Seanad Éireann



Message from Dáil.

Business of Seanad.

Order of Business.

Courts (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Motion for Earlier Signature.

Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

Fifth Report of Committee of Selection: Motion.

Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997: Second Stage (Resumed).

Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997: Motion for Earlier Signature.

Adult Literacy: Statements.

Adjournment Matter. - Youth Development Services Fund.


Déardaoin, 18 Nollaig 1997. Thursday, 18 December 1997.

Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.



An Cathaoirleach:  Dáil Éireann has passed the Courts (No. 2) Bill, 1997.

An Cathaoirleach:  I have notice from Senator Costello that, on the motion for the Adjournment of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Education and Science to ensure the commitment to a £20 million youth services development fund to combat drug abuse is honoured.

I regard the matter raised as suitable for discussion on the Adjournment and it will be taken at the conclusion of business.

Mr. Cassidy:  Today's Order of Business is items 1, 2, 3 and 4. Item 1 is to be taken without debate. All stages of item 2 are to be taken today with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Item 3 is to be taken without debate on the conclusion of item 2. There will be a sos between 1 and 2 p.m. Item 2 will resume at 2 p.m. unless previously concluded. Item 4 will be taken at the conclusion of item 3. The contribution of spokespersons on item 4 shall not exceed 20 minutes and those of other Senators shall not exceed 15 minutes. Senators may share time.

Mr. Burke:  We agree to the Order of Business. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance to come into the House to discuss the issue of the sale of the ICC, ACC and TSB? The customers of those banks, who have supported them over the years, should be entitled to a windfall in the same manner as the staff or customers of other institutions such as the Irish Permanent. Those [418] institutions have provided a great service to this country and we should have a debate on the issue.

Mr. O'Toole:  I have previously raised the issue of mandatory reporting of child abuse and the current Government say they are considering it. I will not rehearse the cases which have been in the newspapers in recent days. The fact of the matter is that if an effective structure is not put in place in a proper legislative context, there will continue to be problems in this area. It is not clear who the appropriate Minister is to deal with this area. However, a senior Minister should be given responsibility for dealing with this issue of national consequence and should outline the Government's position on it.

Some Members of this House have been campaigning for the past 16 or 17 years for the extension of voting rights in Seanad elections in numerous ways, including extending them to all third level graduates. Lest there be any fear of unanimity among the independent group, I would personally find the idea of having one large constituency of 500,000 people very attractive indeed.

Mr. Gallagher:  Yesterday, I requested a priority debate on the issue of the risk of transmission of new variants of CJD and other infections through the blood supply. I stated my belief that it is necessary to carry out a full risk assessment of blood products currently in use in the Irish medical field. I am glad to see that the medical director of the BTSB is moving towards the position of treating all blood donations for the depletion of white blood cells to lessen infection. This is an area of concern and we should ensure that a system is put in place which would ensure that if further scares arise, people would not be informed about them on the public airwaves. The Government should allocate funding to the research, which is currently ongoing, in respect of a test which would trace CJD infection in blood. Will the Leader arrange a debate in the near future as this issue continues to be one of grave public concern?

Ms Keogh:  Will the Leader of the House once again bring to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the urgent need for a paedophile register? Since I first raised this issue we have seen many incidents reported in the press relating to convicted child molesters. This matter is extremely urgent and we must deal with it in the context of a legal framework. It is unfortunate that people sometimes take the law into their own hands. If this was dealt with in the manner in which I have suggested, we would not see the type of occurrences we have unfortunately seen. It is critical for our children to come first. We must take care of our children in this nation. I appeal for this matter to be brought to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform once again.

[419]Mr. Farrell:  I congratulate the Minster for Defence for visiting a soldier who had the misfortune of losing a hand in a recent accident and for assuring her that she will be welcome to continue her career in the Army. It is a far cry from the days in the early 1950s when I lost a hand and received my cards from the ESB before leaving my hospital bed. Thank God there have been big improvements for the disabled.

Mr. Cassidy:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Farrell:  In 1982 I drove a pony and trap from Bundoran in County Donegal to Dún Laoghaire in County Dublin to highlight the plight of the disabled across the country. Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment to re-examine the conditions relating to disabled drivers? If one loses a small toe one can qualify as a disabled driver, thus getting a car without having to pay car tax. One could get a brand new car every four years as well as a fuel rebate. However, if one loses a hand one gets no consideration as a disabled driver, yet when one applies for a licence one must have a certificate of competency and fitness. In addition, one's insurance premium will be loaded by 100 per cent - at least, mine was in 1952 and insurance has not improved since then — despite the fact that one has not had a car accident. Disabled people like myself are penalised as drivers and receive no consideration. They bear the brunt of the disability yet have none of the advantages.

An Cathaoirleach:  I appreciate the points that have been made by the Senator and I have allowed him considerable latitude because of his particular interest in this matter. However, we cannot debate the matter now.

Mr. Farrell:  I know we cannot debate it now.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment to re-examine the position of disabled drivers? People who lose a limb and are penalised should be compensated in some way by the State.

Dr. Henry:  Unanimity certainly has not broken out on the Independent benches, not even for Christmas. I am not as enthusiastic about Deputy Spring's Bill as our Leader is.

Can something be done about the Geneva Convention Bill? Five years ago I was assured it would be dealt with urgently. We have had the 20th anniversary of the passing of the 1977 protocols to the Geneva Convention, yet the Bill has still not been brought before the House even though it has been ready since May. It should be possible to bring it before the House as I do not think the present Government has any problem with it. I would be grateful if the Leader would see if the Bill could be brought before the House early in the next session.

Mr. Glynn:  I support the comments of Senator O'Toole and Senator Keogh. The House should call on local authorities to provide caretaker [420] facilities at all public toilets. This would eliminate at least some of the acts that are being perpetrated at local authority public conveniences.

Many doctors complain about the quality of medical cards, which appear to be written on pieces of cardboard. Medical cards should be made using state of the art technology. Health boards should take the necessary steps to ensure that medical cards are consistent with the technology age in which we live.

Mr. Coogan:  I support my colleague, Senator Burke, in calling for the Minister for Finance to come before the House to debate the sale of the ACC, ICC and TSB banks. While not unexpected, it is a momentous decision which is worthy of debate in the House.

Mr. McGowan:  Will the Leader arrange a debate early in the new year on the problems of regionalisation? The Taoiseach is in Brussels today defending Ireland's case against a threat to take the whole country out of the EU's Objective 1 region. Many representatives from rural areas know that a large part of the country is not yet ready to be taken out. If we sit silently and do not make our voices heard, we will deserve the treatment we receive.

The Leader should provide time for the House to debate this matter in such a way that a clear message is sent to those in a position to make decisions, both in the Government and in Brussels. That debate could perhaps be arranged along with another debate I have asked for on the various funding agencies, such as the International Fund for Ireland, the Fund for Peace and Reconciliation and other European funds. It would serve the House well if we had enough time to make a useful contribution in this area.

Mr. Costello:  I agree with the call by Fine Gael Senators for a debate on the ACC, ICC and TSB banks. If we are going to change those banks into some other format, privatise them or whatever is being proposed by the Government, we should have a discussion on the matter in this House.

I am delighted to hear Senator O'Toole's remarks that he supports Deputy Spring's legislation——

Mr. O'Toole:  I support the general principle.

Mr. Costello:  ——the principle of extending the franchise in Seanad elections. I always knew Senator O'Toole was a true democrat.

Mr. O'Toole:  I will be looking at the other panels, of course, in the totality of the Bill.

Mr. Costello:  I am sure he will.

Mr. Norris:  Senator Costello without interruption, please. He is making my point.

An Cathaoirleach:  Senator Costello on the Order of Business.

[421]Mr. Costello:  A good start can be made with the university franchise.

I support the calls by a number of Senators for the provision of a paedophile register. The incidence of allegations in relation to various forms of abuse is really appalling. We need a register to ensure we can track people who are passing from one jurisdiction to another and who are committing crimes of a very serious nature. I take the point made by Senator O'Toole in relation to mandatory reporting. We must have some mechanism in place. There is much greater support than the Government thinks for a strong mechanism for reporting abuse.

Mr. Dardis:  I refer to the point raised by Senator Gallagher in respect of CJD and the association, if any, with BSE. It is important for the public to be reassured on these matters. The possibility of contamination from blood is infinitesimal, if indeed there is any possibility at all of picking up CJD from blood. There is a small possibility, if there is any at all. There is no known case involving blood to blood transfer of CJD. However, that is not to say I disagree with the Senator in respect of the treatment of blood. I noted what was in the newspaper this morning about that matter.

On 1 January 1998 we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of our accession to the Common Market and it would be appropriate to find some method of suitably marking that occasion in the new year. I recommend that to the Leader.

Mr. Norris:  Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá faoin mBille Toghcháin an tSeanaid (Ardoideachas), 1997, de chuid an Theachta Dála, Risteard Mac an Earraigh. I agree with any proposal to introduce a Bill to examine this situation. I have no difficulty with widening the franchise.

An Cathaoirleach:  We are not discussing that Bill today.

Mr. Norris:  I understood the matter had been raised by several other people. I merely indicate I am happy for it to be brought before the House but in the proper context and circumstances.

Can we have a full debate early in the next session on item 11, motion 8 on East Timor? Bearing in mind that Tom Hyland of the East Timor-Ireland Solidarity Campaign is returning from East Timor, that few people from this country have managed to be there in current circumstances and that there is provision for this House to address the matter, perhaps he might be permitted to take part in a small way in that debate when it is arranged.

Mr. Cassidy:  Senators Burke, Coogan, Costello and Norris expressed concern about the ICC, the ACC and the TSB and asked for a debate on the matter with the Minister for Finance. I will allocate a half day's debate to it in the first or second [422] week after the House resuming in the new year. It is a serious proposal and it affects small industry in a significant way. I support the call for this debate and will arrange to have it as one of the priorities when the House resumes after the Christmas recess.

Senators O'Toole and Norris raised the issue of mandatory reporting of sex abuse. I concur with them and will see what I can do to have it highlighted.

Senators Gallagher and Dardis expressed concern about CJD. I spoke with the Minister for Health and Children about this and I hope he will come to the House for a general debate on all health matters at the earliest possible opportunity in the next session. A significant number of Ministers have come here and discussed various aspects of their Departments. This is the first session of the new Seanad and, by the time the next session is over, I hope to have had all Ministers here debating their various Departments.

Senator Farrell highlighted his concern about the disabled. I will accede to his wishes.

Senators Keogh and Costello raised the issue of the paedophile register. I agree with them and will pass on their wishes to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform after the Order of Business.

Senator Henry raised the issue of the Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Bill, 1997. This Bill fell with the dissolution of the last Dáil and it was on Second Stage at the time. I will have it reviewed to see what progress can be made towards having it included in the next session. I have an up to date report for the House to let it know what we have achieved and I am sure it will be pleasantly surprised. I will come to it after I have dealt with Members' queries.

Senator Glynn requested that medical cards be brought into line with modern technology and I concur with him. He is attending the December meeting of the Midland Health Board today and perhaps he can raise this issue and any other business at it. I will support him if he does.

Senator McGowan, one of the more experienced Members, raised the issue of funding for Ireland after 1999 from the EU and other funds, and I have agreed to have a debate on that. I share his concern for rural Ireland in this issue, as do all Members of the House. The Taoiseach is in Brussels this morning fighting the cause of future funding for our country.

Senator Dardis stated that 1 January was the 25th anniversary of our accession to the Common Market and that we should commemorate it. I have not been asked before to recall the Seanad for New Year's Day, but if the Members so wish, I will seriously consider it and let the House know early in the morning.

Mr. Dardis:  I will pass on that.

Mr. Cassidy:  Senator Norris raised the issue of East Timor. As the Independent Senators have the second Private Members' Time in the next [423] session, perhaps he could arrange with his leader to have a debate on it then.

Earlier in this session I was asked to give the House an outline of what legislation would come before it. The Government promised 21 Bills at the start of this session. Some 20 Bills have been published since the Government came into office at the end of June and five have been restored or have motions for restoration. This exceeds the promised number of 21 Bills.

