Wednesday, 5 April 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
That Dáil Éireann calls on the Minister for Education to bring forward a comprehensive package of measures to ensure equity for all students attending third-level education courses in this country and specifically calls on the Minister to
—provide equal treatment for students attending the Mater Dei Institute of Education, the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy, the Royal College of Surgeons, the National College of Industrial Relations, the Pontifical University in Maynooth, All Hallows College and other designated colleges in respect of fees, grants and access to facilities and
and furthermore calls on the Minister to prepare a strategic plan for the future development of third-level education which would ensure that extra places and adequate facilities are provided to accommodate the projected expansion in third-level enrolments.
“Dáil Éireann commends the Government decision to abolish tuition fees for undergraduate students and for Post-Leaving Certificate students as the first response to the commitment given in the A Government of Renewal policy document that there will be new support mechanisms to increase participation by third level students from low-income backgrounds, including the abolition of third-level fees, a comprehensive reform of the Higher Education Grants Scheme, the introduction of support for students on Post-Leaving Certificate courses and an increase in the number of third level places.”
Mr. Hughes: I wish to share time with Deputy O'Keeffe. I congratulate our Front Bench spokesperson, Deputy Martin, for tabling this comprehensive motion. I wish to refer specifically to the question of equality and access to education, not only for existing but future students.
During a Dáil debate on the Mayo regional technical college in March 1993 the Minister announced the setting up of a study group to report on the need for additional third level places up to the year 2010. The study group presumably took into account the Minister's remarks in her speech to the Dáil on 23 March, particularly the six items she claimed must underpin future decisions on investments in higher education, one of which was the contribution such investment would make to regional development and overall economic welfare.
To survive, a county like Mayo needs investment to fuel economic growth and job creation and this depends mainly on having a highly qualified workforce in the area. Population trends in towns with regional technical colleges showed growth rates in population from 18 per cent to 93 per cent between 1971 and 1991, the growth rate in Waterford was 18 per cent while in Letterkenny it was 93 per cent. Counties with regional technical colleges are considerably smaller in landmass size than Mayo. For example, Louth is only 15 per cent of the size of Mayo while Counties Westmeath, Sligo and Waterford are each approximately 35 per cent.
Mayo is the third largest county and this simple statement of fact could be easily disregarded as yet another irrelevant statistic. However, when viewed against the size of counties in which regional colleges are located its significance and the scale of the inequality is startling. The entire cumulative area of Counties Louth, Carlow, Sligo and Westmeath — all with fully fledged independent regional technical colleges — is substantially less than that of County Mayo. If County Waterford were included the size of the combined areas would only be a little more than that of County Mayo.
The technical working group's report published in January 1995 recommended against the establishment of a full regional technical college in County Mayo. The Programme for Government does not contain a commitment in that regard, but it contains a commitment to provide third level institutions in Dún Laoghaire and Thurles. I call on the Government to formally reject immediately the findings of the technical group's report. This should not present a difficulty as it has already discredited the report by overruling its findings on Finglas and Thurles. The Minister, Deputy Kenny — and Deputy Ring — both representatives of Mayo, stated publicly that the study group's findings will be rejected.
The findings of the technical group's report are based on projected numbers and are fundamentally flawed because the group assumes students come only from within a regional technical college's catchment area, ignoring the reality in the case of many regional technical colleges. For example, less than 40 per cent of the student population in Waterford, Galway and Letterkenny come from within their respective areas. The technical group does not allow for the fact that new courses developed in the Castlebar campus will be innovative and multidisciplinary and are not likely to impact on existing regional technical colleges in the region as they will attract students from other areas and create new markets.
As student population projections indicate an increase of 30,000 additional places between now and the year 2010 all locations and facilities must be assessed with a view to providing them. Castlebar is in an ideal position to provide those places since it already has space which it can expand into at minimal cost. Its existing 3,900 square metres was refurbished at approximately half the cost of an equivalent  new building while the cost of developing the remaining space available on the campus would be half that again because much of the necessary work — roofing, services and so on — has been done.
A Government decision to provide sufficient funds in the 1996 budget to allow work to proceed on the next phase will be required in due course and I ask the Minister to give permission, when sought, to allow a feasibility study for the completion of phase two of the development to be carried out. All the academic planning has been undertaken.
One is conscious, however, of an irony when reading the technical group's report. If County Mayo students had demonstrated a lack of interest in third level education in recent years and had low levels of uptake similar to other regions there would now be, on the reasoning used in the report, a strong case for a Mayo regional technical college.
Mr. B. O'Keeffe: I compliment my constituency colleague, Deputy Martin, for tabling this motion as it provides us with an opportunity to take an overview of the Minister's term in office. She will be seen as an ad hoc Minister who cannot see the wood for the trees. She has shown no overall vision or strategy, has tended to procrastinate and when stirred into action, the wrong option is taken.
Mr. B. O'Keeffe: The education grant scheme is a case in point. She chose to ignore the Clancy report and many others. The tunnel vision displayed gave no forethought to the consequences of her decision, for example, what would happen to universities, the regional technical colleges and their funding. She will go down in history as the Minister  who pulled the financial rug from under the feet of third level institutions and in doing so replicated the dilemma that has faced local authorities for many years, namely, a lack of Exchequer funding. She will certainly be known as the Minister who made access to third level education for the less well-off in our society more costly and practically impossible. We have not received a commitment from either the Taoiseach or the Minister that when additional students take up third level education the Exchequer will ensure the colleges are properly funded.
The Minister in the smoked salmon socialist mould pandered to the rich by giving them a blank cheque in respect of entry to third level institutions. One could be a millionaire, but not benefit from such education.
The Minister chose to ignore students on PLC courses making it more costly for them to undertake such courses than an enrolled student at a regional college, even though research has shown that a high percentage of those students come from less well off families. She has also thrown the regional colleges in particular into disarray with her diktats, particularly on the curtailment of degrees. She has paid scant regard to the provision of additional places to meet the demand of students for more third level places and has added to student stress and trauma because of the rat-race they face in looking for entry to third level colleges.
Why has the Minister not shown initiative in places like Cork, and demanded out-centres to ease the accommodation problem? Why has she not upgraded the status of those regional colleges which can, by the excellence of their degrees, add significantly to research and development which would add to the potential of job creation in our economy?
