the national character of the institutions. The regional technical colleges have been very successful. I have had first hand experience of the importance of that success to a region. The success of these colleges depends to a very considerable extent on the input by various groups and interests in the region.
I strongly hold that the chairperson should not be appointed by the Minister. I accept that the Minister is not overdoing it in seeking to appoint one person out of 19. The person nominated by the Minister should have attributes, experience, expertise or knowledge which will contribute to the development of a college. The argument in relation to democracy is all very well but I do not believe the appointment of the chairperson should rest solely with the Minister. I respectfully suggest that the person appointed as chairperson will have to wear the appropriate political jersey. Unfortunately, I believe this is the basis on which the chairperson will be appointed.
I ask the Minister to seriously re-examine his proposals, which I do not believe will be in the best interests of the development of the colleges, something to which, like all Members of the House, he is fully committed. This proposed change in emphasis was introduced into the debate relatively recently. None of the arguments put forward by the Minister in support of his proposal that the chairperson should be appointed by the Minister of the day has convinced me that he will not be appointed on the basis of political patronage. I suggest that this  proposal is not in the interests of either education or democracy. I accept the Minister's commitment to improving our educational system but I believe he has got it wrong on this occasion.
Mrs. T. Ahearn: The proposal put forward in this amendment is not exclusive to Deputy Higgins and me. I wish to remind the Minister that our proposal is in total agreement with the provision contained in the Bill when his two predecessors, the Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce, Deputy O'Rourke, and Deputy Davern, were in office. Therefore, it cannot be argued under any circumstances that the appointment of the chairman by the Minister is a deeply held conviction in the Department of Education. Obviously there is no educational merit or grounds for the retention of this power by the Minister. If there was any merit in the Minister's proposal, why did his two predecessors not abide by the same decision? If the Department of Education believe that the chairman should be appointed by the Minister, why was it not brought to the attention of the Minister's predecessors? The proposal that the chairperson should be appointed exclusively by the Minister belongs entirely to Minister Brennan. He is the first Minister associated with this Bill who has argued that the Minister should appoint the chairman.
I am somewhat worried about this proposal. I am afraid that we will go down the same road the Minister for Labour, Deputy Cowen, travelled yesterday in regard to the appointments to the new council of CERT: the eight people he appointed are members of his party — two of them are Fianna Fáil county councillors, three of them are relatives of Fianna Fáil Oireachtas Members or MEPs and two are well known Fianna Fáil activists. In spite of the Taoiseach's claim that people would no longer be appointed on the basis of their political patronage and there would be no more jobs for the boys, the Minister for Labour, Deputy Cowen, has resorted to  the old tricks of the trade: everyone of those appointees was totally and absolutely aligned with Fianna Fáil. It is difficult to believe that the chief executive office of CERT was dumped from the board. I do not understand why this was done. It is also difficult to accept that the eight Fianna Fáil appointees were that much better equipped for appointment to the national council of CERT than the chief executive officer of that body. I am concerned that this may be a new trend by the Government, and that by retaining the power to appoint the chairman nine more jobs will be given to political friends of the Minister. This will undermine the integrity and independence of the governing body in the same way as the appointments to CERT made yesterday by Minister Cowen will undermine the integrity and independence of CERT.
Like Deputy O'Shea, I ask the Minister why, if he needs a watchdog on the governing body, it has to be the chairman. Could it not be any one of the ordinary members? The Minister pointed out that the chairman could be selected from the ordinary members. Would this not require an amendment to the Bill? Section 6 (2) (a) provides that the governing body of a college shall consist of a chairman and 16 ordinary members. If the chairman is appointed from the ordinary membership the number of members will be reduced. Because the appointment of the chairman from the ordinary members would require an amendment to the Bill I believe the Minister is intent on appointing his own chairman.
Will there be a chairman from Galway on the governing body of Waterford Regional Technical College? That provision does not stand up. It is a pity because I have admired the Minister's acceptance of many of our amendments. He has been very reasonable, but this provision undermines the educational aspiration that exists throughout the Bill. As a result of my experience with the new council of CERT yesterday I am dubious and totally unhappy about giving any Minister of this Government the enormous power of appointing the chair-  man of the governing bodies of our regional technical colleges. It is a good Bill that is long overdue, but we must not undermine the integrity or indeed the independence of the governing body.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): Listening to my colleague, Deputy Ahearn, outline what happened yesterday I realised that open government is defined as open to appointment of Fianna Fáil supporters. Perhaps the Taoiseach will not accept that, nor will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but it fits in nicely with what the Deputy has outlined and which has not been refuted. Therefore I take it that the Deputy is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): I accept that; and when you had the opportunity of making appointments, Sir, you were impartial. I would remind the Minister that while nurses were holding his hand I spoke on Second Stage against the right of the Minister to make this appointment because there is always the danger that there will be jobs for the boys. I am not questioning the Minister's integrity, but there are powers that could twist his arm and force him to appoint people. Considering the large management board that will exist, it is incredible that one of the members cannot be nominated as chairman. I find it very difficult to understand that their ability can be questioned, that the Minister would have to bring in somebody who may have expertise. If the Minister appoints a person from outside the region because he or she has certain expertise, he is suggesting that none of the members has the necessary expertise to be chairman. There is something wrong in that thinking. It suggests that these people are not up to standard. Maybe the Minister has some notion or fear he is not expressing, but he is certainly not paying a compliment to those who will be asked to serve on the governing body. Now that  the Minister is in the full of his health, he should accept this amendment.