The 25 Bills and their current status are: Taxes Consolidation Bill, 1997, which has been enacted; Arbitration (International Commercial) Bill, 1997, which is in select committee; Air Navigation and Transport (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which is in select committee; Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which has been passed by the Dáil and will be discussed by this House today; Courts Service Bill, 1997, which is on Committee Stage in the Seanad; Interpretation (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which is enacted; Turf Development Bill, 1997, which is in select committee; Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Powers and Functions) Bill, 1997, which is in select committee; Criminal Justice Bill, 1997, which is on Committee Stage in the Seanad; Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund Bill, 1997, which is to be passed by both Houses by 18 December; Employment Equality Bill, 1997, which has been published and will be the first Bill to come before the House at the start of the next session; Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which has been passed by both Houses; Courts (No. 2) Bill, 1997, which has been passed by both Houses; Transfer of Sentenced Persons (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which has been passed by both Houses; Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1997, which is on Second Stage in the Dáil; Merchant Shipping (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1997, which is on Second Stage in the Dáil; Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997, which is on Second Stage in the Dáil; Appropriation Bill, 1997, which is in both Houses and must be passed by 19 December; Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill, 1997, which has been enacted; Children Bill, 1997, which has been enacted; Child Trafficking and Pornography Bill, 1997, which was published this morning — Senator Henry will be pleased to hear that; International War Crimes Tribunal Bill, 1997, which has been published; Plant Varieties (Proprietary Rights) (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which has been published today; Roads (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which was published today; Central Bank Bill, 1997, which will be published on Monday.

Some 25 Bills have been brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas in this session. In the first session after the previous rainbow Government came to office only six Bills came before the House. The Government is to be commended for its magnificent work in this session. I am grateful [424] as Leader of the House for the six Bills which were initiated here in that time.

Order of Business agreed to.

Mr. Cassidy:  I move:

That, pursuant to subsection 2º of section 2 of Article 25 of the Constitution, Seanad Éireann concurs with the Government in a request to the President to sign the Courts (No. 2) Bill, 1997, on a date which is earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented to her.

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  I am pleased to have the opportunity to open the debate on the Second Stage of the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators on the performance of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board in recent years and on the future priorities and needs of the industry in general.

This is a short Bill involving only three sections. Nevertheless, it is a very important Bill if Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board is to be empowered to continue its activities in the years to come. There is also a degree of considerable urgency attaching to its enactment, because failure to do so within this calendar year would preclude me from advancing all of the £3.721 million capital funding at the board's disposal this year under subhead 2 of my Department's Vote. In effect, it would mean that £401,000 of this £3.721 million could not be advanced to the board this year.

Section I of the Bill is designed to give the Irish language title of the Irish Film Board/Bord Scannán na hÉireann the same prominence as its English language title in future legislation. The section addresses an amendment tabled by Deputy Michael D. Higgins at a meeting of the Select Committee on Heritage and the Irish Language on 10 December last, at which the Committee Stage of this Bill was discussed. I was happy to enter into a constructive dialogue with the select committee on Deputy Higgins' amendment and to accept the thrust of that amendment. However, the advice available to me suggested that the amendment tabled by Deputy Higgins was not the correct way to address the matter. Therefore, section I of the Bill represents an amendment tabled by me and accepted by the select [425] committee which meets the objectives of Deputy Higgins' amendment in full.

In providing that the Irish language title, Bord Scannán na hÉireann, should have the same prominence in law as the Irish Film Board, I am pleased to inform the Seanad that this, in any event, merely reflects the practice of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board since its re-establishment in 1993. The board is immensely proud of its Irish language title and positions it above the English language version in all its publications and letterheading. Moreover, when the board attends film festivals abroad, the Irish language title retains the same prominence on stands and in printed material which is distributed. I am also happy to inform the Seanad that oral and written queries can be, and are, dealt with efficiently in both the Irish and English languages at the board's offices in Galway.

Section 2 proposes to amend section 10 of the Irish Film Board Act, 1980, which sets a limit on the aggregate amount of loans, investments, grants or moneys provided by the board, together with the aggregate amount of principal and interest which the board may be liable to repay or has previously paid on foot of guarantees for the time being in force. The original limit provided in the 1980 Act was £4,100,000. This limit was increased to £15 million under the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Act, 1993, and this Bill proposes to further increase the limit to £30 million.

By way of explanation of section 2, it is standard practice that under their legislation, non-commercial State bodies operate within a limit on the amount of loans, grants, etc. which they can issue. This figure is increased by the Oireachtas every three to four years under amending legislation and this process rightly provides the Oireachtas with an opportunity to discuss the activities of such bodies and their sectors. The Seanad last had an opportunity to discuss the affairs of the Irish Film Board during the course of the debate on the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1993.

I emphasise that the increase in the limit on advances proposed in section 2 does not bestow an automatic right on the board to obtain additional funds. The amounts to be allocated to the board each year will continue to be decided in the annual Estimates for my Department, which must be approved by the Dáil. Accordingly, the amendment proposed in section 2 is an enabling provision only in order to ensure that the board can receive and allocate the resources which will be provided by the Dáil in the coming years. I emphasise again that the amendment is necessary. The annual allocations provided to the Irish Film Board since 1993 have almost exhausted the limit of £15 million provided under the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Act, 1993.

The capital provision for the board for 1997 is £3.721 million. If expended in full, this provision will bring the aggregate amount of loans, investments, etc. provided by the board to more than the current statutory limit. Therefore, the [426] approval of this House is required to facilitate the urgent enactment of the Bill so that the full capital allocation of £3.721 million for the board can be advanced by me within this calendar year. In this regard, Senators will be aware from the Order of Business of a motion later today seeking the concurrence of Seanad Éireann, pursuant to Article 25.2.2 of the Constitution, in a request to the President to sign this Bill on a date which is earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented and I would appreciate Senators' support for this motion.

The final measure proposed in the Bill and contained in section 3, deals with the officers and servants of the board. These provisions, which propose to amend section 27 of the 1980 Act, are designed to bring the Irish Film Board's provisions in this area up to date and into line with statutory provisions applicable to other non-commercial State-sponsored bodies.

By their very nature, non-commercial State-sponsored bodies have an ongoing dependence on grants-in-aid from moneys voted in the Estimates each year, so I believe Senators will fully accept the rationale behind these provisions. Section 3 relates to the number of persons to be appointed as officers and servants; their rates of remuneration and allowances for expenses; the terms and conditions of employment with the board; and the grades and the number of persons in each grade. It provides that the board's decisions shall be subject to the consent of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Minister for Finance.

The purpose of these provisions is, principally, to ensure that the board does not, without due approval of the two Ministers, take decisions which could have cost implications for the Exchequer or be contrary to Government policy on pay and conditions in the non-commercial public sector generally. In order to give full effect to the objective of section 3, two further general provisions are included. These involve a new section 27(a) and require the board to have regard to any nationally agreed guidelines and Government policy on remuneration, allowances for expenses and conditions of employment in determining these matters and to comply with any directives from the two Ministers in regard to these matters.

This debate provides Senators with an opportunity to review the activities and performance of the Irish Film Board since the last time a Bill came before the Seanad in 1993. The Irish Film Board was re-established in April of that year as one of a range of innovative strategies which had been introduced by the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government to develop our film and television production industry. These strategies included amended broadcasting legislation to ensure an annual increase up to 1999, in commissionings by our national broadcaster, RTÉ, from the independent production sector; a major extension of the section 35 tax incentive for investment in film and television production; the establishment of [427] Teilifís na Gaeilge, drawing a significant proportion of its programming from the independent production sector; and a more active participation by the industry in funded activities from abroad under the MEDIA I and MEDIA II Programmes of the European Union and the Council of Europe's co-production fund, EURIMAGES. Moreover, the establishment of STATCOM — the committee of senior officials of all State industrial, marketing, broadcasting and cultural promotion agencies which is chaired by the Irish Film Board — commenced the important process of addressing the remaining obstacles to the full development of the industry in a focused and concerted fashion.

However, the Seanad had little to review when a Bill of this kind last came before the House in 1993, since the board only commenced its operations that year. This debate offers real opportunities for a review of the activities and performance of the board since 1993, a period in which the Irish Film Board played a central and highly important role in the significant developments which have occurred in our industry over that period.

The broad function of the Irish Film Board, as set out in section 4 of the Irish Film Board Act, 1980, is to assist and encourage by any means it considers appropriate the making of films in the State and the development of an industry in the State for the making of films. The board exercises its function mainly by the provision of development loans and production loans for film makers.

Feature film development loans are intended for research, development and feasibility studies, up to a maximum of £25,000, and are repayable on the first day of principal photography. Of the 98 film projects which have been offered development funding by the board since its re-establishment in 1993, 17 have progressed into production. This creditable ratio of one in six compares favourably to other European film funding agencies which achieve an average ratio of one in ten, and to the Hollywood hit rate which is one in 15.

Feature film production loans are usually in the range of 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the overall budget of a film and the board is required to operate under an upper limit of 15 per cent of the film's budget. The board also offers production loans to a small number of ambitious documentaries each year, with an emphasis on feature length documentaries with potential for theatrical, festival and television screening.

The production loan is offered on the basis of either repayable loan or equity participation. Since its re-establishment in 1993, the board has recouped more than 20 per cent of its total capital investment in the first four years. By international standards, this recoupment level is good. It greatly exceeds the returns of other national film funding agencies, such as that of the Australian Film Commission with returns of 9.8 per cent, the British Film Institute with 5.7 per cent returns [428] and the Council of Europe's film co-production fund, EURIMAGES, with returns of 2.8 per cent.

Other developmental but highly impactful interventions which the Irish Film Board is undertaking in co-operation with other bodies include: the “Short Cuts” series of five to six short film dramas per year, which is co-funded with RTÉ and places a welcome emphasis on emerging non-established film makers who would hopefully use the experience as a springboard to take on feature length projects — the fourth series of “Short Cuts”, with 150 applications, is currently being selected; the new “Oscailt” series of short dramas in the Irish language, co-funded with Teilifís na Gaeilge; support for six creative animation projects under ten minutes in duration each year under the “Frameworks” scheme, which is co-funded with RTÉ and the Arts Council — the third series of “Frameworks” will shortly be advertised; and “Real Time”, the scheme for cinematic one hour dramas which is co-funded with RTÉ and which, unlike “Short Cuts”, is open to established film makers.

The sizeable number of development loans offered by the board to date, 98, and the fact that by the year's end the board will have offered 44 production loans, funding 44 new Irish feature films and series, is an indication of the sea change that has taken place in the Irish film industry in the last few years. Apart from the significant economic and social benefits which the board's assistance will bring to local communities, I wish to place particular emphasis on the cultural significance of these developments. It means that, in a short space of time, the board will have facilitated the telling of 44 Irish stories through the most powerful medium in the world and, therefore, will have contributed greatly to Irish cultural expression through this medium.

There is more good news concerning the impact of the production loans offered by the Irish Film Board to date. Of the 44 feature films and series which the board has assisted, 34 of them had Irish directors and 25 had first time Irish directors. Irish people are, therefore, gaining more access to the key film functions which determine what images of Ireland and Irishness are translated onto the screen. For the first time in a long time, Irish audiences are and will continue to be able to see images of themselves, their aspirations and apprehensions, which have been largely crafted by Irish people in front of and behind the camera. Equally importantly, these images of Ireland and our society are increasingly obtaining international exhibition windows which will sensitise new audiences to contemporary Irish life. The critical developmental role which the Irish Film Board plays in support of the industry must be emphasised and welcomed.

With regard to the funding sources for the activities of Bord Scannán na hÉireann, I warmly acknowledge the fact that the capital funding of the board is supported, up to a maximum of £13 million, under the Operational Programme for Industrial Development 1994-1999. Seventy-five [429] per cent of this funding is provided by the European Regional Development Fund, with the balance being provided by the Exchequer. Moreover, the same operational programme includes a further provision of £2.58 million in European social fund support for training for the industry, the Exchequer component of which is provided under my Department's Vote via the Irish Film Board. These training funds are administered by the National Training Committee for Film and Television, now to be known more colloquially by the title “Screen Training Ireland”. They are being topped up by a further £250,000 per annum from FÁS, subject to demand, as well as by a new traineeship scheme for the industry which is currently in development and could involve up to a further £2 million in FÁS resources when initiated.