The Minister's performances could be categorised by that well known saying — the longest tree from foot to crown, ideas flow up and vetoes down. We have seen many vetoes from this Minister.  She attends conferences and makes speeches but, for some reason or other, she has not yet developed the ability to listen to what people say about framing an overall ambitious plan for education in the 2000s.
Mr. Dukes: Go raibh maith agat. Nuair a chonaic mé an rún seo an chéad uair bhí sé deacair dom mo shúile a chreidiúint. Tá gach uile shaghas rud istigh anseo. Gach aon deasmaoineamh, gach aon mhilséan i gcúrsaí oideachais ag an tríú leibhéal gur féidir a shamhlú, tá sé istigh anseo. Ach níl aon rian ar an rún seo gur fhiafraigh an triúr Teachta a chuir a gcuid ainmneacha leis an rún cad é an costas a bheadh ar na rudaí atá istigh anseo, cén am a thógfadh sé iad a chur i gcrích nó cén ord in a gcuirfí i gcrích iad. Níl aon slacht nó eagar ar an rún seo. Níl ann ach liosta milseán sa chóras oideachais atá ag teastáil ó na Teachtaí sin thall.
Agus tá sé i bhfad níos greannmhara ná sin mar bhí mé ag iarraidh m'aigne a chaitheamh siar agus smaoineamh ar chuala mé nó an bhfaca mé aon fhianaise ar chor ar bith go raibh na rudaí seo ar intinn ag muintir Fhianna Fáil le dhá bhliain go leith anuas go dtí deireadh na bliana seo caite. Níl aon rian de sin le feiscint. Níl anseo ach pleidhcíocht polaitiúil. Tá siad tar éis bailiúchán breá milseán a chur isteach sa mhála anseo agus tá siad ag iarraidh iad a chur amach anois os comhair an phobail chun cur-i-gcéill a dhéanamh gur féidir na rudaí seo go léir a dhéanamh anois díreach agus gan aon cheist a chur faoin gcostas. Seo an páirtí go bhfuil a n-urlabhraí Airgeadais, an Teachta McCreevy, ag gabháil timpeall agus ag rá go bhfuil sé buartha faoi chaiteachas an Rialtais. Agus sin an páirtí atá ag cur i gcoinne airgead a dhíol le mná a raibh airgead  coimeádta siar orthu le blianta anuas sa chóras leasa shóisialaigh. Tá siad ag gearán faoin airgead sin a chaitheamh ar na mná seo atá i dteideal an t-airgead seo a fháil. Agus fós tá siad ag cur na milseáin seo os ár gcomhair agus ag rá gur cóir na rudaí seo a dhéanamh anois díreach, láithreach bonn.
Ní féidir aon chreidiúint a thabhairt dó sin. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil díomá orm gur chuir an Teachta Ní Chochláin, mar shampla, a h-ainm lena leithéid de rud. Cheap mé go raibh mianach agus stuif i bhfad níos fearr ná sin inti, agus creidim go bhfuil. Fiú an Teachta Flood, cheap mé go raibh tuiscint i bhfad níos fearr aige sin ar chúrsaí caiteachais. Ní thógaim ar an Teachta Martin é. Sin fear óg atá ag iarraidh — mar a deirtear sa Mafia — a chuid chnámha a dhéanamh agus a ainm a chur in airde. Ach ba chóir dó a chuimhneamh agus coimeád i gcuimhne nach ionann gleo agus substaint i gcoitinne. Ní hionann gleo agus polasaí oideachais. Ní hionann gleo agus teacht i gcabhair ar an daoine atá sa chás is measa. Dá mbeinnse ag breathnú ar na rudaí seo go léir agus tá sé cinnte gur fiú iad a dhéanamh diaidh ar ndiaidh d'fhiafróinn díom fein cad é an t-ord a chuirfinn ar na rudaí seo, agus freisin cad é an costas a bheadh ag gabháil leo. Bheinn ar aon intinn le cuid de Theachtaí Fhianna Fáil nuair a deir siad go mb'fhearr an rud é an t-airgead atá an Rialtas le caitheamh chun deireadh a chur leis na fiacha a chaitheamh ar chuid de na rudaí a luaigh mé. Ach ní hé sin atá á mholadh acu.
Feicim go bhfuil aon, dó, trí, ceithre, cúig, sé, seacht, ocht moltaí istigh anseo agus gan aon ord curtha leo. Cad é an t-ord a chuirfinnse féin leo? Do thosnóinn, déarfainn, le rud éigin a dhéanamh faoin táirseach ioncaim atá ag baint leis na deontais do na fiacha. Ar ndóigh sin rud atá i gceist anois ag an Rialtas. Cuirfear deireadh leis na fiacha an bhliain seo chugainn. Beidh siad ina leath ag deireadh na bliana seo agus beidh deireadh leo ar fad an bhliain seo chugainn. Mar sin tá rud éigin ar siúl sa mhéid a bhaineann sé leis sin. Anois, cad a  dhéanfainn in a dhiaidh sin? Ceapaim go mbeadh sé i bhfad níos tábhachtaí ná aon cheann eile de na rudaí atá anseo gabháil ar aghaidh chun rud éigin a dhéanamh chun teacht i gcabhair ar na daoine a bhfuil deacracht acu sa mhéid a bhaineann leis na deontais cothabhála. Ceapaim go bhfuil cuid mhaith de na Teachtaí thall ar aon intinn liom go bhfuil sé níos tábhachtaí anois airgead sa bhreis a chur isteach sna deontais sin ná aon rud eile a dhéanamh mar go bhfuil deacracht ag daoine a gcuid chlann a choimeád ar an ollscoil má tá cónaí ortha amach cuid mhaith ón mbaile ina bhfuil an ollscoil. Do chuirfinn Uimhir a hAon air sin. Ansin bheinn ag smaoineamh ar na rudaí eile atá ar an liosta seo. An dara ceann a thógfainn amach as an liosta ná teacht i gcabhair ar na hinstitiúidí eile agus an réimeas céanna a chur i bhfeidhm sna hinstitiúidí tríú leibhéal eile nach bhfuil clúdaithe sna scéimeanna atá againn faoi láthair.