Tomás Mac Giolla: I support the comments made by other Deputies in regard to amendment No. 24. We dealt with this matter on Committee Stage. I believe it is wrong that the Minister should have power to appoint the chairperson, particularly considering that in the Green Paper he is devolving powers to local schools. In this case we are talking about very important regional colleges and rather than devolving the power of appointment of the chairperson, who will be the most powerful person on the governing body, the Minister is removing this power from the governing body. This is not in line with the Minister's proposals in the Green Paper and many arguments have been made against it.
The main argument made relates to political appointees, but a political appointee may not necessarily be a bad person. The most important feature of this proposal is that we are taking from the governing body the power to appoint their own chairperson. I have no doubt that most Ministers would appoint an excellent person as chairperson, but that person would take direction from the Minister rather than from the governing body. The person appointed by the Minister would be known to him to be an excellent person, but he would have to check with the Minister before deciding on an issue concerning the governing body. In order to retain some academic freedom in the colleges it is vital that their chairperson is not a ministerial appointee, a person of whom they would be suspicious from the start regardless of how good he might be. People would wonder why the Minister appointed him and therefore it would be better for the  colleges if the Minister did not retain that power.
I commend the Minister on putting down a series of amendments in this grouping. In amendment No. 35 he proposes that one person shall be nominated by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and that is to be very much welcomed. Amendments Nos. 95 and 96 propose that an appointment be accepted on the recommendation of the vocational education committees, which is also welcomed. Amendment No. 98, which proposes to delete “Minister” and substitute “vocational education committee”, is very commendable — no doubt the Minister was aware of the attitude of vocational education committees to the amendments on Committee Stage of this Bill. I congratulate the Minister on this proposal which will be of great benefit in local areas and regions. It will restore the good relations between vocational education committees and the Minister and the Department which were in danger of breaking down. I welcome  these amendments and add my voice to those who say that the appointment of the chairperson should be in the hands of the governing body.
Mr. J. Higgins: Having listened to the Minister we are in no way assured in relation to his intention of assuming to himself power to appoint the chairman. The point has been well made by successive speakers from all Opposition parties that there is a wide spectrum of educational opinion and expertise in the composition of the governing body. There is no reason to doubt that these people will have the expertise to preside over meetings. That is what we are talking about. It has to be taken in the context of section 2 (2) of the Second Schedule which says:
Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
de Valera, Síle.
Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
Flood, Chris. O'Dea, Willie.
O'Toole, Martin Joe.
Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
Kitt, Michael P.
Morley, P. J.
Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
O'Connell, John. Roche, Dick.
Wilson, John P.
Belton, Louis J.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Farrelly, John V.
|Higgins, Michael D.
Mac Giolla, Tomás.
Sheehan, Patrick J.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We now come to amendment No. 32 in the names of the Minister, Deputies Mac Giolla, J. Higgins and T. Ahearn. Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 are cognate and it is proposed for discussion purposes to take amendments Nos. 32, 33 and 34 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
This amendment substitutes the word “elected” for the word “nominated” in relation to the academic staff representatives on the governing body. Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 make the same changes in relation to non-academic staff and students. The amendments are in line with those introduced on Committee Stage of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill and are responding to concerns raised in the House.
Mrs. T. Ahearn: I welcome the Minister's decision to accept the amendments tabled by Deputy J. Higgins and myself  on Committee Stage. We pointed out that the word “elected” should be substituted for the word “nominated” and this change is welcomed not only by Members on this side of the House but will, of course, be welcomed by academic staff and students. I believe if the representatives were nominated this would lead to a great many problems. We believe in democracy. The only way to ensure that a person is truly representative of the body he represents is to have that person elected to the governing body. We could not see who would nominate a representative and how this would be done.
I welcome the Minister's decision to accept our amendment because it serves the interests of democracy and fairness and it will avoid any problem that may have arisen if we had retained the word “nominated”.
This amendment seeks further improvement in the gender equity clause. The Minister has travelled a considerable distance down the road towards recognising a need to build in gender equity, which is very much in keeping with the spirit of what he has announced in the Green Paper.
In making appointments to a governing body pursuant to subsection (4) of this section the Minister shall have regard to the extent to which each sex is represented and shall ensure an appropriate gender balance as determined by the Minister from time to time.