The significance of the strong European Union support for the activities of Bord Scannán na hÉireann and towards film training is the fact that it represents a strong acknowledgement by the Union of the contribution which the European audiovisual industry is making to economic and social development in the Union. I welcome this acknowledgement.

I was pleased to be able to announce during the Second Stage debate on this Bill in the Dáil that I am moving to implement the two commitments in relation to the industry which are contained in this Government's An Action Programme for the Millenium. These two commitments relate to the establishment of a Screen Commission for Ireland and the establishment of an industry think tank to draw up a ten year strategic plan for the industry.

The primary function of the Screen Commission for Ireland will be to promote Ireland as a location for film. While my predecessor announced the establishment of such a commission on 4 June last, the preferred method of funding which he chose for the commission meant that no funds were at his disposal to proceed with its establishment at that time. The preferred method of funding was recoupments on loans advanced by the Irish Film Board since 1994. However, since these recoupments, now cumulatively amounting to £800,000, represent repayments from EU supported capital provisions under the operational programme, the approval of the European Commission is required for their use. I have been endeavouring to secure this approval for some months and it was conveyed on 6 November last, although it is not operative until 1 January next. I am still awaiting formal written confirmation from the European Commission in the matter.

In the meantime, I have recently met representatives of Film Makers Ireland, the Audiovisual Federation of IBEC and the Irish Film Board to discuss their priorities for a screen commission. I propose to conclude my consultations on this issue when I meet RTÉ shortly and, now that I have secured the funding source from the Commission, I expect to be able to make a definitive [430] announcement on the establishment of a screen commission for Ireland soon afterwards.

I also propose to announce my proposals for the establishment of an industry think tank soon. This body will be assigned the task of drawing up a ten year strategic plan for the industry and I view its establishment, as provided for in the Government's programme, as a crucial input to the next phase of the development of the film and television production industry. Critically, the emergence of a ten year strategic plan will address the medium term priorities of the industry and will avoid any tendency towards short term solutions for what is a highly complex and rapidly changing industry.

I refer again to the urgency attached to the Bill. If it is not enacted in this calendar year, the £15 million limit on the amount which the board can advance under the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Act, 1993, would be reached and I would be obliged to withhold £401,000 of the £3.721 million in capital funding allocated to the board in 1997. Senators will agree that this would be a retrograde step and would interrupt the momentum the board has created in promoting the indigenous industry.

I therefore request the support of Seanad Éireann to pass all Stages of the Bill today. I also seek the Seanad's prior concurrence, pursuant to Article 25.2.2 of the Constitution, in a request to the President to sign the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997, on a date which is earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented to her. I confidently recommend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Coogan:  Ba maith liom comhghairdeachas a ghabháil don Aire faoin mBille seo. I welcome her and compliment her for increasing the limit on the total amount of funding which can be expended by the Irish Film Board on loans, grants and investments from £15 million to £30 million. This is a welcome and substantial increase on the 1993 level when £4 million was allocated. This side will have no difficulty agreeing to the Minister's request to take all Stages of the Bill today on the basis that the legislation is urgent and the funding must be available as soon as possible. Under Article 25.2.2 of the Constitution, the President can sign the Bill earlier than the fifth day after it is presented to her and the money can be allocated. This side intends to ensure that the Bill receives a speedy passage today.

It would be remiss of me not to compliment the Minister and her party for introducing section 35 in 1987. This played an important part in the development of the film industry. However, prior to her contribution in the other House, the Minister brought extracts of her speech to the editing or cutting room of the industry, thereby diminishing the role of former Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, and also, sadly, the former Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Michael D. Higgins. He had a starring role in the previous [431] Government, but that has been slightly diminished by this Administration. While he is not an extra, his role should be recognised.

Deputy Higgins deserves recognition and congratulations for his work during his term of office as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and the imaginative and committed manner in which he supported the film industry. He dragged it from the doldrums into the 20th century. He is particularly deserving of praise for the way he responded to the misinformation published by the British press regarding the changes in section 35. It said that these changes were dramatic and no funding would be available. The Deputy and his former Department and officials should be complimented for ensuring that this rumour was scotched because it could have had a dramatic and bad effect on the film industry if it had been allowed to continue to run.

It is better that no party seeks the higher ground regarding who should or should not receive accolades for their contribution to the film industry in recent years. As one who believes in the philosophy of nothing ventured, nothing gained and its cousin, the old adage that one must speculate to accumulate, an investment in the film industry will in time pay dividends not only in financial returns, but also in enhancing, disseminating and protecting Irish culture. As the bard said: “Art which raises nature to perfection itself demands the passions of the elect who expect to win”. If we the elected feel passionately enough about the future of the industry, we will ensure its success in the future.

I welcome any proposals which increase the limit on the total amount of funds available to the Irish Film Board. Nevertheless, the public will demand that their money is not spent on projects which have no hope of success or do not bring a return. They will accept projects that will to a degree enhance the image of art. This does not mean every project should be a commercial success, because that is not possible, but rather that a project seeking public funding will be vetted to ensure that it will give the best possible return either financially or culturally to Ireland.

In terms of the work of the Irish Film Board in recent times, there have been some failures, but also some remarkable successes. I am glad the Minister referred to the 20 per cent return on investments. This is a marvellous figure worth highlighting. A recoupment of over 20 per cent in four years indicates that the board is responsible in the manner in which it carries out investments. In comparison to other countries, it should be commended for the level of return on its investments.

The board should also be commended for co-funding the very successful film school held in Galway which covered marketing and distribution. This was extremely beneficial to those who attended. I also commend the board for its support of television dramas, such as “Amongst Women” and “Falling For A Dancer”, and series, [432] such as “Hoodwinked”, “Harvest Emergency” and the award winning “Dear Daughter”. Irish films supported by the board have won audience acclaim at world festivals. Bord Scannán na hÉireann supported three of the last four films to win the prestigious San Sebastian film festival award. Such achievements internationally for a country the size of Ireland are unprecedented and deserve acknowledgement. For example, at the Cherbourg British and Irish Film Festival, “The Last Bus Home” was voted best film.

The extraordinary number of 44 major films and series made in Ireland with the assistance of the Irish Film Board would be remarkable in their own right if they had taken place on the west coast of the United States of America. The fact that they took place in Ireland stands to the credit of all those involved in the primary focus of the board of supporting Irish productions and Irish writers and directors and assisting in the development and production of indigenous feature films. The board should be commended for including animated feature films and series in this year's projects which would be eligible for production and loan finance.

Another recent advance of the independent film and television industry is the establishment of Teilifís na Gaeilge in Connemara. While a substantial number of people were sceptical about the creation of Teilifís na Gaeilge, it has been established and is in operation. It is part of the media landscape and I wish the “Oscailt” scheme, aimed at the production of Irish language short films, every success in the future. Regarding making Ireland an attractive centre in which offshore companies can produce, I am interested to know the Minister's opinion of the recommendation in the report of the special working group on film production that the IDA should be involved in taking a proactive role in attracting offshore companies, in the same way as it successfully attracts other industries to Ireland. Perhaps financial incentives, such as the 10 per cent corporation tax rate, or the incentives which attract overseas companies to the Irish Financial Services Centre in Dublin could be used.

We must recognise that competition with other countries, such as Great Britain, for outside investment exists. The British are today discussing a Bill relating to the lottery and they may invest more money in their film industry. They may recognise the contribution of the Irish Film Board, through Government investment, and decide that it is critical for them to do the same. This will create more competition for us. We must find ways to ensure that investments are attracted to Ireland. One of the difficulties in this regard is the perception of the high cost of the Irish labour force. This is also true of other industries.

To combat it we must ensure that the skills available are of a high standard, and to do that we must ensure that education in production, screenwriting, lighting and other aspects of the film industry is available. Institutions teaching [433] these skills should have technology that is up to date. In this context, the Minister should ask the Minister for Education and Science about the £250 million he is to spend on new technology. Some of that money should go to colleges and other institutions involved in teaching film skills so that their equipment is brought up to date. That would make Ireland attractive from the skills perspective, even if the cost of labour is high.

I am glad the Minister mentioned the screen commission. She was asked in the Dáil why this had not been established, and I am aware that the previous Minister put the concept forward though he had not put funding in place for it. I am delighted that the Minister will put the screen commission in place and make finance available for it. This should be done as soon as possible as Bord Scannán feels it is being undermined by the commission not being in place. I commend the Minister also on the think tank and hope this matter is concluded as soon as possible.

We commend this Bill. I thank the Government for the increase and I am sure we will get a good return on it.

Mr. Mooney:  I welcome the Minister on her first visit since being appointed. I am confident it will not be her last. I remember as a child going to the cinema in Drumshanbo. It was unusual for a small town of the time in that it had a cinema. I remember that short films, usually travelogues, preceded the main features. These were made by the National Film Board of Canada and seemed to be the only short films available to cinemas in Ireland. Even as a small child I often wondered why there was no Irish film board.

Mrs. Ridge:  The Senator was an advanced thinker.

Mr. Mooney:  It is interesting that it has taken so long to structure the film industry here. We have a proud cinematic tradition that goes back to the very beginning of film and those at the cutting edge of film development in America were Irish. While a significant amount of film was produced here from the 1930s to the 1950s, we did not structure that industry until the late 1970s and 1980s. Our present movement towards structuring the industry is to the credit of previous Governments and the Minister will continue that momentum.

Ireland is now a premier location for film makers and production of film due in large part to the excellent work of the Irish Film Board. It is difficult to imagine this country without such a statutory body charged with developing an Irish film industry, yet a previous Government abolished the Irish Film Board in the 1980s. I became a Senator around the same time and am proud I recorded my opposition to my own Government's decision at that time. I found it incomprehensible, even though there were reasons for it.

[434] Happily, we live in more enlightened times and with the re-establishment of the Irish Film Board in 1993, Ireland entered an exciting era in the world of film. The international success of feature films such as “Braveheart” is an example of the huge benefits that can accrue to the Irish economy as a result of a positive, proactive approach to the industry. However, has the Minister been able to establish exactly how much money has been generated in the economy, not just as direct investment in film but as ancillary benefits?

In the same year that the Film Board was abolished, the then Government introduced perhaps the single most innovative piece of legislation since the tax exemption for artists in 1969. I refer of course to section 35 of the Finance Bill, 1987. It is ironic that the same man, then Taoiseach Mr. Charles Haughey, introduced both pieces of legislation. He will earn a special place in our history for them, though he was also responsible for abolishing the Irish Film Board. The initiative taken by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds and his then Minister for Finance, now Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, in re-establishing the Film Board coincided with the appointment of Deputy Michael D. Higgins as Ireland's first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gealtacht. Deputy Higgins's legacy to the development of artistic and cultural activity in this country is for historians to analyse, but it would be churlish not to acknowledge his central role in encouraging artistic and cultural expression to a plateau never experienced in the State.

The appointment of Deputy Síle de Valera to the newly titled Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands has been universally welcomed. As Seanad spokesman on arts and culture during the Minister's tenure as Opposition spokesperson, I came to respect her commitment to the arts. Now that she is in a key position it is obvious from her short time in her new job that Ireland is fortunate in having someone of her calibre, expertise and dedication in what is traditionally an area of low priority for Government, though not for this one.

This debate is another stage in the ongoing story of the Irish film industry. Through this Bill the Minister proposes to increase the limit on the total amount of funds which can be expended by the Irish Film Board in investments, loans and grants for film production from £15 million to £30 million. The Bill also provides that all decisions relating to employment on the board shall be subject to the consent of the Minister for Arts, Culture, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Minister for Finance. Despite initial misgivings about what I perceived as the heavy hand of Government, I welcome this provision. This board has been autonomous because it has kept its distance from Government and is very effective. However, film is a risky business by its nature. It is possible that in future the board might lose its perspective and feel that a particular project would be wonderful or that it needed to send people chasing around the world for commissions. That casts no reflection [435] on the current board or future appointees, but this is important legislation.

