Adjournment Debate (Resumed) - Higher Education Grants.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 682 No. 4

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Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  This case refers to a young person who was not born in this country but came here, accompanied by his mother, 11 or 12 years ago. He subsequently attended primary and second level school and has completed his second level education. He applied for a higher education grant to participate in a third level course.

Everything was in order until he applied to renew his stamp 4 to have it updated and extended. He was told at the time that because his mother’s status had changed in the past 12 months he would have to go through a special procedure to have his stamp 4 updated. However, it transpired that was not correct because his mother’s status had changed some three or four years previously. His stamp 4 status had been updated at least twice or three times in the intervening period.

The above was all apropos of his application for a higher education grant. In an effort to comply with the requirements of the VEC, we managed to elicit this information from the respective Departments. His stamp 4 was eventually updated approximately two months ago but, sadly and unfortunately, he has not received a higher education grant. His mother’s income is such that the family are eminently eligible for such a grant.

[709]He was told that if he could supply documentation to the effect that he was entitled to remain in this State in his own right, further consideration would be given to his case. He duly supplied that information, which came via the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. That was submitted some weeks ago but now, unfortunately, that is not sufficient either. I am getting sick of the roundabout, circuitous route this application is taking. I do not mind the Department of Education and Science, or any other Department, introducing new rules and regulations provided they apply to everybody across the board and are in accordance with fairness, justice and due process, but for any other reason, covert of otherwise, that it might be thought that new rules and regulations should apply, I have a distinct antipathy.

The Minister of State is a fair-minded man and I am hopeful he has gone into this case in some detail because it is not a case that will readily go away. The applicant in question is eminently eligible and he should not be deprived of his higher education grant. Incidentally, today he sits his examinations and this is the last day in that respect. If his higher education grant is not approved today, he will not be allowed to sit his examinations and that will be the end of the matter. In any event, he is required to pay for his examinations, something he cannot afford. I should also mention that this man has worked in his spare time out of school to earn pocket money and to be able to do the best he can for himself.

I have followed this particular case, as I have had a number of other cases of applicants who qualify for various benefits in recent years. There appears to be a general tightening of the noose in so far as members of the general public gaining access to certain qualifications are concerned. An aspect that has become notable is a closing date — the closing date has long passed in the case to which I refer due to the failure to process the application. I do not accept the need for closing dates. The applicable year is all that matters. It is simply for internal operations that closing dates were introduced, but people are now being seriously disadvantaged by virtue of the application of such rules. I object strongly to such procedures.

Depending on the reply now available, I will seek to resolve what remains of the issue in the current week. Very little remains to be done for the unfortunate young man concerned. His family had particularly tragic circumstances in the past in their native country. That is not relevant to this particular conversation but if he is seen to have been deprived of what are clearly his just entitlements, this nation should be ashamed of itself.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  I am replying on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe.

I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline the position of Education and Science on an application by the man in question for funding under the maintenance grant schemes. The Department funds four maintenance grant schemes for third level and further education students. These are the higher education grants scheme; the vocational education committees scholarship scheme; the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees and the maintenance grants scheme for students attending post-leaving certificate courses. The higher education grants scheme is administered by the local authorities. The other three schemes are administered by the vocational education committees.

Under the terms of the maintenance grants scheme, grant assistance is awarded to students who meet the prescribed conditions for funding, including those which relate to nationality, residency, means and previous academic attainment. The nationality requirement states candidates must hold EU nationality, or have official refugee status, been granted humanitarian leave to remain in the State prior to the Immigration Act 1999, be a person in respect of whom the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has granted permission to remain following a determination not to make a deportation order under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999, have permission to remain in the State by virtue of marriage to an Irish national residing in [710]the State, be the child of such person not having EU nationality, have permission to remain in the State by virtue of marriage to a national of another EU member state who is residing in the State and who is or has been employed or self-employed in the State, be the child of such person not having EU nationality or a national of a member country of the European economic area or Switzerland.

The decision on eligibility for a maintenance grant is a matter for the relevant local authority or vocational education committee as appropriate. If an individual applicant considers that he or she has been unjustly refused a maintenance grant, or that the rate of maintenance grant awarded is not the correct one, he or she may appeal in the first instance to the relevant assessing authority. Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down in writing by the relevant assessing authority and remains of the view that the body has not interpreted the schemes correctly in his or her case, an appeal form outlining the position may be submitted by the applicant to the Department of Education and Science. No appeal has been submitted to date in this case.

In this case the decision on eligibility for third level grants is a matter for Kildare Vocational Education Committee. It recently sought advice from the Department on the candidate’s eligibility under the nationality clause of the vocational education committees’ scholarship scheme 2008 as the applicant’s mother was recently granted naturalisation.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  It was not recently.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  The Department contacted the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to establish if this conferred a similar right on her child. That Department confirmed that although the mother had been granted naturalisation, this did not extend to the candidate, as an individual needs to apply for and be granted naturalisation in his or her own right. I understand evidence has not been provided as to the applicant’s own immigration residency status and the Department of Education and Science has advised Kildare VEC that it should request the candidate to provide evidence of the grounds of his residency-immigration status in the State in order to establish if he meets the nationality requirements of the scheme. On receipt of this confirmation, Kildare VEC will assess the application for a maintenance grant.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform adjudicates on a person’s entitlement to remain in the State. The Deputy will appreciate that it is not open to the Minister, the Department of Education and Science or the assessing authorities to depart from the terms and conditions of the maintenance grant schemes in individual cases.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  It is open to the Minister to ensure the rules are applied and observed. That is not the answer.

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