While that provision is very welcome it is rather bland. The Minister has taken unto himself the role of vigilante to ensure that at the end of the day gender equity is achieved. I submit that the global composition of the governing body could have the presentation of gender equity without actually having gender equity as such. There is a need for a reinforcing clause stating that each group nominating representatives to the governing body should have gender equity within their nominating component. Thus a component of two nominees should be made up of a man and a woman, a component of four nominees should have two men and two women and a component of six nominees should have three men and three women. The ratio should be maintained in each and every group of representatives. I therefore  ask the Minister to take on board this amendment, which seeks to insert after the word “represented” the words “in each individual group elected or nominated as members to the governing body under the relevant subsections”. The point has been made that there will be six persons representative of the local authority who will be nominated by the vocational education committee. It could happen — although it is unlikely unless there were a major change in attitude — that those six nominees could be female. On the other hand, it could happen that the nominating organisations decided to nominate five men. From those 11 nominees there would be six females, nominated by the vocational education committee, and five males, nominated by the nominating organisations.
It is important to provide that every single component group should have within it a gender equity balance, and that is what this amendment tries to achieve. In other words, without saying that the six persons nominated by the vocational education committee have to be three men and three women, there should be as near as possible to gender equity and a recognition that at least some of the members nominated should be female. Of the two nominated representatives of the academic staff an effort should be made to have one male and one female; the two students nominated should again be one male and one female; a balance should be achieved within the five persons nominated by nominating organisations. Gender balance within each nominating component is very desirable. The overall composition of the entire governing body should be right. I hope that the Minister accepts the spirit of the amendment and what we are trying to achieve.
On Committee Stage we tabled amendments in which we specified clearly, by using the terminology “one of  which must be a woman”, our desire to achieve gender balance. The Minister met us part of the way by saying that he would ensure gender balance. We want to guard against a possible development in which gender balance on the governing body might be achieved in reality but not in essence in that there is not gender balance within each component making up the governing body. Each representative body should have to ensure gender balance. The matter of gender equity should not be considered only in the context of the entirety of the governing body. That is important when one takes into account the people who will be represented on the governing body. It is only realistic, logical and fair to argue that the representatives of the academic staff, the students and the vocational education committee should have gender balance. The balance should not be swayed in favour of either gender in any one component. While this amendment does not overstate the issue it does clarify and copperfasten it. The amendment provides not for overall gender balance but for gender balance within each component that will nominate people to the governing body.
I expect the Minister to accept this amendment because he has very clearly indicated his desire to achieve gender balance on the governing body. The amendment seeks to ensure still further that each component nominated on the governing body has a gender balance. It must be recognised that each of those groups represents the interests of different parties. I hope the Minister accepts the amendment, which would be an important addition to his commitment to achieve gender balance on the governing body.
Mr. S. Brennan: I think we are trying to do the same thing in different ways. To my knowledge, this is the first Bill — and I am open to correction on this point — to seek to write gender balance into legislation. I consider it important that that be done in a very flexible way while at the same time making the provision  effective. Section 6 (5) places a statutory duty on the Minister to make sure that there is gender balance on the governing body. I am satisfied that the provision as drafted is the proper way to achieve that at this time.
Mr. S. Brennan: It has now been suggested that that should be carried right down the line, which is what I talked about in my response. I still think that the legislation as drafted provides a better method of achieving gender balance. When the overall list goes to the Minister he or she will have a statutory duty to ensure gender balance across the entire governing body. As I have said publicly in the House — and I am sure that future Ministers for Education would take the same view — the list would have to be returned if gender balance was not clearly visible.
Certainly I can undertake in the House to bring this provision formally to the notice of the vocational education committees, the staff, the students and the other constituents of the governing body, so that before those components make their appointments they will know that if the overall governing body does not meet the statutory requirement their section of the nominated list could be returned in the same way as the entire list could be returned. I would not be disposed to making a requirement that each particular component should achieve gender balance; even though the aspiration is laudable, such a provision would be too rigid given that this is the first ever attempt in legislation to come to grips with gender balance. I am convinced that the method proposed can be effective. I undertake to bring specifically to the attention of the nominating groups, in advance of the various constituents comprising the governing body making their nominations or holding elections, the statutory duty on the Minister to have  gender balance. I, and I am sure future Ministers, would have no hesitation in returning the entire list if it did not make a genuine effort to achieve such a balance.
Mr. O'Shea: I am sympathetic to what the Members who put down the amendment are seeking to achieve. There are practical difficulties in achieving a gender balance. I find the term in the Bill “appropriate gender balance” one of those nebulous concepts the meaning of which is difficult to understand and it is down to the judgment of the Minister of the day. With the ICTU representative it has to be one or the other and that body will decide whether it is to be a man or a woman. The same applies to the director, and to the chairperson over whose appointment the Minister has jurisdiction — not that we agree with that.
As regards the academic staff and the student representatives there is a clear case for saying one and one; the academic staff would have male and female nominees to the board following their elections. I can see difficulties with the five others. A vocational education committee may nominate five bodies and ask for, say, representatives and they can represent either/or; they can send a man or a woman. The clear-cut areas are the staff and students. Also vocational education committees may not have sufficient female members. In a number of vocational education committees there could be difficulty in getting three nominees, and not much can be done about that. The case of the academic nominees and staff nominees is clear-cut, one can direct that there be male and female in both cases.