Ach bheadh ceist agam. Níl a fhios agam an mbeinn ag sodar i ndiaidh an Pontifical University, mar shampla, mar ceapaim gur cóir don Eaglais fónamh a dhéanamh ar a chuid gnó féin. Ní bhéinn chomh lámh-oscailte is a bheadh an Teachta Martin mar go bhfuil daoine eile ann a bhfuil cabhair i bhfad níos mó de dhith orthu ná mar atá ar an Pontifical University, cuir i gcás, Institiúid Mháthair Dé agus tá fíor-cheist faoi sin mar go bhfuil éileamh sna scoileanna ar na céimeanna ón institiúid sin.
Cad é an tríú ceann ar an liosta seo a thógfainn amach? Bheadh fonn ormsa teacht i gcabhair ar na daltaí atá ag gabháil le cúrsaí iar-Ardteiste, mar go bhfuil siad sin i bponc i bhfad níos measa ná cuid eile de na daoine anseo.
Sin ord ar na rudaí seo ach ní hé sin atá i gceist ag an bhFreasúra anseo. Ní theastaíonn ón bhFreasúra ach gleo a dhéanamh chun a chur i gcéill go bhfuil siad ag smaoineamh ar na daoine sin agus go bhfuil siad buartha futhu. Dá mbeidís buartha i gceart do chuirfidís ord nó eagar éigin orthu seo agus in ionad ocht gcinn de phointí a bheith istigh sa liosta seo bheadh ceann amháin nó dhá cheann go bhféadfadh siad a  mhaoímh a bheadh indéanta i mbliana nó an bhliain seo chugainn. Ansin bheadh tairiscint fhiúntach os ár gcomhair amach. Caithfidh mé a rá, agus ní haon rún é seo, nach bhfuilim ró-thógtha leis an leasú atá curtha ar aghaidh ag an Aire ach tá an argóint sin thart. Feicim go bhfuil sé i gceist ag an bPáirti Daonlathach — an Daonlathas Deis mar a thabharfaí orthu — teacht agus cuntas de Buitléir a chur i bhfeidhm go tobann agus go lán anois díreach. Níl sin réadúil ar chor ar bith. Mar shampla, sa mhéid a bhaineann le mature students tá an dá pháirtí ansin ag iarraidh go gcaithfí leo ar an dul céanna is a chaitear leis na daltaí atá ann faoi láthair. Tá sin amaideach. Tá mo bhean chéile féin tar éis trí bliana go leith a chaitheamh ar an ollscoil. Dá mbeadh a ghuí ag de Buitléir bheadh sé an-mhaith domsa mar go mbeadh £2,000 sa bhliain sábháilte againn le ceithre bliana. Ach ní bheadh sin cóir mar tá daoine eile ann a bhfuil gá i bhfad níos mó acu leis an airgead a chaithfí ormsa sa treo sin.
Mar sin ceapaim má tá sé faoin bhFreasúra teacht agus rudaí fónta a dhéanamh sa Teach seo ní mór scagadh níos mó agus níos mine a dhéanamh ar na tairiscintí a thagann os ár gcomhair agus ord éigin a chur orthu seachas an saghas bailiúchán milseán atá againn anseo.
Mr. Costello: Having listened to Deputy O'Keeffe I wonder if he wants to spend all the money in the kitty on third level education. At the other extreme we read in the newspapers today that the loony commentator, Dr. Ed Walsh, wants to privatise the system. He should recognise that if a substantial amount of money was not provided for third level it would virtually cease to exist.
I welcome the Minister's amendment and I am disappointed that Deputy Martin and his colleagues tabled this motion. It seems it is a case of sour grapes, particularly when Deputy Martin issued a statement to the press welcoming this idea when it was first  mooted last autumn. He has now turned in the opposite direction and is being hypocritical. It seems he has suddenly discovered there is such a thing as third level education and wants every single item to be dealt with immediately. He should recognise that an historic decision has been made to abolish tuition fees which ranks alongside the equally historic decision by his own party in 1968 to abolish fees at second level which had an enormous psychological impact and led to a huge increase in the numbers attending. This decision will have a similar effect.
The previous Government made a substantial contribution in underpinning primary and second level education. The Deputy should recognise its positive achievements and stop whinging. In recent years at primary and second level the pupil-teacher ratio has been substantially reduced; remedial and home-school-liasion teachers have been appointed and capitation grants increased. In the past few days at the opening of a new school Archbishop Connell indicated publicly that this grant had been increased each year the Minister has been in office. This seldom happened previously.
The Minister is now undertaking a major initiative at third level which should be recognised. The abolition of fees will be revenue neutral for the Exchequer. In addition, the de Buitléir report, which addresses the question of maintenance grants, has been published. The number of third level places available has been increased while Irish students studying abroad now qualify for maintenance grants. Approximately 4,000 students will benefit from this  measure in 1996-97. Provision has been made for tax relief in respect of approved courses at private colleges.
For the first time students over the age of 18 in full time education will receive child benefit. As a consequence many students attending one year PLC courses will benefit. Greater emphasis should be placed on these courses which are attended by between 16,000 to 18,000 students throughout the country. Approximately 60 per cent of the total of 6,000 to 8,000 attending such courses in Dublin come from outside the area and need maintenance grants. Successive Governments have ignored this sector which has been provided on the cheap. The Minister has provided £2 million in recognition of the need for funding. I am certain she will move forward and provide a larger increase as provided for in the Programme for Government.
Ms Shortall: As a parent, teacher and public representative, I believe that access to education is a fundamental right. Under Deputy Bhreathnach, the first Labour Party Minister for Education, the education system has been strengthened and developed. Since taking office in January 1993 she has made the most radical changes since the foundation of the State. There is change at every level — primary, second and third level.
One of the goals was the abolition of third level fees for all participants and she has made much progress in this regard. In the budget the Minister for Finance signalled that the Government was committed to the introduction of free fees during the next two years. The fees for third level education will be halved this year and abolished from January 1996. This is the first significant step in making third level education accessible to all and will give great heart and encouragement to many young people who wish to go to college.
As a Labour Deputy, I was proud to see Deputy Bhreathnach prove her critics wrong. The cynics said that it would cost too much to abolish fees. With  determination and innovation the Minister proved that it was possible to introduce free fees without bankrupting the State. Undergraduate fees have been abolished by rerouting existing student support mechanisms, including phasing out income tax covenants relief. That is a more progressive way of spending taxes in the education system. The figures show that during the years covenants disproportionately benefited the better off. The Government's decision to restrict covenant relief will enable tax foregone to be converted into direct expenditure on the abolition of fees. The cost will be small in terms of the overall level of Government spending but the benefits will be immeasurable. Many hard pressed families could not afford to send their children to third level because they were above the income limits for the grants scheme although they were by no means well off. Because of the huge obstacle that had to be overcome in meeting the fees third level was not an option for their children.