The film board's remit is wide-ranging. For example, it supports creative animation through the “Frameworks” scheme. Since the demise of the Sullivan Bluth Studios there is now a pool of animation designers in this country who continue to be encouraged by the board. It is sad that what was to be termed Disney West did not survive here. The Sullivan Bluth studios provided some excellent animated films which were critically successful. Huge numbers were employed by the studio at one stage. However, the expertise and skills created during that period are of ongoing benefit to Irish film.

The “Frameworks” scheme is a joint enterprise with the Arts Council and the Northern Ireland Film Council. This scheme, as well as the “Short Cuts” series, to which the Minister has also referred, renewed the Film Board's partnership with the independent production unit in RTÉ. Another new drama initiative with RTÉ, entitled “Real Time” was introduced in 1995 to provide for the funding of a number of one hour dramas in the tradition of “The Clash of the Ash”, “Ball-room of Romance” and, more recently, “Bally-seedy”. This was a very powerful production dealing with an emotive period in our history which some might suggest should never be reopened. The fact that we can look at events which took place during the most traumatic period in the birth of our State shows a maturity in our nation.

Could the Minister urge the Film Board or the independent production unit in RTÉ to search for indigenous stories for film production? Comparison with the BBC may be unfair but that corporation has reflected British history in a most stimulating and enjoyable manner and has managed to adapt the classics of English fiction — particularly the novels of Jane Austen and George Eliot — to film. We have a wealth of stories of a similar ilk and yet we do not seem to have grasped the nettle. A certain number are coming on stream but we do not see enough of them. Why have we left it to other countries — and I think again of the United Kingdom where a series on the career of Charles Stuart Parnell was produced — to produce adaptations of events in our history? We have had excellent interpretations of our history - for example, of the Treaty negotiations — but we may be pursuing subject matter which we think will suit an international market when we should concentrate on projecting a better image of ourselves. RTÉ, for example, heavily hyped the recent gangster drama, “Making the Cut”. That drama could have been filmed anywhere in the world. It happened to have Irish actors but the story line would have been at home in New York or Los Angeles. This was protrayed as a very significant drama breakthrough. I do not suggest that it was wrong to do this series but the money and resources that went into it could have [436] gone into an intrinsically Irish story with an Irish setting and with an Irish philosophy and ethos.

This Bill's proposal to increase significantly the financial base of the Irish Film Board heralds an exciting new era for Irish film makers. Some idea of the important work of the Film Board can be gleaned from the list of titles funded by the board since its re-establishment in 1993. Among them are the current Stephen Rea movie, “A Further Gesture”, now on release internationally to critical and commercial acclaim; the powerful “Some Mother's Son”, which, despite the vicious propaganda of some right wing British newspapers, was a commercial success and brought a rare and dramatic insight into one of the most traumatic periods in recent Irish history — the hunger strikes of 1981. I urge people to see that movie — it is available on video — and not to listen to the propaganda that suggested that it glorified the IRA. It is a powerful film which looks at the position of the mothers of two hunger strikers. Many Irish people who know little about the hunger strikes would find this movie an education as well as an entertainment.

The most succesful gangster movie ever produced in Ireland, “I Went Down”, has won a number of international awards. It would not have seen the light of day without funding from the Film Board. Unlike “Making The Cut”, “I Went Down”, is an Irish gangster movie. Its setting, the cast and the story line are Irish. You are left in no doubt that this film was made in Ireland.

There are, of course, many other activities in which the Film Board is involved, notably, EURIMAGES founded by the Council of Europe and which provides production finance for co-productions. The development of an ethnic Irish film industry in the European context is a significant antidote to the Hollywood cultural invasion and the success to date of the Government's film policy disproves the argument that European cinema — and particularly Irish cinema - cannot compete with the Americans.

Despite criticisms of the changes in section 35 of the Finance Act last year, the Irish film industry has not suffered unduly. In the tax year 1994-5, section 35 attracted a total investment of £82 million in the Irish film industry from 7,300 investors. This figure had fallen to £15.4 million from just 35 investors in the year 1996-7 and coincided with the introduction of a new tax relief scheme for the film industry in the UK and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland Film Commission. Although these initiatives can be expected to have some impact on Ireland as a preferred location for film makers, the industry here is in a robust condition. In the year to date a total of 11 feature films have been produced and this figure compares well to previous years - nine in 1993, six in 1994, 11 in 1995 and eight in 1996.

Changes to the business expansion scheme by the Minister for Finance in the recent budget reducing the amount for any one project to £250,000 should encourage more venture capital [437] into the Irish film industry and the 80 per cent incentive under the section 35 provision should prove an attractive option for those wishing to minimise their tax liability. In this regard I ask the Minister to look at the risk factor that is traditionally associated with investment in film. Can the Minister reassure the House that her Department will take every step to ensure that those investing in section 35 films will receive the fullest protection within the Minister's limited remit in this regard? I am especially concerned about the criteria laid down in regard to those who come looking for certification. There has been one scandalous experience where investors lost several million pounds through getting involved in a very shaky deal. This case involved a woman who went around this town projecting an image of credibility. I am sure that if the Minister is faced with this lady in the future she will take a close look at the provisions for granting certification.

As the Minister stated at the presentation of the 1997 Jesuit Film and Video Awards to young Irish film and video makers recently, this is an exciting time for film production in Ireland. For an industry which at the start of the decade seemed in terminal decline we have witnessed an unprecedented upturn in levels of production which has been driven by a real renaissance of indigenous Irish production.

The range of strategies which the Minister is putting in place, including the provisions in this Bill, should ensure that Ireland's young film makers will enter a buoyant industry when their time comes. I particularly applaud the requirement that film projects obtaining section 35 assistance should include a number of trainees and since 1994, 760 trainees have been involved in film projects certified by the Department. I look forward to hearing more good news from the Minister about the Irish film industry and I hope that when she obtains the Oscar, which she will no doubt be entitled to by the end of her term of office, she will find a small place for myself in the penthouse suite of the Beverly Hilton in Hollywood for the presentation.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Dr. Henry:  I would like to share my time with Senator Ridge. The Minister has come with such good news and such a splendid speech that I feel we should ask the Leader to ask the President to sign the Bill early so that we can all go home in a good mood for Christmas.

The Irish Film Board is doing a very good job in leading the industrial side of the film industry. It is nice to hear tributes paid to the former Minister, Deputy Higgins, for the amount of work he did to improve the situation over the last few years. While the big budget Hollywood blockbusters get notoriety in the newspapers it is excellent to note the number of Irish films which have been made, be they long or short. The film board has done a great deal to encourage Irish film makers to become more active in trying to secure co-producers in Europe and in encouraging them [438] to get the co-operation of people from around the world. It is important that the Irish film industry gets into the mainstream of the film business.

The Northern Irish film commission has recently been reorganised and refinanced with money from the British lottery. There is great scope for co-operation with film makers there. I understand that such co-operation does not preclude us from our entitlement to seek EU funding. It also represents a good mechanism for encouraging co-operation on the island. Some of our stories are joint stories which need to be explored.

Money is not the only commodity which is needed for the film industry. We have no shortage of talent, which is the other required commodity. We appear to have actors, actresses, directors, producers and writers in great abundance. It is also interesting to note the rapidity with which we have been able to produce artists for the animation side of the industry.

The importance of music to the industry is often forgotten. People now make a living from writing, producing and performing music for films. This has given great encouragement to our musicians. There appears to be talent in abundance.

Some time ago criticism was made of our shortages on the technical side. However, these deficiencies are being remedied by the national film and training committee, which appears to be doing excellent work. It will ensure that we do not have to import expertise, as happened in the past. In addition, we apparently have an enormous number of experienced back-up staff involved in the production of sets, costumes and so on. Every facet of the film business appears to be covered.

This is a very high employment industry and I often wonder if we realise the numbers employed, not only within the industry but also in the ancillary services. It is hard to walk around Dublin on occasion without tripping over cables and encountering coffee being dispensed from vans to the stars and the lesser beings producing films. The areas by the Grand Canal around Ringsend appear to be popular locations.

Concern was expressed about the possibility of Ireland becoming an excessively expensive place to make films. We must watch this to ensure that we are not seen as expensive. The last British budget introduced major changes in the tax incentives for the making of films in Great Britain. We must be careful that we do not lose our competitive edge. The payback rate here of 20 per cent is exceptionally good. The Australian film commission is widely praised, yet it only gets a return which is half of ours. In view of this, the film board can be justly proud of what it has managed to do. It is proper to increase its remit.

Our films are very important to us. They tell our stories and provide us with the possibility of bringing them abroad. The reception of Gerry Stembridge's film “Guiltrip” is an example. In addition, Paddy Breathnach's film “I Went [439] Down” sold very well internationally and has won awards. We also have tremendous short films which have been broadcast on television, both at home and abroad.

It is important that we also produce dramas which look specifically Irish. I was very disappointed with the portrayal of Waterford in “Making the Cut”. It was depicted as a city from anywhere. This may have been necessary for international sales but I am not sure it is right. It may have been better to have depicted something more specifically Irish.

The same argument applies in the case of classics such as the novels of Jane Austen. How well would “Castle Rackrent” be received? The adaptation of “The Irish RM” was incredibly popular internationally. In view of this, the production of films which are specifically Irish may be a better way to proceed than trying to make something which could be about anywhere. Perhaps the film board could discuss this with film makers.

The national broadcaster invests money in the production of a number of films. However, the funding provided by Channel 4 to co-productions here is probably far higher. It has put huge investment into Irish films, such as Cathal Black's “Korea”, which did incredibly well. The more the national broadcaster can do for the film industry the better. Even if it is not making films it is very important that it should broadcast them. Perhaps the most important films they should broadcast are those associated with Northern Ireland because they often show how ridiculous our prejudices are.

I regret the disappearance of small independent cinemas because in parts of the country people are being deprived of the opportunity to see the kinds of films which they showed. The big ten screen complexes often only show the Hollywood blockbusters for commercial reasons. While specialist films are shown in the Irish Film Centre it does not mean that people from around the country can see them.

Has the Minister considered the possibility of investing in a cinemamobile? There are a number of them in France and one in Scotland. They can go to small towns and set up a 100 seater cinema in approximately 30 minutes. They would be able to bring Irish films to the people if they are not broadcast sufficiently on RTÉ. They cost approximately £500,000 and the running costs are usually very low because they are mainly self financing. During the celebrations marking the first 100 years of cinema one toured the Border counties. It mainly showed films to schools.

It is important for Irish films to be seen at home and abroad. They are incredibly popular from Japan to the US to Russia. Apparently the Irish Film Institute continually gets requests from festivals throughout the world to send them Irish films. A big festival is being held in Brussels in January where tributes are to be paid to Neil Jordan for his work. In what better medium can we [440] display our culture and our music? It is the most important art development of this century.

It is also important that we see films about the cultures of other countries. The recent racist statements are to be regretted. It would be a good idea if we had the opportunity to see films from other parts of the EU, eastern Europe and Africa and to attend exhibitions associated with them. The Irish Film Centre tries to hold such exhibitions but it lacks resources to take them around the country. This should be addressed because people should not be obliged to travel to Dublin to see them. A film about another country may only be half the story because the discussion of the history of the country can be very important in reducing prejudice.

Young people should be exposed to important films because they help them develop an understanding of other countries. It is interesting to note how important film has become in the education curriculum, both in art and English. The cinema is also an art form which young people have no difficulty in criticising; they do not find it intimidating. It is important that people develop a sense of criticism to ensure standards are maintained. The public must be educated as well as film makers so that we will have a vibrant indigenous industry. Another important aspect of educating young people and children is to teach them that technology can be used for all sorts of good and bad purposes. Interactive media are entering all our lives and we have easy access to a bewildering range of material which we must be able to assess.

The Film Archive needs much better funding. There are some important films of which only one copy was made, for example, “Ann Devlin” by Pat Murray. The archive is important for the preservation and conservation of older material. However, we must also be able to ensure the films being produced at present are properly archived.