Mr. J. Higgins: I thank Deputy O'Shea for his support and I congratulate the Minister on being the first to build in a gender equity clause and requirement. That is a major breakthrough. We are seeking to clarify further what is meant by gender balance, to try to ensure it happens and that the list will not have to be sent back on the basis that there is no gender balance here.
 I thank the Minister for agreeing to draw this section to the attention of the various nominating bodies in advance. I presume he will also be sending a covering letter outlining his thoughts on how they should interpret it.
“(c) If a member of a governing body is absent from all meetings of the governing body for a period of six consecutive months he/she shall, unless his/her absence was due to illness or was approved by the governing body be disqualified at the expiration of such period from continuing to be a member of such body for the remainder of his/her term of office.”.
Mr. O'Shea: The reason for putting down this amendment is to ensure that all members of the governing body are working members and it seeks to terminate the term of office of any member who is missing from six consecutive meetings for reasons other than illness or reasons approved by the governing body. The Minister indicated on Committee Stage that he was favourable to this idea. Amendment No. 100 in his name is quite similar to amendment No. 38, so I believe we are all heading down the right road on this and that agreement can be reached on it.
Acting Chairman: We move on to amendment No. 40 in the name of Deputy J. Higgins and Deputy T. Ahearn. Amendment No. 41 is an alternative. We will take amendments Nos. 40 and 41 together by agreement.
 This amendment seeks to delete all words after “governing body”. At present the subsection provides that: “The acts of a committee established under this section shall be subject to confirmation by the governing body unless the governing body dispenses with the necessity for such confirmation”. Deputy Ahearn and I make the point that it is not good practice to dispense with such a requirement. If a committee or subcommittee are set up that committee or subcommittee are subservient to the primary or parent body and there should be an automatic reporting back process. There should be no question whatever of dispensing with such a requirement. In the interests of safeguarding everything that happens from the point of view of what the Minister is streamlining we should retain this section. Where a subcommittee or committee are established under this section to perform a particular function it should be automatic that in such cases these report back to the governing body as a matter of course.
This amendment, which I think will go a substantial distance to reassuring the vocational education committees and the  IVEA as to their position, is responding to amendments tabled by Deputies O'Shea, Higgins, Garland, Ahearn and Mac Giolla throughout this Bill. The amendment would have the effect of requiring the governing body to have regard to the statutory responsibility of the vocational education committee in the provision of vocational and technical education. I hope it clarifies my approach to this matter. I should like to emphasise that the respective roles of the colleges and the vocational education committees are changing. Even though we are trying to get a balance in these Bills, it will be essential throughout the period of the preparation of the Green Paper that the vocational education committees and I — and the educational world at large — discuss frankly and courageously the future of the vocational education committees and what type, if any, of local educational authorities we require. I will keep an open mind in that regard until I engage in debate with the various bodies over the next six months. In responding to the request from the vocational education committees and the IVEA and by agreeing to include this section, on which I know they are very keen, I again invite them to have an open, honest and frank debate with me in the months ahead so that we can chart a proper future for the vocational education committees.
Mrs. T. Ahearn: I welcome this amendment tabled by the Minister. Indeed, as a former teacher in a vocational education school and a firm believer in the ethos of vocational education, I welcome the fact that the Minister is enshrining this in the Bill. For too long the ethos, aspiration and commitment to technical education has been somewhat diluted and it is good, welcome and acceptable that the Minister has taken this step to ensure that the ethos, although aspirational, will continue in our regional technical colleges.
Tomás Mac Giolla: I am very glad that the Minister tabled this vitally important amendment, mainly because the question of apprenticeships had not been included  in the Bill. However, on Committee Stage the Minister told the House he accepted that the functions of the college to provide vocational and technical education and training included apprenticeships. The amendment ensures that the area of apprenticeships for which vocational education committees have responsibility will be accepted as part of the functions of the colleges. In performing their functions the governing body shall have regard to the statutory responsibilities in the provision of vocational and technical education of the vocational education committee. We were worried about the vocational education committees not having control and not being able to make recommendations because of the importance of the link between second and third level colleges. However, that will be provided for in this section. It is the statutory responsibility of the vocational education committees in the second level area to ensure that there is a link and that as many as possible move on to third level. This section will allow the vocational education committees to have that input in regard to those apprenticeships and the link with second level education.
Acting Chairman: We now come to amendment No. 43. Amendments Nos. 44-49, inclusive, are alternatives and I suggest, therefore, that amendments 43-49, inclusive, should be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
(3) The Minister shall by order provide for the re-establishment of a governing body dissolved under subsection (1) and for the appointment of members thereto in accordance with section 6 of this Act not later than one year following the dissolution and when the new governing body has been appointed the functions of the dissolved governing body shall be revested in the new governing body and shall cease to be functions of the body of persons to whom they were transferred under the said subsection.”.