This initiative will help many families, particularly in the Dublin area. Dublin already has a much lower participation rate in third level education than most other parts of the country. Because this measure is aimed at assisting those families on middle incomes, who are by no means well off, and those in the PAYE net, it is a particularly welcome initiative. It signals that education is not the preserve of the wealthy but is becoming increasingly accessible to all. Of course, I would like very much to see grant support extended to those on PLCs. I would also like to see assistance provided to those on evening courses but this is an important first step. We cannot do everything overnight. There was a Fianna Fáil Minister in the Department of Education for eight years and no progress was made.
Ms Shortall: The cynicism of Fianna Fáil Deputies in this debate is incredible. Now that they find themselves in Opposition they want to do everything overnight. They have not made any proposals to fund the initiatives they are advocating.
Ms Shortall: If the opening up of third level education had commenced in 1987 we would now be in a position where there was far greater access. However, because no progress was made up to recently there are now large numbers of people needing financial support. This is  an important first step that the Minister has taken in abolishing undergraduate fees. It removes the important psychological barrier that exists for many people. People living at home will now be in a position to afford third level education. The obstacle of fees is gone and they will be able to meet the other expenses with help from their parents, part-time jobs, etc.
I welcome the Minister's publishing of the de Buitléir report. I would like to see a national debate on the grants system as it currently operates. The Minister has spoken about her wish to have a Dáil debate on this matter and I would welcome that because, as in the whole area of tax reform, we must have transparency and we in this House must agree on measures to be introduced in order to bring about greater equity in the grants schemes.
Mr. E. Byrne: They dragged their consciences out of the cupboard but, like everything else in Fianna Fáil, they totally failed in their ability to deliver what is now expected of the Government. They should leave their consciences in the cupboard and stop playing games with the House.
Mr. E. Byrne: ——can sit on the sidelines and enjoy the spectacle of Fianna Fáil tabling motions urging the Government to repair the damage of its own past Administrations. Listening to this debate last night I felt it was a spectacle for which people would pay an entrance fee. I am glad the public are not charged for coming in here because Deputies last night behaved as if they were performing in the Abbey Theatre.
Mr. E. Byrne: This Fianna Fáil motion centres on the concept of equal treatment, one with which few people would disagree. I wish that students in my own constituency of Dublin South Central found it as easy to get a grant as a farmer's son or daughter from County Offaly.
Mr. E. Byrne: This Government is committed to providing equality of access to education. Specifically, the Government programme commits us to providing “new support mechanisms to increase participation by third level students from low income backgrounds, including the abolition of third level fees; a comprehensive reform of the educational grants scheme; the introduction of support for students on post leaving certificate courses and an increase in the number of third level places”.
Democratic Left would argue that none of these measures should be viewed in isolation from the other. Together, they form an equality package which, for the first time will allow us to fulfil the pledge so dearly held by us all, namely, to cherish all the children of the nation equally. The greatest inequality in our education system as  the Deputies opposite well know, is not at third level but at primary level and, to a lesser extent, at secondary level. It is well known that in many parts of the country approximately 50 per cent of children leave school without any qualification, let alone a degree.
Our so-called free system of primary education is anything but free. It has been estimated that primary education can cost parents in the region of £3,000. Our primary school class sizes continue to be among the highest in Europe. The ratio in our infant classes is the worst in the OECD.
Mr. E. Byrne: At primary level, Ireland spends less than half per capita than Germany, Sweden, Switzerland or the United States, and the United States does not spend a lot. Yet, for every pound spent on primary education, we are spending £4.41 on third level education. This is an imbalance which, in the OECD, is exceeded only by our poor rivals in Hungary.
Our primary students are expected to learn in a physical environment which ranges from decrepit to dangerous. We all know of parents who have had to take their children out of ancient so-called temporary prefab structures for fear of accidents or fires. Of course, the word “temporary” under Fianna Fáil Administrations acquired a rather disturbing permanence. It is unacceptable that in 1995 we still have primary schools without adequate indoor sanitation. It is unacceptable that as we approach the 21st century almost one quarter of primary schools lack a drinking water supply——
Mr. E. Byrne: Democratic Left believes in a bottom up rather than a top down approach. We believe that access to third level education will remain fundamentally inequitable until all children have equal access to a solid foundation at primary level. Of course, inequality is relative. Some primary students are more disadvantaged than others. Travellers' children and those with other special needs have been ill served by our education system. For example, the recommendations of the Special Education Review Body remain to be fully implemented. The provision of remedial teachers continues to be grossly inadequate. In some sparsely populated areas there is only one remedial teacher serving four to six schools while the recommended number is three. Indeed, remedial teachers spend more time travelling from school to school in their catchment area than actually teaching.
I urge the Minister not only to implement the recommendations of the Special Education Review Body but to go beyond the body's mandate and address the whole area of special education, including educational opportunities for gifted children. This area has been neglected in the past and it should be looked at in a fresh and innovative way. It is obvious that our primary education system provides an extremely unequal foundation for secondary and third level education. Those students who manage to negotiate both the educational and the financial hazards of first and second level education often find themselves confronted by a grants system which can only be described as institutionalised inequality.
 The children of low and middle income PAYE workers stand less chance of getting a maintenance grant than the children of the self-employed and farmers. Up to now, farmers and the self-employed have been able to artificially depress their incomes for the year on which the grant is being calculated. We are also aware of cases where a farmer, whose child has been deemed eligible for a grant, is in a position to purchase a flat for his son or daughter in one of Dublin's quayside apartment developments. Lest Deputies opposite say I am engaging in farmer bashing, I am not. I have no doubt children of small and part-time farmers find it just as difficult to get a grant as do children of low income PAYE workers.
Mr. E. Byrne: In many cases small farmers have been by-passed by the grant system just as they have been by-passed by Euro funds. I am referring to the rich ranchers whose children have benefited disproportionately from the grant system and from almost every other service. It is for this reason I fully endorse the proposal to assess applicants on assets as well as income for the purpose of determining grant eligibility. Even people who receive maintenance grants may in some cases be forced to drop out of college for financial reasons because the grant is inadequate and has been rendered even more so by the abolition of student's dole. I note Fianna Fáil Deputies are strangely silent on that subject.