I commend the Bill and the Minister's work in this area to the House.

Mrs. Ridge:  I thank Senator Henry for sharing her time. I welcome the Minister and express my appreciation of the contributions of Senators Coogan, Mooney and Henry. I will indulge in the usual generalities about welcoming the phenomenal growth in the Irish film industry. When I was young our film industry consisted of showings of “The Quiet Man”. I am glad we have now moved onto “The Commitments”, “Hear My Song”, “Into the West”, “Far and Away” and “I Went Down”, about which everyone is talking.

Film making has placed Ireland under the international spotlight, leading to increases in tourism and foreign investment. However, I have a small worry that people who have seen some of the newer films will expect to see horses in Dublin flat complexes. A number of State bodies deserve credit for the recent success of our film industry — the Arts Council, Údarás na Gaeltachta, RTÉ, the IDA, FÁS and An Bord Tráchtála. [441] Obviously, the Irish Film Board has played a huge part in encouraging film making in Ireland by providing investment finance and loans for producers wishing to use Ireland as a location. The funds made available to the Irish Film Board are well spent. I do not have the slightest difficulty with Bord Scannán na hÉireann receiving equal treatment in this regard.

I welcome the Bill. The proposed increases in the limit of the amount of investments, loans and grants which the board can provide are essential to the continued success of our film industry. We have already promised our support and we welcome the proposed amendment which gives the Government a say in the appointment of officers to the board and the rates of pay. While it is important for the board to have a major degree of independence, it is equally important to have some controls over the spending of public funds.

It is reassuring to know the board was not involved in the famous “Divine Rapture”— which became the divine rupture — fiasco of Roger Corman's tasteless Concord productions. Perhaps the board should examine proposed productions on the grounds of quality and taste before funding is provided. It is important to encourage young film makers and those making low budget and unconventional films. However, the national ethos and what audiences want to see should be to the fore rather than catering for the quirky and kinky aspects.

I welcome the proposed commission and the Minister's think tank. However, will she consider the concept of a rotating fund for Bord Scannán na hÉireann similar to those provided for other State development companies? I support the Bill which I hope will be signed soon by the President.

Miss Quill:  I welcome the Minister and the Bill. I am happy to see her in her present position. We soldiered together as Opposition spokespersons in the last Dáil and I can testify to the fact that she has learned her trade and is well positioned to become a very effective Minister for Arts, Culture, the Gaeltacht and the Islands. She is the second such Minister and I wish her well. I also pay tribute to the first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins, who, with his own flair and style, did enormous work in the development of art and culture.

This is simple enabling legislation which has won the support of both sides of this and the other House and it will be widely welcomed by all those involved in the film industry. It proposes two changes, the first of which is to raise the ceiling from £15 million to £30 million. That is a major vote of confidence in the capacity of Bord Scannán na hÉireann to invest such sums of money and a recognition of the necessity to occasionally alter such ceilings. The second proposal is to reorganise the staff of the board, which I support.

[442] The Minister said she welcomes this opportunity for Members to pay tribute or pass judgment on the work of the board.

Debate adjourned.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  The Committee of Selection reports that it has nominated the following Members to serve on the Joint Committee on Standing Orders:—

Senators Maurice Manning, Labhrás Ó Murchú and Ann Ormonde.

I move: “That the report be laid before the Seanad.”

Question put and agreed to.

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Miss Quill:  I pay tribute to the work done by Bord Scannán na hÉireann since it was reconstituted in 1993. I had been a Member of the other House for just a few days when the Irish Film Board was disbanded in 1987. It was one of the not infrequent occasions when I took issue with the judgment of Charles J. Haughey. The success of Bord Scannán na hÉireann since it was reconstituted in 1993 has proven what a retrograde step that disbandment was.

The board has served us well since 1993. Senator Coogan referred to the success of a number of films it supported or grant aided. Three of the four films which received awards at the prestigious San Sebastian film festival were supported by the board; they were “Ailsa”, “Trojan Eddie” and “I Went Down”, Paddy Breathnach's fine film which almost every speaker mentioned. The film “Last Bus Home” which won an award at the Irish and British film festival at Cherbourg was also grant aided by the board. That testifies to the judgment of the board, among the many other facets of expertise it brings to bear on the development of the industry.

The film industry is very important to the future of this country, not alone to our cultural development and understanding of our identity but to our economic development, directly and indirectly. When shown abroad, Irish films invite curiosity about the country. They often project an interesting and appealing image of Ireland and prompt tourists to visit and industrialists to invest here and thereby generate jobs. These are indirect benefits which should not be overlooked. There are direct benefits such as the growing number of people who are gaining interesting and exciting employment in film making. When we invest taxpayers' money in the film industry, we invest wisely.

[443] The development of the film industry is exciting because it is a young people's industry. Living in Cork, I have seen the film festival there evolving dramatically over 42 years. In its early days it brought great glamour to the city and was an event for the elite when one took out one's fur coat to impress the natives, ate in the best restaurants and if a film was thrown in it was a bonus. In recent years the event has become a serious festival of film and the audience consists of serious minded, mainly young people, although codgers of my age also attend. It is very much a young people's festival, both in terms of attendances and the week-long programme. A number of good quality, low-budget Irish short films are screened at the festival, often for the first time. I place much faith in the makers of these films; and although they are not all of equal quality, many are superb. I hope that with better marketing and distribution they will become classics.

Film making is mainly a young person's activity. I pay tribute to the young people who are making Teilifís na Gaeilge such a great success and I salute their expertise, skills and art. It is important the Minister, in conjunction with the Minister for Education, nurtures media studies in our education system so young people grow up with an interest in film and see career options in film making. They can then contribute their judgment and discernment on film making to distinguish between what is worthwhile and what is a waste of time. It is important this critical faculty is fostered in our education system. Making media studies a central part of education will whet people's appetite and build up audiences for the future.

We have arrived at a certain stage in the development of the industry and it is time to take stock and decide what essential steps must be taken to promote and foster it further. One of the weaknesses in the industry is the lack of training in certain areas. This is borne out by a number of reports. The Coopers and Lybrand report stated that the greatest weakness in the film industry is the lack of training for producers. I know the Minister will want to address this as a matter of urgency early in her term of office.

There is a need for specific training at every level. Recently we have had to hire in technical crews. This should not happen and would not if we provided relevant and requisite education in our institutes of technology — as we will soon have more than one. Courses should be designed which exploit the growth in the film industry and give the technical, production and artistic expertise which will make a good workforce and underpin the development of the industry.

I recommend the Minister to talk to the Minister for Education, who last week introduced a Bill to the House which is giving £250 million funding to science and technology. This should not be spent in a vacuum. He should be told the areas where the money can be productively spent.

[444] The lack of specific training in certain areas has been an irritant to many people who want to make films in Ireland. There is also the factor of cost, as Ireland is an expensive place to make films. This should be tackled immediately because it will lead to a further growth in a good industry.

I am glad the Minister, like the previous one, has committed herself to the establishment of a screen commission. This is important, because there are weaknesses in the distribution and marketing of Irish films. The Minister should appoint a chief executive in the new year. The work to be done has been identified. There have been enough reports and the Minister is also establishing a task force. A great deal of information is available which we can act on. There is a joke in my part of the country that we are always one report away from action. I know the Minister will not allow this to happen. Patrick Kavanagh spoke about the information we stole from nature but could not use. We know the initiatives which must be undertaken to underpin this industry. It is important we proceed promptly with the screen commission.

It is remarkable that 14 films supported by the Irish Film Board are being made in the country this year. I remember as a young girl being taken by my father to see Siobhán McKenna who was in “The Playboy of the Western World” which was being filmed at Inch strand in County Kerry. We had a great sense that something very important was happening. Siobhán McKenna stayed in the Great Southern Hotel in Killarney. That is not today or yesterday. It is extremely important to an area if it is chosen as a location in which to make a film. It provides a huge boost to an area, commercially and otherwise. That is something on which we must work.

Senator Mooney spoke passionately on the importance of making indigenous films. Young people in particular have the ability to make films based on our stories, because we have good stories to tell. We also have great scriptwriters. I refer to something Lelia Doolin said when talking about the small film with deep meaning and significance and which has the capacity to stand the test of time like a good wine. Lelia Doolin, whom I salute and admire, said that although it is an imperative of technology that major and commercially driven multinational production and distribution will grow, nevertheless the creativity, surprise and universality of our unique critical vision and individual imagination are equal to their deepest challenge. She has said we can do it. If we are to survive, our strength will be in doing things on small scale projects to a degree of excellence which stuns other people, whether making a piece of good cheese, crafting Irish oak, composing a fine song or making a good film. I have no doubt the Minister will work with might and main to make that happen and I wish her luck in her term in office. I support the Bill.

[445]Mr. Gallagher:  Ar son Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre, cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach seo agus cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille freisin. Beimid ag tacú go laidir leis an mBille seo. I concur with many remarks made and will not repeat them at length. I would like to raise a number of issues with the Minister to which I hope she will respond in her reply. I support the extension of the funding limits available to the Irish Film Board as a result of this Bill. It is an indication of the success in this area since 1993 that the current limits have been almost stretched to the limit. It is a great complaint to have and an indication of success. Not only has the Irish Film Board been successful, but so too have other areas of broadcasting and media production.

I agree with previous speakers in that it is not a question of being party political and claiming credit for anything done. Acknowledgement of work done by the Minister's predecessors is due. Senator Mooney mentioned the positive and negative steps taken by Charles Haughey as Taoiseach in this regard. Reference was made to the excellent work done by the Minister's predecessor, who set up the Department over which she has the honour of presiding. The success which her predecessor enjoyed would not have been possible without the support he obtained from two Governments. The Minister will know that without the support of the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach, one cannot do as much as one would like. I acknowledge the fact that the former Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, picked up the ball and ran with it very quickly when it was handed to him early in 1993 and ensured that Government support was forthcoming for a number of initiatives.

It is important to briefly enumerate those initiatives. The lifting of the advertising cap on RTÉ was important and tying that to the commissioning of independent productions for RTÉ has resulted in the growth of the independent sector, which has played a dynamic part of the growth in film and media. The establishment of Teilifís na Gaeilge was also important. Chaith mé tréimhse i rith an tsamhraidh sa Spidéal agus ba bhreá liom a fheiceáil an méid oibre a bhí ar fáil do na daoine ann trí Theilifís na Gaeilge, na scannáin agus na rudaí eile atá ar súil ann.

I compliment Teilifís na Gaeilge on pushing independent production and on encouraging the involvement of young people in film and media and on providing a location outside Dublin where this activity is concentrated and developing at a considerable rate. Those of us who live in other parts of the country will look for our share. However, Teilifís na Gaeilge has shown that centres other than Dublin can excel in this area. Those of us who represent other parts of the country should try to emulate that example.

I compliment the Minister, her Department and her predecessor on the initiatives taken and on putting much effort, thought and funding into training and education. It would be relatively [446] easy to attract people to make films here on the basis of section 35 incentives. It has been the clear objective of the Department to ensure that films attracted are here, in part to encourage the development of indigenous skills, such as those mentioned by Senator Quill. We must maintain a strong focus on that. I commend the work of the national training committee for film and television. Now that funding has come on stream, I hope great efforts will be made to ensure that training in this area is available on a regional basis. A young man from my area has achieved distinction in film production and it is important to foster that talent in every area.

What are the Minister's views on competition from Britain? For the past two or three years, Barry Norman preached that the British Government should follow the example of our Government. Now that the British Government has done so, what strategies are in place to cope with that competition, which I am sure will be sizeable? I welcome the setting up of a Northern Ireland film commission. I do not see it as a threat but as an opportunity for co-operation. It has a budget of £4 million. We have seen growth in co-operation in areas such as tourism and other aspects of economic development. I would like the Minister to liaise with her opposite number in Northern Ireland and the agencies under her aegis to do likewise. We can use the establishment of the Northern Ireland film commission to promote Ireland in its totality as a venue for making films. We can seek to improve the skills base in the film and media areas for young people north and south of the Border.

