Thursday, 27 May 1943
Seanad Éireann Debate
An tAire Oideachais (Tomás O Deirg): Is é is cuspóir don Bhille seo leasú do dhéanamh ar fhorálacha an Achta Ghairm-Oideachais, 1930, maidir le híocaíocht do Bhaill na gCoistí Gairm-Oideachais ar son an chostais taistil bhaineas le freastal ar chruinnithe na gCoistí. In Alt 22 agus sa Dara Sceideal den Acht sin atá na forálacha seo, agus údaruíonn siad íocaíocht as costas taistil “ó chomhnaidhe oifigiúil an bhaill go dtí ionad an chruinnithe”, do réir ceithre pingne an míle slí ar bhóthar iarainn agus cúig pingne an míle ar bhealach ar bith eile. B'ionann sin agus nach raibh íocaíocht le fáil ar son costas taistil abhaile o ionad an chruinnithe agus nach rabhthas ag fáil ach leath an ráta seo thuas ar son an turais go léir.
Ina theannta sin, ní raibh costais ar bith iníoctha go dtí tar éis an 30adh de Mheitheamh gach bliain, agus sin féin ar choinníoll gur freastaladh cuig cruinnithe ar a laghad sa bhliain a chríochnuigh ar an dáta sin. Bhí na coinníollacha sin ró-chruaidh ó thús; ta siad níos cruaidhe anois, mar gheall ar an staid ina bhfuil an córas iompair le linn na hEigeandála agus tá sé ag sír-éirghe níos deacra do Choistí  Gairm-Oideachais líon gnótha d'fháil ag na cruinnithe. Dá bhrí sin, táthar ag brath a shocrú go dtabharfar allúntas réasúnta feasta do bhaill na gCoistí Gairm-Oideachais agus na bhFo-Choistí bhaineas leo ar son costas taistil chun na gcruinnithe agus uatha sin abhaile, gan féachaint don méid cruinniú do freastaladh. Dá réir sin, is ionann forálacha don Bhille seo agus d'Alt 80 den Acht Rialtais Aitiúil, 1941, agus tiocfaidh siad i bhfeidhm an ladh d'Iúl, 1943— isé sin ar bheith caithte don tréimhse láithreach de dhá mhí dhéag lena mbaineann có-fhorálacha an Achta Gairm-Oideachais, 1930.
Mr. Douglas: This is not a Bill for which it would be possible for us to get any enthusiasm or to which there would be any violent objection, as far as I can see. It has one advantage, at any rate. It is not, apparently, at all likely to be held to be unconstitutional. To that extent, we are not likely to quarrel with the Minister. The only thing that is not clear to me is why it has to be rushed as a last act of a disappearing Parliament or a disappearing Government in order to provide these payments. Still, I do not see any fundamental objection to it.
Mr. Hawkins: We all appreciate the fine services rendered by many members of such committees as vocational education committees, and it is only right that such members should be recouped whatever expenses are incurred through their attendance at these meetings. As I understand, payments will begin from the passing of the Bill. I would suggest that it should be made retrospective in relation to the members who have been elected at the recent county council election, and that payments be made as from their attendance at the first meeting of such bodies.
Mr. Derrig: The members of the vocational education committees are at present being paid travelling expenses under the 1930 Act. The provisions under Section 27 of that Act, in relation to expenses, cover the 12 months' period ending on the 30th  June next. It is, therefore, proposed that the new provisions will not apply until the expiration of the current 12 months. On the question of retrospective payment, there is a general objection, which has been voiced frequently in both Houses, regarding the dangers of retrospective legislation. Of course, in the case of financial benefits even to the small number of persons involved here, the Oireachtas may not make such a strong objection. Nevertheless, there is that objection. Secondly, there is the practical objection that members of committees, as I have said, have been in receipt of expenses. These expenses may be considered inadequate. This measure admits that they were inadequate, and, in fact, we are not fixing any limit in the present proposals. We are simply meeting the situation by saying that reasonable expenses will be covered.
We expect members of committees to exercise every reasonable precaution to see that their travelling expenses will be as economical as possible: that, for example, if a member of a vocational education committee happens to be attending a meeting of another local authority at the same place on the same day, he will not apply for expenses for both. Members of committees are aware that the provisions of the schedule of the Vocational Education Act in regard to travelling expenses are in line with the Local Government Act of 1925. Similarly, these new proposals conform generally to the 1941, Local Government Act. I think that serious difficulties would be created if any question of retrospective payment were brought in now because of the fact that the payments have been made. These payments would have to be reopened and, from a practical point of view, it is very doubtful if the vouchers for them could be produced. Although I should like to be able to meet the members of committees as far as possible, I feel that on this occasion I must ask them to be satisfied with the new schedule of expenses which will come into operation for meetings held after the 30th June.
Mr. Baxter: There is just one point that I wish to make on the section. I understand that the expenses allowed to members of committees who travel by bicycles to meetings amount to the munificent sum of 2½d. per mile. The question of the amount allowed has been raised repeatedly at meetings of our vocational committee, and quite uncomplimentary references have been made to the travelling expenses and other facilities allowed to others.