Simply extending availability of maintenance grants without in the long term examining the amount of the grant will not fully address the problem. Students who depend on grants and whose parents cannot afford to top them up will find themselves in an intolerable financial position. That will inevitably lead to a drop in academic performance or will force students to take up part-time work which may leave little time for their studies.
Mr. Cullen: I have listened to what can only be described as a damning indictment of the Government by Deputy Byrne. It is interesting that Democratic Left is distancing itself from its colleagues in Government, as is evidenced in the speech just delivered. Most of it could have been happily delivered from the Opposition benches.
Mr. Cullen: I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Martin, on the quality and coherency of the speech he made last night. It was an excellent contribution to the debate on education. I was very surprised by the Minister's response which was very poor; she even lacked belief in it herself. I would remind Deputy Shortall that the Government was in a very strong budgetary position when it came to office. Taking into account the extra £30 million from the removal of covenants, the Minister had an opportunity to make major changes. The motion outlines that although the Minister had choices she flew in the face of equality of treatment, which is what this debate is about.
It is interesting that Labour Party and Democratic Left speakers failed to deal with the motion and ignored the opportunities available to the Minister in the budget. In the Minister's speech, as in much of what she has said recently, there is the impression that if she mentions the right buzzwords and uses them in the appropriate sentences, that will convey belief in the marketplace that these aims will be achieved. For instance, she spoke at great length  about deprivation among socio-economic groups, and it is right to recognise that, but it is extraordinary that her first major change in education, the removal of third level fees, will not benefit those groups. That is astonishing for a Labour Minister who was lauded some moments ago for her aspirational proposals. Let us judge her on what she has done, which has nothing to do with benefiting those without access to third level education. It is clear from educational groups that the greatest deterrent to access to third level education is the lack of facilities at a reasonable cost. The vast majority of people have to bear the huge cost of sending their children to different parts of the country——
Mr. Cullen: The location of third level colleges is an essential element in encouraging people from the type of background the Minister purports to represent, to avail of education. People who live near an institute of education are more inclined to participate in third level education. The Minister clearly recognised in her speech the contribution of previous Fianna Fáil Ministers. She commended the increase from 23,000 participants in third level education in 1967 to 88,000 in 1993-94. That did not happen by chance but as a result of the attention given to this area and the contribution and commitment of Fianna Fáil Ministers in the last two decades. The Minister had the good grace to recognise that contribution.
As my time is limited I wish to refer briefly to access in terms of facilities. Many figures have been mentioned vis-á-vis the growth to be expected in future years. I am deeply concerned that the  leak from the Higher Education Authority steering committee, which appeared in a report by Paul Cullen in The Irish Times of last Saturday, 1 April, is an attempt by vested interest groups to subvert the case for upgrading the Waterford Regional Technical College to institute of technology status. This attempt to dilute the recommendations of the technical working group will be resisted and must be defeated in the interests of Waterford and the whole south-east region. The report of the technical working group was well received in the south-east because it articulated an independent technical assessment, completion of which we had awaited for more than 25 years. The report was noted for the fact that it brought together for the first time all the interests in support of the recommendation of the technical group.
If the report by Paul Cullen in The Irish Times is true it seems the recommendations of the technical working group, which has the resources to independently study the deficiencies in the south-east, are being ignored and the rightful case of the south-east is being submerged. This will keep certain vested interest groups in other areas of education happy. This course of action will never be acceptable to me, to Fianna Fáil or to the people of Waterford and the south-east.
It is interesting that political decisions pre-empted the report of the committee on two of its recommendations relating to Thurles and Dún Laoghaire. I have no problem with an area making its own case, but considering the crying need for a regional college on the north side of Dublin it is extraordinary the Minister has decided to site the college in Dún Laoghaire. The Deputy and many of his colleagues know that is an outrageous decision. Has the steering committee found a way to change the demographic profile and the technical basis for the working group's recommendation? Does the steering committee seriously believe it can fool the people into thinking the region is being looked after by  not upgrading Waterford Regional Technical College to institute of technology status? There are two types of region here, those with a university and a regional technical college and those with a technical college only. Waterford, and the south east region, are in the latter category.
The technical working group recommended a formula for bridging that gap by upgrading Waterford Regional Technical College to an institute of technology. Any attempt by the steering committee to interfere with that recommendation must and will be resisted. The Government parties of Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left must support the implementation of that report and resist any attempt by vested interest groups to interfere with those recommendations on third level education. The technical group was independent and was able to take an overview of the national situation, and was different from the steering committee which was comprised of people with a vested interest in third level education, each fighting their own patch with no regard for the overall development of third level education.
If the Minister is committed she will do a number of things, most of which have been outlined by my colleague, Deputy Martin, but she will certainly have to provide equality of access. Equality of access does not begin by removing fees. The Minister has to find a way of helping those on low incomes to gain access to third level education. If she does not do that she will have failed in her duty. She must provide new facilities to do so.
Mr. B. Smith: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this comprehensive motion tabled by the Fianna Fáil Party on the need to improve access to third level education. The motion refers specifically to a number of areas where improvement is needed and where a greater equality of opportunity could be created. Very substantial progress was made in the late 1960s in the provision of education at primary, secondary and  third level. It is clear from all projections that the third level sector will remain under pressure to meet the rising demand for student places in the coming years. I understand that the report of the Higher Education Authority steering committee dealt with the need to improve the participation levels of working class and disadvantaged students in higher education. Surely the follow-on to the equality of opportunity that was established with regard to access to second level education in the 1960s and 1970s should be direct targeting of resources towards the necessary improvement of access for that sector to higher level education.
The extension of post-leaving certificate courses over the past few years has provided opportunities for students who otherwise would not have gained access to further education. That opportunity might have been denied to them either through the entry requirements being too high or through lack of funding. The establishment of post-leaving certificate courses has provided new opportunities and through these courses 17,500 students are pursuing further education courses in 1995. The rapid and continued expansion in the number of participants on these courses is evidenced by the Minister's projection of 20,000 participants in 1996. There is a clear and urgent need for the Minister to remove the serious anomaly which denies those students a maintenance grant. I appeal to the Minister to give this matter urgent consideration and put in place by next September a proper maintenance grant system. In many ways the PLC courses have eased the pressure on places in third level education institutions. The participants do not deserve to be totally disregarded, as they are when the provision of student grant support is being decided.