On Committee Stage a number of Deputies raised issues regarding aspects of section 8 of the Bill as initiated. This amendment deletes the section of the Bill as initiated and substitutes a new section 8. Amendments Nos. 44-49, inclusive, propose various changes. Section 8 (1) (b) now provides that orders and so on will be those given in pursuance of the provision of the Act, not just general orders, which tightens the section. When a governing body are dissolved the section now provides for the appointment of a body of persons to perform the functions of the governing body. Deputies will remember that the Bill, as initiated, provided for the transfer to any person or persons — in other words, if the governing body were dissolved the Minister could transfer the functions to one person. I am now insisting that the Minister must transfer it to a body of persons.  It is a cumbersome phrase but I am advised that it is the best one legally. That will improve the section.
The new section will also provide that the governing body must be re-established within one year of their dissolution. Previously the governing body had to be re-established within the end of the second year but we are now reducing that period to one year.
Mr. J. Higgins: We agree with the reshaped substitute amendment in the name of the Minister. There is certainly a difference of emphasis; a governing body having been removed, the Minister is putting a group of persons in their place. In the original section 8 (2) the Minister could from time to time remove all or any such persons and appoint others in their place and could fix the tenure of office, duties and remuneration of all such persons. That phraseology is not in the new section. Subsection (3) of the original section said that the remuneration, if any, of every person appointed under subsection (2) shall be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas under section 15. I presume that remuneration is not involved because I cannot see a reference to it in the new section. We welcome the insertion of “not later than one year” which is an improvement on the original subsection (4) which stated “not later than the end of the second year following the dissolution”. We hope that the Minister is referring to the first half of the year rather than, as originally debated, to the end of the second year.
Subsection (2) of the Minister's amendment states that whenever the Minister makes an order dissolving a governing body the Minister may transfer their functions to any body of persons. That term “any body of persons” is a rather loose phrase. What type of body of persons is envisaged by the Minister? Is he talking about non-sinning members of a vocational education committee? Is he talking about a collection of people comprising, for example, the chief executive officers of the principal vocational education committee and the other conshape  stituent vocational education committees? What kind of a group of vocational people is the Minister referring to as an ad hoc group to keep the show on the road pending the appointment of his new replacement governing body?
Mr. S. Brennan: In response to the Deputy who asked the reason the words “fix the tenure of office, duties and remuneration of all such persons” do not appear in the new section, it is not necessary to include them as the term of office will be just one year and will be fixed by statute.
Mr. S. Brennan: I should tell the Deputy that he is wide awake on this issue; due to a printing error the new section 8 (3) was omitted. It was contained in the original Bill but it was omitted from the new section due to a printing error. However, it has been reinserted on the list of additional and substitute amendments which is now being circulated. I would not like to try to get anything past the Deputy given that he spotted this mistake.
Tomás Mac Giolla: Section 8 of the Bill states “the Minister may, after consultation with the vocational education committee, by order, remove the members of the governing body from office”. Amendment No. 46 seeks to delete the words “after consultation with” and substitute “on the recommendation of” because the reference to consultation means nothing. The Minister will only be required to consult with the vocational education committee, who can state their objections. However, he will still be able to say that, despite these, he is going to remove the members of the governing body from office. I believe therefore that is essential to include this amendment which seeks to include the words “on the recommendation of” to weaken the ministerial power. On an earlier amendment Deputy  Higgins dealt with the power to hire and fire the chairperson and in this case we are dealing with the power to hire and fire the members of the governing body from office.
Mr. Garland: I wish to say, first, that I support amendment No. 43 in the name of the Minister as it will improve the Bill considerably. Amendment No. 44, which is in my name and that of Deputy O'Shea, seeks to insert the words “of the vocational education committee” in subsection (1) (b), which deals with the dissolution of the governing body. If my amendment were to be accepted this subsection would read as follows “if a governing body wilfully neglects to comply with any lawful order of the vocational education committee, direction or regulation of the Minister ...” Again, this would improve the Bill.
Amendment No. 45, which is in my name and that of Deputy O'Shea, is identical to amendment No. 46, which is in the name of Deputy Mac Giolla, except that Deputy O'Shea and I use the indefinite article while Deputy Mac Giolla uses the definite article. I am sure that we can reach agreement to avoid the need for a prolonged debate.
Mr. Garland: Exactly. Leaving the semantics aside, it is important that the principle be accepted. I put it to the Minister that the wording of his amendment, which includes the phrase “after consultation with”, is not strong enough and that the word “recommendation” should be used.
In relation to amendment No. 47, subsection (1) of the Bill reads “the Minister may, after consultation with the vocational education committee, by order remove the members of the governing body from office and direct the nomination and recommendation of new members”. We suggest that the words “the appointment” should be inserted as it is a better phrase.
I also believe that amendment No. 48  which is in my name and which would substitute the words “the vocational education committee” for “any person or persons”, would improve the Bill. Finally, amendment No. 49, which is in my name and those of Deputies Mac Giolla and O'Shea, seeks to delete subsection (2) of the Bill. That subsection deals with a situation where an order is made under the section to dissolve a governing body. It states that “the Minister may appoint such and so many persons as the Minister thinks fit”. It would be better however if that subsection were omitted from the Bill.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): I wish to remind the Minister that my colleague, Deputy Higgins, mentioned that the wording is too loose. The new section 8 (2) states “whenever the Minister makes an order dissolving a governing body the Minister may appoint any body of persons as the Minister thinks fit”. One can imagine the Minister strolling down to his “local” to find a fine body of persons philosophising on the difficulties of life and saying to himself that this group of persons come under the heading “any body of persons”.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): It is amazing that the Minister should use the words “any body of persons as the Minister thinks fit” and possibly it will not stand up to scrutiny. Therefore, the Minister might have to reconsider the wording.