I commend the Minister for her response to the amendment tabled by my colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, on the title being recognised legally as Bord Scannán na hÉireann. I recognise that in practice the Irish Film Board has used the Irish and English titles, but it is important that is included in our law. I tried to research the proceedings on Committee Stage in the Dáil but, unfortunately, they have not yet been published. When Bills are taken in one House shortly after they have been completed in the other, it is a disservice to us in terms of contributing in a constructive fashion if proceedings are not available. I appeal to the Leas-Chathaoirleah to use his good offices to ensure proceedings on Committee Stage in the other House are produced as quickly as possible.

An amendment was tabled on Committee Stage in the Dáil changing the definition of film by adding the words “video recording” after the words “motion picture”, which was not tabled on Report Stage. I was unable to find out if this matter was dealt with on Committee Stage. I would like the Minister to give an assurance that the incentives being put in place will apply to productions targeted at the large and growing video market. Every corner shop has a video section with many people deciding to watch films in the comfort of their own homes. Support should be [447] available for productions aimed at the video market.

It is an exciting time for video and film in Ireland and it is marvellous to see the growth in the popularity of cinema. A short number of years ago people were sounding the death knell of cinema in Ireland. There were two cinemas in the town where I live, one of which closed ten years ago while the other was in danger of closing. Thanks to an urban renewal development there is a six screen omniplex in the town which does excellent work in showing major blockbusters but also in organising film seasons and short runs of special interest films. Such developments in towns throughout the country encourage people to return to cinemas and to take an interest in films.

We are lucky that, through the various incentives and supports, people are seeing Ireland on screen. This is very important. In discussing the revamped urban renewal scheme I will be raising with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the importance of encouraging the provision of cinemas and locations for screening films in as many towns as possible as part of the area action plans.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am glad to support the Minister and look forward to future visits by her to this House and to encouraging her in her work.

Labhrás Ó Murchú:  Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus treaslaím léi de bharr na tacaíochtaí atá léirithe don tionscal scannán. Ceapaim go bhfuil an tionscal tar éis é féin a chruthú in ana chuid slite. Tá an phoiblíocht dearfa idirnáisiúnta tuilte ag an tír seo de bharr cuid de na scannáin a dhéanamh. Níl aon amhras ná go bhfuil tacaíocht tuilte ag an tionscal agus táim lán sásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo.

I compliment the Minister on her prompt and effective response to the growing and ongoing needs of the Irish film industry. That industry has greatly helped us in many different ways.

An atmosphere of reminiscence has prevailed and I beg the indulgence of the House to reminisce. I was always partial to a good film and look back with affection to the time when I graduated from the fourpenny, hard timber seats in our local cinema to the eightpenny, soft and more prestigious seats, which were divided by a low timber partition. Many of the more enterprising young men, excluding myself, at times succeeded in making a saving by jumping over the partition. The cinema played an important part in our education. It was a window on the outside world.

I had two illustrious exposures on film. On one occasion I was featured for ten seconds in a Gael Linn newsreel of a Tóstal cultural parade as a young acolyte in a black soutane. I thought I was important, and as much of a heart throb as Marlon Brando in “Mutiny on the Bounty” or Robert [448] Mitchum in “Ryan's Daughter”. I never proved that assumption.

We did not cast a jaundiced eye on what was presented to us in those days. In later years we realised that the film industry was used in an outrageous manner for propaganda purposes. We were fed a diet of propaganda — one need only look at the cowboy films where the cowboys were always the goodies while the Red Indians were always the baddies. Efforts are now being made to redress the racist injustices perpetrated against the Indians at that time and even still.

In subsequent years when I cast a more jaundiced eye on the industry I remember seeing a feature film based on the independence movement in Cyprus in which the British forces of occupation were depicted as the goodies and General Grivas and the EOKA movement were presented as the baddies. We know how incorrect that portrayal was. This is why I am glad the Minister referred to the opportunity presented to us to put a distinctive stamp on films made in Ireland. We should do this, not in propagandist fashion, but to reflect reality.

I compliment producers and directors who, particularly in recent years, demonstrated great courage, initiative and ambition in putting their money and talents where previously there was lip service. I also compliment the investors who demonstrated confidence in the Irish film industry and without whom we would not have had such successes.

Irish people feel a sense of pride at the international success of films which have emanated from this country. In the same way films such as “The Quiet Man” or “Ryan's Daughter” introduced many people to Ireland. I saw “Ryan's Daughter” when it was released in a cinema in London. While there is good and bad in it, it brought home to one the importance attached by Irish people living abroad of having their country depicted on the big screen in front of such audiences. In many ways I am sorry that many small cinemas have closed because, like the creamery, the local school and the church, they were part of community life. One reason they closed is that for a while people felt the advent of television would nullify the impact of film and cinema, something we have found to be incorrect. I hope local communities will have the opportunity to reopen these cinemas, a move which would have a definite impact on the industry.

We have discovered our inherent talent and expertise for this industry, which requires artistry and commercial sense and we have wed both through Government funding. The fact that the £15 million cap on the expenditure or investment of Bord Scannán na hÉireann has been raised to £30 million is an indication of the manner in which the industry is developing.

The Minister was correct to include a reference to Teilifís na Gaeilge in her speech. I feel that if one succeeds in Ireland in the first 12 months or two years, one has a good chance of surviving. [449] Nothing has come in for more scrutiny and examination than Teilifís na Gaeilge, and rightly so. In many ways it has come through that scrutiny with flying colours. It may not necessarily have had large viewing audiences in the early stages but it has proved — in the same way Raidio na Gaeltachta did — that it has a vision for the standard it wishes to achieve.

When I watch Teilifís na Gaeilge I am always excited to see how many young people are involved in it. I would compare that to the manner in which many Irish people were depicted in feature films in the past. The Irish always held lesser positions in films, in terms of character. It was as if they possessed an inadequate IQ. They were portrayed in the same manner as black people were always portrayed, as a servant. One would not get away with that today because it would be regarded as outrageously racist. Yet, through education, our young people in Teilifís na Gaeilge are ensuring there will be a repository of people with training and talent who have the potential to break into the bigger industry.

I was delighted the Minister made reference to training; it did not surprise me given her own background. I would not like to see the film industry becoming an elitist one solely for those who reside in areas of high population or who have immediate access to technological and other resources. Many people have an artistic bent and would be interested in testing the commercial viability of their talents. The only opportunity they would have to do that would be to avail of training. That training should be of the highest standard and I have no doubt it will be. I have always had great admiration for FÁS as I have seen the mark its schemes have left in Irish towns and villages. I would welcome FÁS involvement in training in this area.

The issue of the commercial impact the film industry could have on this country in terms of tourism has been touched on and I am sure the Minister has given a lot of consideration to this. I have noticed particular brands receiving a greater degree of exposure in feature films recently, although I am sure the companies involved pay for that. However, there is a danger that one might compromise oneself in such sponsorship. That would run counter to the Minister's hope of ensuring that Ireland would demonstrate a distinctive approach to film making. I am not saying it is possible to exist without money, but I would not like sponsors to dominate the industry or make its compromise too great.

The development of the Irish film industry is one of the bright spots on the arts industry landscape in Ireland. It is vital that Bord Scannán na hÉireann would have the necessary resources to carry out its work as it certainly possesses the talent and experience to do so. We will all be beneficiaries of the industry. Ten or 20 years ago nobody could honestly have envisaged Ireland enjoying the international status it does in the areas of film, music, sport and so on. The film [450] industry will be an important prop and support in that regard.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  I thank the many Senators who contributed to the debate. Their contributions will help in great part to formulate my own views in the short term on what immediate action must be taken in regard to the film industry. They will also help to formulate my long-term views on the industry.

I thank Senator Coogan and others for their welcoming words of encouragement to me this morning. Senator Coogan outlined the importance of section 35 and the screen commission. He also referred to the debate which took place in Dáil Éireann on the commission and the fact that there was some concern it had not been established. I have explained that the reason for the delay was that funding for this was not put in place by the previous Administration. I gave a commitment in Opposition and also in our policy documents and the Programme for Government - with the agreement of the Progressive Democrats — that a screen commission would be put in place. To that end, I have had discussions with interested people in the industry. I assure Senators the commission will be up and running at the earliest possible time as I am aware of its extreme importance.

Senator Coogan referred to the fact that changes made to section 35 by the previous Administration caused a great deal of concern abroad, particularly in America. At that time, former Minister, Deputy Higgins, had to travel to the US to ensure those changes had no negative knock-on effects. I believe that if a screen commission had been in situ at that time, its operation would have done a great deal to ease anxiety without the Minister having to take the action he did.

Senator Coogan also referred to the importance of building up the indigenous industry. With Teilifís na Gaeilge, the onset of TV3 and RTÉ, the independent film making sector now has greater opportunities to develop.

The think tank will obviously provide an opportunity for us to look at the educational aspects of the film industry. This is an issue which has been raised by many Senators, particularly in relation to the Minister for Education and Science's proposals on technology in education. Those proposals have received a great deal of support within the educational sector. I will be very happy to continue discussions with my colleague, Minister Martin, on the film industry to see what can be done.

Senator Coogan referred to the 1992 working group on the film production industry and the fact that the IDA might succeed in attracting outside investment to Ireland. Development agencies such as the IDA, Shannon Development, Údarás na Gaeltachta and so on are committed to attracting any foreign film related business to [451] Ireland. This would obviously be very much within their remit. We continue to encourage that particular approach. Shannon Development has attracted at least two companies in recent times and there is no reason to doubt that the considerable attractions of the IFSC should also be used in this regard. It is a question of pulling all those threads together so that continuing pressure is brought to bear to ensure the delivery of investment from abroad. That ethos is strong.

Senator Mooney raised a number of points to which I wish to refer. He was particularly interested in what statistics are available to show how the film industry has had a positive effect on the general economy. Statistics available to my Department relate to projects certified under section 35. This role was assigned to my Department in July 1994. Some 118 film and television projects have been certified to date involving a total spend of £440 million and a total Irish spend of £246 million. This is an important and significant figure. There are also valuable costs relating to revenues from hotels, car hire, catering and the hire of locations. These generate a good deal of income in local areas.

My Department's database indicates that a total of 2,650 full time job equivalents were employed in these certified projects. Moreover, opportunities were given to 787 trainees to gain access to the film making industry. Not only does it have a positive knock on effect in terms of generating revenue in local areas, but it has also provided an opportunity for further training in a practical sense for those involved.

Senator Henry raised a number of points, and I agree with her reference to the importance of music to film. We have every element of talent within the film industry and it is a question of providing an opportunity to promote such talent further. The National Training Committee for Film and Television has set up a training course for film score composition in conjunction with UCLA. There is not only a recognition of the need for, and the importance of, music in films, but specific and practical steps are being taken to promote it.

A number of Senators also referred to the importance of Irish input and the content of our films. I have discussed this and other issues with IBEC because it is a particular interest of mine. Those involved in the industry have to balance the fact that there will be an important cultural input, but there must also be a commercial return. I share the views expressed by Senators that Irish stories should be told in a way that will encourage people from abroad to learn more about us, perhaps in a different way than they might have heretofore. In that way we will do ourselves a power of good as a nation in promoting a positive and accurate image and it will also have a positive effect on cultural tourism.

Senator Henry referred to the importance of mobile cinemas. Senator Mooney said he was [452] delighted when such a mobile unit came to the Border counties. I compliment the Irish Film Board, which in 1996 hired a mobile cinema unit from France which visited villages on both sides of the Border for ten days. It was an innovative approach which recognised the importance of regionalism. I do not believe that the arts, film industry or anything else pertaining to my Department should be based in the capital city or any city. They should be capable of being appreciated by all and I am sure that approach will be taken up again. While it is within the Film Board's remit to decide on the matter, I know it is sympathetically disposed towards this approach and I would encourage it have a further look at this matter.

Senator Ridge was concerned about the taste and quality of some of the stories in receipt of funding. It is important for the Film Board to be entirely autonomous in deciding what films should be supported. It would not be appropriate for politicians or Ministers to become involved in the direct content of a film. That is one of the major remits of the Film Board, which is in a position to understand and appreciate the sensitivities of the viewing audience. That is taken into account with regard to funding films.