Many of the courses on offer are targeted at the growth areas of the economy and thus the skills to be learned are generally both essential for the economic sectors involved and improve also substantially the employment potential of the student. As well as being finely  tuned to the market needs of the economy the courses generally correspond with the predominant economic activities of the region. The courses provided at Cavan college of further studies are very appropriate and complementary to the main employment areas in our region. The principal, the chief executive officer of the vocational education committee and their colleagues deserve the highest commendation for their foresight and diligence in establishing such a fine college.
Obviously, greater co-operation can be effected between local industry and colleges providing these courses which would be mutually beneficial and would strengthen the local economy. I understand that 50 per cent plus of leaving certificate students do not attain the academic requirements for entry to our regional technical colleges or universities and a huge number need further education and training to prepare them for the labour market. I know from the Cavan college of further studies that approximately 90 per cent of its students obtain employment or go on to further education. That is an impressive achievement and I urge the Minister to give colleges such as Cavan formal recognition.
The growth in the number of colleges providing post-leaving certificate courses, and the corresponding growth in the range of courses, is an added impetus to the need to regularise and regulate this section of further education. Centres such as Cavan, which have a proven record and for whose courses there is a strong demand, as is evidenced from higher annual enrolments, should be established on a formal basis. Allied to the unanswerable case for a centre such as Cavan is the low participation by students from the Border counties in higher education. Regulation of post-leaving certificate courses with regard to proper certification, the provision of courses on a specialised basis and the nomination of centres plus the introduction of a maintenance grant system, will help to eliminate many of the obstacles that restrict  participation in further education. Proper structures for this whole area are urgently needed.
I make a direct appeal to the Minister on the serious anomaly in the mature students grant scheme. I brought a case to the attention of the Minister of a mature student who applied to County Cavan vocational education committee for a grant which was duly approved but when she moved her residence from Cavan to Cork she was awarded the lower or adjacent maintenance grant because she did not live more than 15 miles from the college. I am sure the Department does not expect her to commute daily from Cavan to Cork. I am sure that in drafting this scheme the Minister did not intend to cause undue hardship such as in the case I have outlined. The Department officials should rectify this anomaly at an early date.
I ask the Minister to include colleges such as Mater Dei, All Hallows and others, in the proposed free fees scheme as they have contributed significantly to the provision of third level education places.
Ms Keogh: What is depressing about debates in this House is when we hear negative responses from Members on the Government side. We should welcome the fact that Deputy Martin tabled such a motion and gave us an opportunity to debate education because we do not have many opportunities to do that. I have tabled an amendment to the motion but it does not invalidate the fact that Deputy Martin underlines the gross inequity in our education system, particularly in the scheme the Minister announced last year.
What the Government is doing in education is incoherent. Unfortunately,  education policy has become as shallow as a press release and the abolition of third level fees is a classic example of that. It made a great press release and a great headline at the time. A press release is not a policy. It was not thought through. A give away is not an appropriate approach, the third level free fees move does not enable people to go to college if they have been prevented from doing so up to now.
Rolling cycles of deprivation show up in every area of Irish life and work against people at every stage of the education process. Every day young people fall from the path of achievement due to poverty. The abolition of fees does not solve the maintenance grant problems of poorer students. We have heard educationists at all levels in the system commenting negatively on that single issue. I will go further than that. The Minister should have an energetic, coherent, visionary approach to all aspects of education. We have not seen that. I have every sympathy with mature students, post-graduate students, evening students and those attending colleges who have not been the recipients of the Minister's largess. I have received many letters and telephone calls from people who feel they are left out of the system.
I urge the Minister to concentrate on building the education system from the foundations up and not from the top down. She should stop fishing for votes and start helping the system and the younger children in it. Her plan for free third level education shows that the Government has its priorities wrong and is out of touch with reality. The real issues to do with education have nothing to do with free third level education. The State does not yet enjoy free primary education. Every parent knows they are involved in fund raising or paying so-called voluntary subscriptions. Primary education should be truly free for children.
The recent INTO report stated that the lack of books and supplies to schools in disadvantaged areas seriously  undermines educational equality in Ireland. Another survey by the ESRI confirmed what most of us know — that those with the lowest levels of education bear most of the burden of unemployment and have little chance of breaking out of the poverty trap. Those in the poverty trap have the least chance of having a high standard of education. The Minister is not addressing this.
Apart from the needs of primary education being neglected, free education is not what is most needed at third level. Universities can only accommodate 18 per cent of the school-leaving population. What will the scheme do for this problem? What if there is a freeze next year on college intake in spite of increased demand? We need more capital funding. The rise in the number of places has resulted in serious overcrowding in libraries and at lectures. There is a lack of capacity to cope with any further increase in numbers. Failure to deal with inequality in primary education will transform the universities into the preserve of the socially and economically privileged. Will the Minister explain how free third level education will stop the decline in opportunities for disadvantaged students who wish to enter university?
I was astonished to hear the Minister's colleague in the Labour Party talk about a psychological breakthrough in the third level funding. Psychology will not buy bread or books. We called for a debate on the de Buitléir report.
Ms Keogh: The Minister referred to the regional college in Dún Laoghaire. We are very pleased that is going ahead. I am glad the Minister no longer describes it as an urban college because no one knew what that was. When in Opposition Fine Gael supported the campaign for a regional technical college in Castlebar and I believe Deputy  Ring won the by-election on the strength of that.
Ms Keogh: What will he do when he goes to the people if the Government renege on that commitment? I will not enter the debate as to whether it is appropriate to have a regional technical college in Castlebar.
Miss Quill: I thank my colleague for sharing a little of her time with me. I wish to address the issue of putting in place a proper maintenance grant system for post-leaving certificate students and courses. This is not the first time I have spoken about the matter to the Minister. I have a deep conviction that post-leaving certificate courses have made an enormous and valuable contribution to third level education. The courses on offer are well-designed, delivered and targeted with a keen eye on the marketplace and job opportunities. This cannot be overlooked.