Mr. O'Shea: In general the amendment the Minister has tabled will improve the Bill. The new section 7 (6) states “in performing its functions a governing  body shall have regard to the statutory responsibilities in the provision of vocational and technical education of the vocational education committee”. For instance, if a vocational education committee decide that the governing body of a regional technical college are not paying due regard, as directed in the subsection, to the statutory responsibilities of a vocational education committee, could this be constituted as a lawful order of the vocational education committee? The term “lawful order” is retained in the new section 8 (1). The role of the vocational education committee should be strengthened.
The question of who will act in the interim once a governing body has been dissolved has been raised. Deputy Higgins has also questioned the use of the term “any body of persons” which is very unwieldy. Surely a more appropriate or precise form of words could be used. On a previous amendment I advanced the argument that the Minister should dissolve a governing body on the recommendation of the vocational education committee.
In that instance the body that would perform the functions and duties of the governing body in the interim period would be the vocational education committee. The word “person” has been deleted from this section in relation to who should perform the functions of the governing body during the one year period or part thereof when there would be no governing body in place. I suggest to the Minister that there must be more precise wording for inclusion in section 8 (2) than “any body of persons”. It avoids the position where one person could act in the place of the governing body in the interim and in that sense it is an improvement, but I would prefer if the Minister could include the role of the vocational education committee as sought in the amendment tabled by Deputy Garland and myself. I am very unhappy with the wording “any body of persons”.
Mrs. T. Ahearn: I agree with my colleagues  that the amendment is an improvement on the original, but in amendment No. 43 I believe what we are substituting is a disimprovement on the existing text because of the loose terminology. The wording gives a connotation that just anybody, irrespective of their aptitude or capabilities can take on the role when a governing body has to be replaced. I refer the Minister to the Bill where it states:
I believe the Minister should retain that text rather than section 8 (2) of amendment 43: whenever the Minister makes an order dissolving a governing body the Minister may transfer its functions to any body of persons”. The text of the original Bill is more apt and provides that the Minister has to consider that the persons are fit and are capable of replacing the governing body.
Regarding amendments Nos. 44 and 45 I hesitate to support them. I wonder would the vocational education committee want the power of recommendation to dissolve the governing body as their own six nominees are members of it. Is it more realistic to say that the Minister would dissolve the governing body in consultation with the vocational education committee? I ask the Minister in regard to the dissolution of the governing body, have the vocational education committee the power of veto? I would like an answer, yes or no, to that.
Mr. S. Brennan: The vocational education committee have no veto on dissolution. Regarding amendment No. 45 addressed by Deputy Mac Giolla which proposes the deletion of the words “after consultation with” and the substitution of the words “can recommendation of”, the Minister appoints the board legally; the dissolution of the governing body would be a doomsday situation, I do not  envisage it happening, it is really an almost unthinkable and rare situation where something would be so seriously wrong that a member or the entire governing body would have to be removed. Given that throughout the Bill the Minister confirms the appointments, I think, therefore, it would have to fall to the Minister to make the final decision to remove the person or persons. The vocational education committee have to be consulted but they would not have to make a recommendation on the matter. The requirement of a recommendation could be difficult and, given the strong vocational education committee involvement in the governing body of the college, it really should fall to somebody who is not involved to judge whether the entire governing body should be dissolved. It is most unlikely that this situation would arise but if there was some serious difficulty with the governing body one could speculate that the vocational education committee would have to be part of that difficulty. Therefore, the recommendation would not be made by the vocational education committee because this would require them in effect to clean up their own house, and could result in an internal investigation. It is more appropriate that the Minister who is apart from the entire governing body should be empowered to make the recommendation after consultation. It is unthinkable that anyone in the vocational education committee would misbehave themselves but in the unlikely event of it happening they should stand back from it.
Mr. S. Brennan: Deputy Garland referred to the lawful order and he proposed that the lawful order should also apply to the vocational education committee, that if the governing body refused a lawful order of the vocational education committee they should be removed. The Bill provides that the governing body must comply with any lawful order of the Minister. The same comments as I made  to Deputy Mac Giolla would apply in this case. There are also non-VEC personnel on the governing body and to give the vocational education committee the authority to remove non-VEC members would be giving them authority beyond what was intended. Therefore, I do not think this wording should be included.
Deputy Browne and others are concerned about the Minister's enormous power, that he may ramble into pubs and appoint people to posts left, right and centre. This provides for a doomsday situation. The legal phraseology recommended to us is that the Minister may appoint any body of persons as the Minister thinks fit to perform the functions. This is an interim arrangement for 12 months in the very rare circumstances occurring somebody has to make the decision as they think fit.