Senator Quill made some points on education which I have already referred to. When Senator Quill and I were in Opposition in the Lower House some six months ago, we spent a great deal of time discussing the importance of education, not just with regard to film but to the arts generally and with particular regard to music, drama and film. The Senator can be assured that I will continue to work with the Minister for Education and Children, Deputy Martin.

One of the first things I did on assuming office was to set up a unit between both Departments to see what we could do to promote the question of education. Some excellent media courses are available, including film studies. I praise those who have been involved in such work. In the long-term, however, there is an opportunity for the think tank to examine the education issue and to see where we will go over the next ten years.

In 1992, when the Coopers and Lybrand report was published, concern was expressed about the lack of film industry training in a number of areas, but that has begun to improve. The STATCOM report is the basis for further discussion for the think tank on a number of issues, but specifically on the question of education.

A number of points were made by Senator Gallagher, including whether or not we have to look over our shoulder with regard to competition from Britain. As Members will appreciate, we were rather farsighted in our view of the film industry and particularly in what we could do with regard to section 35. We now find that Britain has a number of positive policies for the film industry. However, it is important to see these as complementary. They should not be seen in any way as something that would necessarily [453] cause competition difficulties. Irish and British producers have traditionally been strong partners and just because there are new regulations within the British system it should not necessarily change that co-operation. I wish to see further co-operation evolving between British and Irish producers. It is eminently logical that there would be co-operation with the film commission in Northern Ireland, and I have every intention of contacting my counterpart there to see what can be done to further a general approach to the film industry.

Senator Ó Murchú pointed out the importance of having an Irish stamp on our films and their content. I agree with his view that Telefís na Gaeilge has been a tremendous success in many ways and facets. We should compliment all those young people involved with it who have been so dedicated, committed and talented. It augurs well for the future.

As regards Senator Coogan's comments, the independent sector will be given a further opportunity by the existence of Telefís na Gaeilge. It should be recognised and accepted as an important element.

Senator Ó Murchú referred to the importance of cultural tourism and what the film industry could do in that regard. I wholeheartedly support that view.

I hope I have gone some way in the short time I had to addressing the points raised by the Senators. I thank all those involved in the discussion which I have found very useful.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. T. Fitzgerald:  If the House agrees, perhaps we could continue for another 15 minutes to complete the Bill. If there is any problem, we can resume after the sos.

Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely):  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Agreed to take Committee Stage now.

Section 1 agreed to.


Question proposed: “That section 2 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Mooney:  Although section 2 substitutes £30 million for £15 million, this does not mean there will be an increase in funding of £15 million, as the Bill is only enabling legislation. The funding is of the order of £3.721 million. In that context, does the Minister's remit extend to two specific areas about which I have questions?

[454] First, is there a possibility of some form of bond being entered into by those who are funded by the film board to protect the possibility of losses being suffered by local service providers? While there have been many success stories, there have been some failures which have left a sour taste in the mouth, despite all the hype surrounding the location of a film crew in an area. After several weeks of spending money in various pubs, restaurants, hotels and of using local carpenters and other technicians, bills were left unpaid. I appreciate it is a risk industry, but is there any possibility of discussion of this to prevent it happening in future?

Second, is there any possibility the Minister could ensure under the guidelines laid down by her Department that those producers who have a questionable track record would be given short shrift if they were to approach her Department again for certification?

Mr. T. Fitzgerald:  I had experience of the film “Ryan's Daughter” back in 1968. While millions of pounds were made and spent in the area afterwards due to the publicity the film gave to the Dingle peninsula, what Senator Mooney has just said is nevertheless true. One morning the entire film set and company had gone, leaving a number of people being owed substantial amounts of money which were never paid. On reading the papers, it seems the same has happened with a few other major films. I am not being critical, because the film industry is very important to selling the country and providing jobs, as mentioned by all speakers. However, it would be nice if there were some form of bond, as Senator Mooney suggested, or some way to protect local people who get involved.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  Senator Mooney is correct to say this is an enabling Bill which raises the ceiling on funding and which does not deal with the amount of funding provided. It is important that it be clarified and it is why I referred to it on Second Stage.

I understand the concerns of Senators Tom Fitzgerald and Mooney about bonds. I know of one case where people suffered losses because a film production did not continue. While this is not strictly covered by this Bill, I will see what is possible. I will need to research it further and it can be examined in terms of the film industry generally.

I am aware of only a small number of projects which have created difficulties for investors and I believe this points to the overall soundness of the section 35 measure, as does the fact that the vast majority of certified projects proceed to production and are successfully concluded. On the specific example given by Senator Mooney on Second Stage, the guidelines for certification, which are publicly circulated, set out the broad parameters within which I certify projects. One of these parameters is the record relating to previous [455] applications and the general film making reputation of the members of the applicant production company. When a second application is received, the record of the applicant plays an important part as to whether or not certification is given. I suggest this criterion offers some comfort to the Senator on the matter he raised.

Mr. Mooney:  I have one further question concerning the allocation of moneys under the Vote of the Department. I am pleased she referred to the location of a mobile cinema in the Border counties. It was widely welcomed in my constituency, and I pay tribute to Leitrim County Council and to its secretary, Seán Kielty, who is probably the film fan par excellence in the area.

Both he and I, along with others, are involved in an ongoing project as a sequel to that initiative to create a permanent mobile cinema in the area. In the context of the Minister's reference on Second Stage to the need to regionalise film and to make it more accessible so that it is not an elitist art form or confined to Dublin, is she prepared to fund such an initiative from the film board's allocation under the Vote if the proposal were put to her Department or to the film board? It would provide a permanent mobile cinema in those parts of rural Ireland where there is no omniplex or access to a permanent cinema.

Miss de Valera:  On Second Stage, I commended the film board for the action it took in 1996 on the mobile cinema unit. I know the board favours this approach in principle. In this regard I was pleased to obtain a 7.5 per cent increase in the board's capital funding for 1998, along with an additional £200,000 in current funding for next year. However, it is for the film board and not for the Department to decide how to allocate that money.

Mr. Mooney:  The Minister is sympathetic.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 3 and 4 agreed to.


Question proposed: “That the Title be the Title to the Bill.”

Mr. Gallagher:  I am still getting used to the opportunities of being on this side of the House as opposed to the constraints of being on the other side. Will the Minister respond to my query as to whether the definition of film includes those produced for video sale?

Miss de Valera:  My apologies to the Senator for not referring to that matter. It was an amendment tabled but not moved by Deputy Michael D. Higgins on Committee Stage in the Dáil. That [456] is why it was not considered on Report Stage. I assure the Senator that film has a wide definition. The definition taken on board by the film board incorporates the view that the Senator expressed.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

Mr. Mooney:  I thank the Minister for outlining the provisions of this technical but important legislation on the ongoing development of the Irish film industry and the manner in which she took on board the concerns, requests and queries of Senators. She did not know of these matters in advance of their being asked. It is obvious from her responses that she has a deep commitment and empathy with the thrust of the Bill and I look forward to her returning to the House with the other initiatives outlined in her Second Stage speech.

Mr. Coogan:  I thank the Minister for coming here in such an open manner to discuss something which is important to the colour and character of the country and will enhance it from this point of view and that of the skills which will be developed. I am delighted that the Minister will discuss with the Minister for Education and Science the prospect of using some of the funding announced for this area.

Labhrás Ó Murchú:  Rud a chuaigh i bhfeidhm orm go mór inniu ná an tslí ina raibh daoine anseo aontaithe le chéile maidir le an-chuid de na rudaí a bhí ráite. Bhí sé soiléir freisin go raibh an-tuiscint ag an Aire ar an ábhar seo. Gabhaim buíochas léi de bharr bheith anseo agus de bharr éisteacht agus freagraí a thabhairt dúinn freisin.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  I thank Senators for contributing to the debate and for their good wishes. I look forward to my next visit to Seanad Éireann.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Mooney:  I move:

That, pursuant to subsection 2º of section 2 of Article 25 of the Constitution, Seanad Éireann concurs with the Government in a request to the President to sign the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997, on a date which is earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented to her.

Question put and agreed to.

[457]Sitting suspended at 1.15 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea):  Since my appointment, I have been conscious of the scale of the problem of adult illiteracy. Inadequate literacy and numeracy skills put the individual at a great disadvantage, both socially and economically. They can engender a sense of marginalisation, a fear of being stigmatised if the problem becomes known to employers, family and friends.

In today's increasingly complex society, with the revolution in information technology and the need to constantly update one's knowledge and skills, people with poor literacy skills are in danger of being left behind, unable to take advantage of the job opportunities which their abilities otherwise merit. Not only does the individual lose out but society is deprived of the contribution they can make to its development.

A report on the findings of an Irish national adult literacy survey was published at the end of last October. The report revealed that the extent of the problem of adult illiteracy was much worse than realised. Some stark realities emerge from the report. Irish respondents performed comparatively poorly when compared to adults of other developed countries. Approximately 25 per cent of Irish adults between 16 and 65 years of age had low levels of literacy. When that percentage is converted into numbers, it is approximately 500,000 people. It also emerged from the report that many of those who have poor literacy skills are not aware of that fact themselves. Two-thirds of those whose literacy skills were assessed at the lowest level rated their literacy skills as either “excellent” or “good”.

About 5,000 adults are currently participating in literacy schemes. The Government is strongly committed to addressing and resolving the problem of adult illiteracy and promoting adult education in general. This was clearly indicated by my appointment as the first Minister of State with specific responsibility for adult education. In order to combat the problem of adult illiteracy, I have set out the following objectives.

First, I intend to increase public awareness of the importance of literacy in the modern world. It is critical that the full potential of each individual is realised to the greatest extent possible, and that each person has an understanding of their own role in the process.

Second, I will set out proposals in a forthcoming Green Paper on adult education which will provide for the development of a proper policy framework for all aspects of adult education and will give priority to those who left the formal system without qualifications. It will be designed to stimulate an extensive debate on the advancement and development of adult education. It will [458] involve a review of the services in the field of adult education and its basic objectives will be the rationalisation of adult education and the formulation of a national policy for the future of the sector. The development of adult literacy services will be a prominent feature of the Green Paper.

This process will culminate in the production of a White Paper which will reflect, as widely as possible, a consensus of the views of all parties involved in adult education. In due course, legislation will be put in place so the adult education services will be put on a statutory footing.

The Department of Education and Science has a central co-ordinating role to play in facilitating access to adult education. Experience in other countries has shown that adult education works best when the context of the learners is reflected in the content of the adult education programme. Employers and employer organisations, therefore, will have a key role to play and I call on employers and trade unions to join me in this important initiative.

In the context of lifelong learning I will set up a committee to explore the idea of an “education bank”. Lodgements would be made by various parties besides the State that have an interest in improving adult education services. Withdrawals would be made as needed by individuals or groups to cover the expenses of their compensatory education, upskilling and retraining. This could take the form of a code of entitlements. I intend that proposals along these lines should be included in the Green Paper.

Third, I will ensure that adequate funding is made available for adult literacy. In this context, I was pleased with the additional £2 million I succeeded in securing in the recent budget for the relief of adult illiteracy. The provision of this additional funding clearly indicates the Government's commitment to place the adult literacy service at the centre of adult education. The additional funding represents an increase of 75 per cent over the 1997 expenditure on literacy and nearly double the initial 1997 provision, prior to my allocation last October of a supplementary amount of £250,000. I have also agreed substantial increases in my Department's support allocations to the adult literacy support organisations, NALA, Aontas and the Dublin Literacy Scheme, to further assist them in providing their excellent services.

In the expenditure of the literacy funds, the precise use to be made of them in any area is a matter for the vocational education committees, which administer the literacy service. With the substantial increase in 1998, it will be open to individual vocational education committees to enhance the literacy service by such means as extending the period of the literacy courses, recruiting more students, intensifying the courses, undertaking publicity campaigns to encourage people who were previously reluctant to do so to come to classes and by engaging more professional literacy staff. In order to ensure that the [459] Government's commitment to place the adult literacy service at the centre of adult education is implemented nationwide, I have also directed all vocational education committees to ensure that local adult literacy interests are adequately represented on their adult education boards.