In Cork, one year courses on subjects such as fashion, photography or catering have led directly to employment for young people. For a number of students a post-leaving certificate course is the fastest and most cost-effective route to securing a job. These matters cannot be  ignored. I appeal to the Minister to give these courses the recognition they have earned and deserve. A proper maintenance grant system should be put in place for next September. If that does not happen these valuable courses will dwindle and die and young people who are prepared to participate in them will be precluded from so doing because they will not be able to pursue them.
I am enormously impressed by the attitude which inspired the setting up of these courses. They are innovative and give the student a spirit of self-reliance, initiative and rolling up of sleeves and getting the job done. That is what the country needs more than anything else at this time. I regret to say that I know students who are pursuing courses which are rapidly becoming obsolete. At the end of three or four expensive years spent in university I know many young people who will be as ill-equipped then to earn a living as they were when they sat their leaving certificate. Surely all these elements must be taken into account.
We must balance where the best advantage lies for young people in terms of education. I fully accept that funding third level education makes a huge hole in Exchequer spending and that the Minister cannot meet all the demands at once. I commend the Minister for her initiative in introducing a third stream at leaving certificate level and putting in place a programme which will see many young people remain in formal education until they are 17 or 18 years of age. By doing that she demonstrated she is capable of developing innovative ideas and accepting those of others. I commend to her the innovative ideas of those who design, put in place and deliver PLC courses and I ask that she put in place a funding scheme by next September.
Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Currie): If some of the speeches of the other Opposition Deputies were half as constructive as the speech to which we have listened, this would be a much better debate. I am happy to speak in support of the amendment tabled by my colleague the Minister for Education on the Government decision to abolish fees for full-time undergraduate and post leaving certificate students. I listened with great interest to the Fianna Fáil speakers, but I am sure not many of them will recognise the following quotation:
This nation is dependent largely on our human resources and our economic and social well-being demands that we exploit to the full the abilities and aptitudes of our people. It is essential, therefore, that all pupils be encouraged to achieve an educational proficiency in accord with their varying abilities and talents.
That is an extract from a speech made in this House almost 30 years ago. It was very apt then and we all realise how much more relevant it is in the Ireland of 1995. The statement was made by none other than the late Donogh O'Malley on the occasion of an Estimate speech for the education services for 1966-67. The decision by the Minister to abolish fees is a milestone in the history of the development of third level education which has rightly been compared in historical significance to the announcement by the late Donogh O'Malley of the introduction of free post-primary education, the context in which he made the statement I quoted.
Thirty years ago I was a student and during the summer holidays I used to work on the buses in Bournemouth in the south of England. I met students from the South who also worked on the buses some of whom I am glad to say are still good friends and have risen to high positions in this country. I was working for extra money then, including money to go on holidays, but students  from the South were working of necessity for the lump sum they had to pay upfront in October. My university fees were paid, but theirs were not. Thirty years later students from the North and South are treated equally in this regard and it is about time. It is a scandal that this was not done sooner.
Another factor has not been considered sufficiently. The decision by the Minister to abolish fees represents the removal of the serious burden and worry facing students who do not know what their fees will be next year. Parents and students who carefully budget have to cope when it is suddenly announced that fees will be increased. Students may be able to afford fees in the first year but they do not know if they will be able to afford them in the fourth year. That panic experienced by many families has been removed. Of course there are criticisms, but having listened to them it strikes me that nowhere has it been said that the fees should not be abolished. I listened with great interest to Deputy Keogh's contribution and I notice that she did not say that the fees should not be abolished. What is being said, which is an easy but in many cases an irresponsible approach, is that the measure should be more widely applied. Is the Minister not entitled to at least one word of praise for her decision? Deputy Costello reminded us of the praise of Deputy Martin last November. What has changed since then apart from the fact that Fianna Fáil is out of Government?
The abolition of fees for post-leaving certificate courses is being effected at an estimated annual cost of £2 million per annum. Criticism was expressed that such students do not qualify for maintenance grants. However, PLC courses are provided in institutions outside the third level sector and, as such, do not at present qualify for the third level student grants scheme.
Mr. Currie: Some of the Deputies' speeches demanded a response. There are many things I would like to say including the fact that the Government amendment refers to “the first response to the commitment given”. I believe the Government means that. We are lucky to have an education system which has won international recognition for its quality and diversity. I cannot extol it as much as I would like in the time available, but I have great pleasure in supporting the Government amendment.
Mr. Morley: I have great pleasure in supporting the motion before the House and I compliment my colleagues for tabling it. I admit that the abolition of university fees is welcome, but the manner and the context in which this was done in the budget leaves a lot to be desired. Those fees should have been abolished in a fair and balanced way, but they were not. It should have helped all students, but it does not. I will not repeat the many categories of students whom it does not help but students of some institutions, such as Mater Dei, the Pontifical University College in Maynooth, Milltown Institute and others have not been included in the scheme. I appeal to the Minister to include those colleges and their students in the scheme.
Regarding the long term needs of educators and students, the abolition of fees does not meet their priorities. It has been said that long term educational needs were sacrificed for short term political gain in this instance. Spokespersons for third level institutions have  given the measure more than a cool reception, as have third level students heavily dependent on maintenance grants and their parents who are heavily dependent on convenanting arrangements to keep their children at third level institutions. All in all the decision represents poor value for money. It seems profligate to the extent of recklessness to absolve those who can well afford to pay fees from any payment when there is a crying need to improve educational services at all levels, while those much needed improvements await the availability of capital. The generosity of this decision should be contrasted with the grudging manner in which the school transport system is administered at primary and secondary level. Children of a tender age often have to trudge miles to school because they live, say, a hundred yards or so outside the qualifying distance limit for free transport and are not entitled to it unless their parents hold a medical card. That reflects a stark contrast in treatment which can only be explained in political terms of the Labour Party chasing its new found constituency of middle income votes in every campus and up-market housing estate.
The manner in which fees were abolished gives an unfair advantage to those living in or near third level institutions. To restore the balance there is a serious need to improve maintenance grants. They need to be increased by 200 per cent or 300 per cent and should be paid without reference to income as is the case with fees, otherwise a clear bias will exist against a large section of the community, those living a long distance from third level education centres. As the student slogan says: “abolishing the fees will help me to get into college, but it will take a reasonable maintenance grant to allow me to stay there”. A radical increase in the maintenance grant does not seem to be contemplated, with the exception of a vague  proposed change to take so-called assets into consideration which would have the effect of further disadvantaging those who are severely disadvantaged by distance and urgently need redress.