Mr. S. Brennan: ——were suggested to me legally. I do not think the words are very elegant either, but the wording “any body of persons” overcomes the original notion that a person could be appointed meaning one appointment only could be made but now a number of appointments would have to be made or a group of persons would have to be appointed. The legal advice I have is the wording “any body of persons” is better phrase and it has been tried and tested. In regard to the wording “as the Minister thinks fit”, one could play around with those words and use “as the Minister thinks appropriate” and so on but, again, I consider the wording used is suitable.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I now proceed to amendment No. 50 in the names of Deputies O'Shea and Garland. Amendment No. 59 is cognate so, for discussion purposes, we will take amendments Nos. 50 and 59 together if that is satisfactory. Agreed.
(2) The selection of the Director shall be a function of the governing body in accordance with the procedures, which shall include the composition of a selection board, determined by the Minister from time to time.
The reason it is sought to substitute the word “approved” here for the word “determined” is that the composition of the selection board is something we would envisage being decided by the membership of the governing body — in other words, that the governing body would make a proposal to the Minister as to the composition of a selection board, seeking ministerial approval, rather than having the Minister determine the composition of or type of selection board who would select the director. That is the rationale behind this amendment.
Mrs. T. Ahearn: We support this amendment. We all envisage that the composition of a selection board, as happens at present, would be comprised of members of the governing board and would have ministerial approval. The use of the word “determined” gives an impression of the Minister recommending a selection board and proceeding  in that manner. I believe that the substitution of the word “approved” for the word “determined” is a move in the right direction.
Mr. S. Brennan: What we are endeavouring to do here through the use of the word “determined” is not that each individual board would be determined in the case of each appointment but that there would be a general determination of the composition of the board, not the names of the people but the types of persons and the constituencies of interest from which they would come, so many from each organisation or group of academics and so on. The intention is that the Minister of the day would determine that list. I must stress that it would not be the names and it would not be in respect of each individual case. It would be the same, say, as the Minister or the Dáil now determining the make-up of the governing body. We are not dealing with names; we are merely stipulating the sectors of interest from which they would come. In such a critical choice as the selection of the director it might be wise that they be a representative group and that that be determined in advance by an outside authority.
Mr. J. Higgins: I understand exactly what the Minister is saying. He is talking about advance signalling of the criteria to be used for the composition of the selection board. Nevertheless, the general feeling would appear to be that the word “determined” is somewhat stronger than is generally perceived. This is very much in keeping with the reservations expressed at earlier stages of the debate in relation to ministerial powers. I can see that the Minister is using the word “determined” to stipulate the ground rules. Although we cannot deal with it at this stage, I suggest that the terminology “recommended by the Minister” might be a more conciliatory term that might be considered when the Bill goes before the Seanad for approval. I contend that the word “approved” implies something of a subsequent nature; that having seen and examined, one then approves a fait  accompli, rather than “determined”, which is a type of pre-emptive phrase.
Mr. S. Brennan: I am sympathetic, but I think on balance I had better adhere to the word “determined”. My information is that it does not have that heavy-handed legal interpretation. It means, as it were, “decides” as opposed to heavily laying down the law on the question. It is a thin line, but it does not have that heavy handed legal interpretation. It means that the Minister must be satisfied, must lay down the criteria in advance in regard to the sectors from which the various members of the selection board will come. On balance, I would prefer to stay with it.
(2) The selection of the Director shall be a function of the governing body in accordance with the procedures, which shall include the composition of a selection board, determined by the Minister from time to time.
I take that to mean that the governing body can go outside in terms of nominating people to the selection board? Whereas uniformity among selection boards of all regional technical colleges in the selection of the director is in many ways attractive, it could well be that there would be serving on particular governing bodies people of particular expertise, possibly people who would have had much experience as personnel managers or whatever. Does the Minister envisage that the procedures, as determined by him, could prevent a specific governing body from appointing their whole selection board from the five nominees of the vocational education committees?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We come to amendment No. 51, in the names of Deputies J. Higgins and T. Ahearn. I  note that amendments Nos. 53 to 58, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 61 and 62 are all related. I propose, therefore, that we take amendments Nos. 51, 53 to 58, inclusive, 61 and 62 together for discussion purposes. Is that agreed? Agreed.
We contend that the matter of whether the governing body should appoint the academic council is very much open to question. Deputy O'Shea's amendment No. 55 suggests that members of the governing body shall be wholetime holders of academic appointments within the college, that at least one shall be elected by the wholetime members of the staff of the college voting as a body. The composition of the academic council is important.
We accept the spirit of what the Minister proposes in his amendment No. 52, which proposes the insertion of the words “and to protect, maintain and develop the academic standards of the courses and the activities of the college”. A doubt or anxiety we have is who exactly should nominate the members of the academic council.
That terminology gives the impression that the governing body will not alone decide the number of members but also who they should be. It is for that reason we believe that the word “membership” should be replaced by the words “number of members”. After all, the members of the academic council should be elected, not decided on or selected by the governing body.