Mr. Baxter: A member may walk a distance of five miles if he pleases, but suppose he cycles a distance of 20 miles, as some members do, he is allowed 2½d. per mile. It is probably a good many years since that sum was fixed. It was probably done under the old Technical Education Act. It applied, I think, to poultry instructresses, butter-making instructresses and other travelling teachers. Whether or not it was a reasonable sum to allow at that time I will not say, but in view of present-day costs, I think it is a ridiculous proposal to make now. I do not know if this section supersedes a similar one in an earlier Act which made provision for the allowance to be made to a member who travelled on a bicycle. I would like to hear from the Minister what the actual position is. If that sum was considered reasonable when the earlier Act was passed, circumstances have since changed considerably. In my opinion it is not a reasonable sum to allow now, and I think something should be done about it. The Minister will appreciate that even if one can get a bicycle tyre now, the price of it is much higher than it was 20 or 30 years ago. In my opinion the 2½d. a mile allowed years ago could not be regarded as being reasonable now.
Mr. Douglas: I was rather surprised to hear the Minister say that no limit  was being placed in regard to the present proposals. I understand, of course, what he meant, that there was no limit in the Bill, although I took it, when I read the measure, that there was a limit to be fixed by the Minister for Finance. I was under the impression that there was some governing clause in the Bill to the effect that the Minister for Finance may provide the expenses, and that he has a discretion as to what the words “reasonable sum” mean. Personally, I have no fears that anyone is going to make a fortune out of any expenses that may be granted with the approval of the Department of Finance. Therefore, I would not like the idea to go out that there was no limit to the expenses that may be paid, and that this was to be a sort of luxurious locomotion arrangement.
Mrs. Concannon: I observe that under sub-section (2) of the section a person who travels less than five miles to a meeting will not be entitled to claim expenses. Such a person will not even get the 2½d. per mile that Senator Baxter speaks about. I think that a person travelling, say, two or three miles, should be entitled to claim expenses. Five miles is a rather long distance to fix as the limit.
Mr. Hawkins: I desire to support what Senator Mrs. Concannon has said. It would be unfair if a person who had travelled 4½ or 4¾ miles to a meeting was not entitled to claim expenses. Members of committees in the County Cavan are more fortunate than those in some other counties in being able to get 2½d. a mile if they travel by bicycle. I know places where the allowance is 1½d. per mile.
Mr. Hawkins: There should not be too big a discrepancy as regards these allowances between the person in a position to hire a car and the person who adopts some other mode of travelling. Some regulation in regard to travelling was made where ponies and traps or sidecars were provided, but even in that case some point was made  about the height of the pony. I think if there, was a flat rate to meet expenses, each member of a county council would receive his due allowance.
Mr. Derrig: The limitation of five miles is laid down in the Local Government Act and in the Agriculture Act, and the House will recognise the difficulty of having different treatment for members of vocational education committees as compared with members of other local authorities. The Minister for Education will determine whether the expenses are reasonable or not. I do not think the Minister for Finance comes into the Bill, and, as I explained to the House, the reason for putting it in that form is that it is recognised that the ordinary rules governing travelling may not hold in the emergency situation. The regulations governing travelling by public servants, generally civil servants, would apply normally to members of vocational education committees, and I hope, when instructions are being issued by the Department, that they will be on the same lines. That is to say, if there is a public conveyance, bus, train or tram, which will bring a member to a meeting place, he is expected to utilise it as being cheaper. If he is not able to utilise such conveyance, the question of alternative means of transport will arise.
It will be very difficult to say in advance what circumstances he may be faced with when trying to get to the place of meeting. At the present time public transport is available to a certain extent, but may not be available in particular cases, and, in future, it may be more difficult. Therefore, we are allowing members of committees, where public transport is not available, to hire a car, for example, where there is no reasonable alternative, but we expect them to do that only when there is genuine need to do so.
Mr. Baxter: Has the Minister any comment to make on the question of expenses allowed to those who use bicycles? If the Minister inquires he will find that at present a number of members of vocational committees  travel by bicycles. I am glad of the correction of Senator Hawkins, as the amount actually allowed is 1½d. a mile. That amount was allowed 20 years ago, and I do not think it is a reasonable amount now. Is the regulation in a previous Act, which allowed public servants of the State, or members of local authorities, a travelling allowance of 1½d. a mile, still dominant, and “reasonable expenses” be held to be those granted many years ago? If that is so, I consider that it requires amendment.
Mr. Derrig: I think that is only a small point. The Senator will recognise that it is not solely for the purpose of attending vocational committee meetings that members use bicycles. Under the system of accountancy which we have to comply with, the question will arise: to what extent was the purchase of a new tyre necessary for the purpose of attending these meetings? I will look into the matter and, if I find the case is a substantial one, I will try to have some allowance made for it in the form which it is proposed to issue to members, in which they are to set out their travelling expenses. I am not at all clear that we can include the cost of tyres. As the Senator says it is possible that some further allowance may be made for travelling by bicycles, but I can only promise to look into that.
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