This official thinking prompted the abolition of third level fees and continues to prompt other changes within the educational pipeline but does not give much encouragement to people in counties like Mayo where there is as yet no third level institution, despite the county having a large third level student population estimated at upwards of 3,000 and a vigorous campaign on the part of a local action committee over a number of years. The begrudging response so far to the request by the people of County Mayo for a third level institution is in sharp contrast with the sudden announcement some months ago of a new regional technical college for Dún Laoghaire. That prompts one to ask yet again in what way future education issues will be decided. Will it be in accordance with obvious need or political expediency?
I compliment Deputy Hughes on the case he made for Castlebar. While the abolition of third level fees is welcome, the manner in which it is proposed is decidedly unfair, excluding too many students and third level institutions, adding to the disadvantage of pupils living long distances from centres of third level education whose parents were dependent on entering into covenants to keep them there. In short, it threatens to drive a further wedge between urban and rural communities which will continue until such time as maintenance grants are realistically and meaningfully increased and, I hope, until there is a full blown third level institution located in County Mayo.
Mr. Martin: I thank all Members who have contributed to this debate, in particular the supportive comments of Deputy Keogh who pointed out that it is important we have such a debate in  order to highlight these issues and illustrate the degree to which so many categories of students are excluded from the recent budgetary package.
The philosophy underpinning this motion was one of equality for all students. The quotation from the late Donogh O'Malley cited by the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, incorporated the words “all students”, not just one category. That is what this motion is all about. We must remember that resources were released to the Minister through the abolition of tax covenants. While we acknowledge there are constraints on expenditure, one must allocate the resources available equitably between all students within the different categories — evening students, mature students, PLC students and those attending the Mater Dei Institute, All Hallows and other colleges.
Deputy Dukes questioned costings. I have attempted to cost all these proposals. I tabled parliamentary questions asking how much it would cost to bring part-time students within the higher education grants scheme. The reply I received from the Minister was that the data is not readily available in the Department. Are Opposition spokespersons meant to research detailed costings when the Department itself could not give the relevant figures? Likewise, I could not obtain an answer in the case of mature students. The only answer I received was that in relation to PLC students, mentioned by the Minister last evening. The service and degree of information available to Members of this House is appalling, particularly within the educational domain.
Mr. Martin: Yet we were refused a debate on that report by the Taoiseach. How many times did I ask on the Order of Business whether time would be made available for a debate on the de Buitléir report only to be told the Government was not interested in debating it?
Mr. Martin: He spoke about establishing priorities in the allocation of resources. The picture he painted of primary schools, particularly those without sanitation and the like, did a lot for cohesion within Government ranks. I saw Deputy Costello bury his head in his hands.
I appreciate the support I received from Government backbenchers in relation to PLC students, who they claimed should receive maintenance grants, the reality is those same Members will vote against the motion. The Minister and Government took a premeditated decision in the budget to exclude from the allocation of any resources evening students, mature students and all of the other categories covered in our motion. As an Opposition party we have a right to highlight their cause and call for action.
I attended the USI conference yesterday entitled Visions of an Educated Ireland. I know the Minister had to withdraw at the last moment but I would respectfully suggest it would have been well worth her while to attend. The reason given was that she had to finalise the White Paper on Education,  but a journalist, in the know, said the White Paper was completed on Monday. Of course, the last people to discover anything about the White Paper on Education are the Members of this House, in particular the Opposition spokespersons.
I have a vision of what things will be like in October 1995. Let us imagine a big building surrounded by high walls and thousands of students, armed with leaving certificate points, scrambling over the parapets. Some will make it; others will not. Those who have made it into the fortress will be safe in the knowledge of having a free place for the next four to six years. Some of them, unfortunately, may have to relinquish their places because their maintenance grants will not be sufficient to sustain them over their chosen period of study. What about the others who will not make it over the wall? They will not have sufficient points to trade with the fortress commander, Minister Bhreathnach, who will shout from her battlements: “Go buy a third-level education in your local vocational education college. Pay me more money and I will let you in at weekends, evenings and holiday time. Go to Maynooth, All Hallows, the Milltown Institute of Theology, the College of Surgeons, the Mater Dei Institute, but do not expect me to pay your fees — only the elite, my elite, will get into my university”.
At last we see our Labour Minister for Education in her true colour, elite blue. Has fortress commander Bhreathnach not realised that successive Ministers for Education, of every hue, colour and creed, have been endeavouring to dismantle the walls surrounding education since the foundation of the State? Has she not realised we are in the age of the information super-highway, of internet and computer technology, that the dividing lines between university, non-university, student/mature student, part-time versus full-time student are  fast disppearing? Why is she building walls while others are pulling them down?
Let me give the Minister a glimpse of the future. Has she heard of distance education? Students can opt to study for degree courses in centres other than a university while linked to a university by means of new technologies. Such students may not be able to afford to live away from home. Their circumstances or, say, a disability may not allow them to do so. Why not treat these students equally? It is not a cliché to say that the new technologies are precipitating rapid social change and that education is to the fore in developing and exploiting this technology.
For example, what will happen when professors and lecturers begin to use these technologies more frequently in their work, when interactive multimedia become part of normal teaching, when a number of institutions, some in different countries, collaborate to bring cross-cultural, multi-lingual courses over the super-highway? Will we have to devise some “clocking-in” system to prove that they are full-time students? What is the Minister's definition of a full-time student? For example, is a student who works in a fast food restaurant at holidays or weekends deemed to be a full-time student, a part-time worker, or both? What about somebody who works during the day and studies over weekends? Is that person less deserving of our support?
Is it not time the Minister looked to the future beyond the next election? We must acknowledge that education is changing, that barriers are coming down. The Minister should be fair and give a chance to those endeavouring to provide and participate in alternative modes of education. What we want is greater access to education overall — the more ways of gaining access to ever more diverse education the better. The Minister should get off her elitist high  horse — a student is a student, is a student, is a student.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Dukes, Alan M.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Higgins, Michael D.
Noonan, Michael (Limerick East).
Burke, Raphael P.
de Valera, Síle.
Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire. O'Dea, Willie.
O'Malley, Desmond J.
Hilliard, Colm M.
Noonan, Michael (Limerick West). Quill, Máirín.
Amendment declared carried.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.
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