Amendment No. 54 proposes to delete the words “majority of” so that section 10 (2) (b) would provide “The members shall be holders of academic appointments within the college and at least one shall be a registered student of the college”. That is not too much to ask. We are, after all, talking about an academic council and one would expect that it should include holders of academic appointments. We have also provided that one should be a registered student of the college.
I hope the Minister will accept those amendments which I believe will not only improve the section but lead to a better academic council. This is a most important element of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill. The council will have an enormous say on what will be provided for within the council and it is most important that it should consist of members who are able to provide good academic advice. It is for that reason that we propose that all the members shall be holders of academic appointments within the college with the provision that at least one should be a registered student.
Mr. O'Shea: I support the amendments moved by Deputies Ahearn and Higgins. My amendment No. 55 would mean that the section would be as follows: “The members shall be holders of academic appointments within the college and at least one shall be a registered student of the college elected by the wholetime members of the academic staff in the college voting as a body for this purpose”. In the context of electing the academic council, a universal franchise is  very important because, at the end of the day, the real freedom is academic freedom. However, if we do not put together a mechanism which allows for a full and democratic input from the whole staff, we will have lost an opportunity because the governing body could, in particular instances, decide to set up the election procedure for the academic council in a way that could effectively debar considerable numbers among the staff from having any role in the appointment of the academic council. It is for this reason that I have put down an amendment seeking that the universal franchise would apply within the college.
On Committee Stage the Minister indicated a number of reasons why he felt that a universal franchise was inappropriate. The functions of the academic council as stated in section 10 (3) (a) is “to design, develop and assist in implementing courses of study in accordance with the programmes and budget approved annually under section 13 of this Act”. In the context of the vibrancy of the colleges and of the input of all the academic staff to the academic council, making the election process for the academic council too restrictive would be a retrograde step which would not be in the best interests of the college and, more importantly, of the students. Therefore, I ask the Minister to give sympathetic and full consideration to this group of amendments.
Mr. S. Brennan: This amendment and related amendments Nos. 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58 and 61 provide that some or all of the members of the academic council should be elected by the academic staff. I would be totally opposed to the concept of the academic council being elected. I think that is going too far. The governing body consists largely of elected students, staff, probably the vocational education committee members and, indirectly, the organisation members who are probable elected by their organisation. There is, therefore, a very substantial amount of electioneering and democracy at that level. We are talking here about the academic council, a body of persons who  are charged with maintaining academic standards and in universities, for example, who would tend to be heads of departments, heads of the schools and senior academic personnel.
The section only lays down that a majority shall be holders of academic appointments and one shall be a registered student. That gives some flexibility to include others in the academic council. I honestly feel that there is very substantial democracy here. Frankly, I think the college would not get around to doing much work if it was going to spend the entire year electing everybody — that is not the real reason, just an aside. An academic council is a committee appointed by the governing body — not necessarily members of it — charged with maintaining academic standards, and that is better undertaken coolly, away from campaigns by a group of academics with some input from non-academics who take on the responsibility of maintaining academic standards in the college. It would be entirely inappropriate to turn that particular quality control function into an election campaign. I know that Deputies may disagree strongly with me but there is a great deal of democracy at the level of the governing body and the academic council need to be able to operate in a cool atmosphere and not be elected around the side of the governing body and maybe in some way causing tensions with the governing body because they, too, have a mandate. I feel it would be very disruptive. That is something one could look at in future legislation but in this instance, given that we are putting in newly elected governing bodies, it would be wiser to have that body make their own decision on who should take charge of academic quality control.
Deputy Higgins asked me who should be on the academic council. That is covered by the section. In regard to whom else they might appoint, there is no reason why they could not appoint academics from other institutions, for example, external examiners, persons with an academic or technical background whom they felt could bring some academic distinction to the academic  council. When I say academic I mean it in its broader sense not excluding the technical side. That would be my response to that group of amendments.
Mr. J. Higgins: I know what the Minister is trying to do. He is trying to allow as much discretion as possible but it does seem an extraordinarily loose section. We have prescribed the number of people on the governing body, yet there is no prescription in relation to the number of people on the academic council. Are we talking about five, ten, 15, 20 or what number? We are saying that the governing body should not appoint the academic council as is enshrined in section 10 (1) but that it should be  elected. We do not believe that the practice of electioneering will permeate throughout the college. Amendment No. 53 proposes that the governing body will prescribe the number of members and their terms of office but will not handpick the people who will determine the academic standards.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: In accordance with the order of the Dáil today I must put the following question: “That the amendments set down by the Minister for Education and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and that the Bill is hereby passed.”
Browne, John (Wexford).
Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
de Valera, Síle.
Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
Kitt, Michael P.
O'Toole, Martin Joe.
Wilson, John P.
Belton, Louis J.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Enright, Thomas W.
Farrelly, John V.
Higgins, Michael D.
Mac Giolla, Tomás.
Sheehan, Patrick J.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Dempsey and Clohessy; Níl, Deputies Flanagan and Howlin.
Question declared carried.
|Last Updated: 22/05/2011 15:05:14||Page of 98|