These objectives are reinforced by the commitment contained in Partnership 2000 that policy and strategy will give priority to a number of key goals, one of which is providing a continuum of education for adult and community groups, including second chance education. I support the extension of the existing literacy links in a range of different settings. Already there are links between literacy training and the vocational training opportunities scheme, the community employment schemes, FÁS and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, through its centres for the unemployed.

As part of the link with other institutions, the Department is funding a two year pilot programme with the Library Council and two county library services in developing the role of public libraries in the literacy service. This programme will lead to the production of a code of good practice and a national handbook on how libraries can best respond to literacy students and their needs. This will be published in early 1998.

I have had regular meetings with the adult education client organisations, in particular Aontas and the National Adult Literacy Agency. I take this opportunity to convey my appreciation for the valuable and worthwhile work undertaken by these organisations in the promotion and development of initiatives to combat the literacy and numeracy problems experienced by many adults within the community.

It might be worthwhile to mention two valuable initiatives launched by the Department earlier this year. The first was the allocation of funding in 1998 and 1999 to enable vocational education committees to support child care for participants on youthreach and vocational training opportunities schemes. This is intended to bring about a greater participation of women on these programmes by facilitating access to child care services. The second initiative is designed to enable educationally disadvantaged women to pursue lifelong learning education opportunities. Substantial funding is also being allocated over the same two year period for this project.

All of these measures will help to combat the problem of adult illiteracy. However, there is no complacency on my part about the extent of the challenge which faces politicians, teachers and adult education providers in confronting and overcoming this problem.

Mr. O'Dowd:  This is an important issue which confronts thousands of people daily. The fact that they are unable to read or write and are functionally illiterate means they are unable to communicate. In many cases they suffer from other [460] disadvantages. In their home environment there might not have been great interest in education, while many come from deprived areas.

I appreciate the good intentions of the Minister of State but a broader approach than the programme he outlined in required to alleviate the problem. It is necessary to interface with people who are not functionally literate at the point at which they encounter the State apparatus or even private enterprise. The reading age required to read most application forms, particularly those for assistance under the community welfare regulations, is higher than that of the applicants. Many public representatives are asked by constituents to fill in application forms for supplementary welfare allowance, pensions and so forth.

The forms should be simplified and use simpler language. It has been scientifically demonstrated that people can be functionally literate with a basic sight vocabulary of 200 words. The level of language and length of the forms should be reduced because many problems are created for people who must fill them in. It is a supreme insult to somebody at the end of their tether, for example, a single parent or an unemployed person with a large family trying to make ends meet, that they are faced with multicoloured community welfare application forms. It is disgraceful and I ask the Minister of State to take this point on board.

In terms of an active adult literacy policy, it is important to have designated officials in Departments and local authorities in particular. They would be trained to deal with cases where people have difficulty filling in forms by referring them quietly and properly to somebody who can assist them. People are intimidated by public offices into which they must go to deal with officials who are not trained to deal with them. They are intimidated by the process which should be made much easier. If they cannot read or write, it is hell for them to argue their cases in offices.

From the perspective of primary education, it is a disgrace that after 75 years of independence approximately 500,000 people are not fully literate. It is disgraceful that so much money has been wasted. There is nothing more basic, real or of such advantage to people than the ability to communicate and to read and write. The resources of the State have been squandered by successive Governments on fine ideas which do not reach the core of literacy problems, which are so difficult for people, and solve them. Intervention in schools should be much earlier. It is ridiculous that there are not enough remedial teachers at primary level to deal with students who have problems reading and writing.

What is the point of having remedial teachers at post-primary level if students have spent up to seven years at primary school and cannot read or write? Many more resources should be targeted at such students at primary level. If they are helped at an early stage it will make a massive difference to their self-esteem and ability to communicate [461] later. I do not suggest there should not be remedial teachers in post-primary schools, but the policy is not sufficiently active. It is not the priority it should be in schools.

Senator O'Toole will have much to say on this subject, but primary school classes of up to 40 students are too large. It is impossible to teach children in such classes in urban schools in Drogheda. Unfortunately, many students who have reading disabilities also have behavioural problems. This is understandable because they cannot communicate. In their eyes, they are excluded from everything. Many more resources should be devoted to this area.

Resources are also required for speech therapy services. It is a scandal that millions of pounds are being spent on claims by soldiers for hearing loss. I understand 485 new applications were made last week by Defence Forces personnel claiming hearing loss. A millionth of that sum is not spent on education. Some young people have hearing difficulties at certain ranges and cannot phonetically understand or make the sound of words to enable them read or write. A much more radical and inclusive programme is required. We need to get our act together on this issue.

Surveys show that a significant proportion of people in prison are unable to read or write. They have learning disabilities and many also suffered social disadvantage. This cycle would be broken if there was early intervention and a package of measures geared towards such people in schools. Entire families are affected by these problems. If I went to the District Court in Drogheda today I would know the people there and if my son went to the court in 30 years, I know whose children would more than likely be there. The cycle of poverty and disadvantage must be broken. There must be a radical examination of this area. I appreciate this is the start and measures are being taken. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Department of Education and Science, the Minister of State and all politicians to make headway on this matter, but we have not yet fully grasped the nettle.

People with reading and writing disabilities do not want to go to their local vocational education committee schools. They do not want other people to know they have problems in this area. There was an article in The Irish Times recently about a literacy seminar where two of the fine people who read at it did not want to be identified. They were unable to read or write when they were young and they did not want to be publicly identified as people who had that disability. We should be much more sensitive to the needs of such people. There are many community and voluntary bodies in my constituency of Louth who work on a one-to-one basis with adults in their homes if they wish.

The problem of adult literacy must be tackled. As a teacher I am aware of the profound lack of confidence experienced by people with literacy [462] problems. It is difficult for Members to realise because, luckily, we can read and write, that these people are gravely disadvantaged. More must be done for them and it will be possible to make ends meet if a structured approach is taken.

It may be heresy for Senator O'Toole and other national school teachers, but we should consider teaching the alphabet phonetically. This is done is some schools, but not in others. It is a basic way for people to learn through the sound of letters and words. This is a way to solve the problem of literacy.

I frequently hear criticism that an inadequate number of educational psychologists is available in the entire education system to deal with people with literacy disabilities. Schools are lucky to have the services of an educational psychologist once a term to deal with dozens of people. The psychologist can only identify and work with the most seriously disadvantaged. This area too must be examined. I thank the House for listening. Níl an Ghaeilge rómhaith. Bhí deoch agam aréir agus tá sé imithe. Tá orm imeacht ach beidh mé ag léamh na n-óráidí eile.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald:  I agree with many of Senator O'Dowd's remarks, but I disagree with his views on the Minister of State's response to the problem of adult literacy. I expected Senator O'Toole to participate in the debate and I decided therefore — this is not a cop out — that I would not refer to the primary education sector. I will leave that area to Senator O'Toole, my boss in another capacity, who will ably articulate ideas about this subject and education in general.

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his appointment to the Department of Education and Science. He has special responsibility for adult education and this appointment speaks volumes for the attitude, mentality and approach of the Government to this important area. It is probably the first time a Minister of State has been appointed with specific responsibility for adult education. This is a significant and important step.

Debates on adult education are important at any time. However, it is even more appropriate at this time because it comes on the heels of the recent publication of the major international adult literacy report. I have studied the Minister of State's response to it and I intend to comment on his remarks. A study of the aspects of the report relating to Ireland was carried out by the Educational Research Centre in Drumcondra, and I thank it for the professionalism it brought to that task. Prior to the 1980s illiteracy was thriving in secret because, as other speakers have said, illiterate people hid themselves. They were embarrassed about coming forward because they dreaded being labelled as illiterate and that dread still exists. During the 1980s a group of volunteers gave free literacy tuition and did enormous work to bring illiteracy out of the closet and to help people participate in literacy programmes.

[463] The adult literacy service has developed over the years despite being funded from the crumbs of the Department of Education's budget. The Minister of State will not be insulted by that as he was appointed recently. This lack of finance hindered the development of the service. This survey is the first of its kind to provide detailed information about the literacy profile of Irish adults as well as drawing international comparisons with other countries surveyed. The survey also gives us a benchmark against which to measure the progress or otherwise we have made in the last ten to 15 years and signposts targets for the future.

Basic literacy has been defined in the past as the ability to read and write to a level at which one could sign a form, vote or read a newspaper. However, the survey took a much more rounded approach, which is consistent with how literacy is now viewed. Literacy forms part of the objective of enabling every individual to realise his or her potential to its maximum effect. That is the Minister of State's abiding wish and I commend him for it.

The survey interprets literacy as the ability to understand activities in the home, at work and in the community, to achieve one's goals and to develop one's knowledge and potential. The survey's findings present us with harsh realities about literacy standards in Ireland. Previous surveys indicated that approximately 100,000 people in Ireland were illiterate, but we now know that one in four adults between 16 and 25 have a low level of literacy which is equivalent to completing primary education or lower. The Minister of State is very anxious to deal with this.

It is even more worrying that these people do not seem to be aware of this, which means they have little opportunity to realise their own potential. We debated an important initiative in the Department of Education concerning the allocation of £250 million to an investment fund for technology education. All Members agreed that this is very commendable because it responds to the demands a rapidly changing world places on one's literacy skills. The ability to communicate efficiently facilitates access to the world of information, which experts tell us is doubling every five years. An inability to communicate through inadequate literacy has economic and personal implications for one's quality of life. Nobody disagrees with the correlation drawn between employment opportunities, income and literacy. If one has a low level of literacy one's employment prospects are poor. Almost all people at the lowest level of literacy are unemployed. If one has a high level of literacy one's potential to earn high income for a good quality of life is also high.

Our programmes must reflect the need to target this. As we prepare our workforce to exploit the technology age, it is important to ensure that the 500,000 people conservatively estimated to be at the lowest level of literacy are not further disenfranchised [464] by widening of the literacy gap. We speak of social inclusion, but our failure to address the literacy problem shows our inability to come to terms with social inclusion.

I welcome the Minister of State's success in doubling his budget for his area as I know his emphasis will be on adult literacy. Some of those who provide this service spoke to me recently and said they had lobbied hard. They did, but much lobbying has been done over the years which did not result in particular budgets being doubled. The Minister of State was successful in projecting the important role that adult education has in promoting higher levels of literacy.

When responding to the ILS survey, the Minister of State indicated that he already had some objectives, but the report suggested some key targets. The lack of a cohesive programme for adult education has been a major flaw which the Minister of State intends addressing. Adult education was organised on a wing and a prayer by the vocational education committees, communities, parents and schools and AONTAS/NALA. These bodies found when lobbying that there was no national policy. I am glad the Minister of State has decided this issue needs a Green Paper and that all interested bodies must contribute so that we will have a structured approach from now on. I also welcome the Minister of State's announcement that we must make people aware of the importance of this service. We must work sensitively and imaginatively in partnership.

I welcome the Minister of State's initiatives. The development of adult education must be integrated to deal with adult literacy in future. The level of literacy of thousands of adults does not equip them to fully exploit our booming economy. Clearly, one in four adults would benefit significantly from further literacy education both in terms of their economic well being and their personal development. It behoves us to ensure that these fundamental needs are met without delay.

Mr. O'Toole:  I do not doubt the Minister's commitment in this area although he and I have had many healthy differences of opinion and he has got extra money for adult education. I want to establish my own credibility in the area of adult literacy. Although I am known for my involvement in primary education it is necessary to say that the INTO was a founder member of the People's College in 1947. I was a board member of the People's College for many years. I was also a board member of AONTAS for many years and I attended the AONTAS conferences every year as a delegate from the People's College and I have also been involved with NALA. I have had a clear involvement in this area for a long time. Because of that I can look at this question from a number of different points of view. We need, first of all, to establish the nature of the problem. It may seem unnecessary to say this but it is, in fact, worth saying. Second we must ask how and at what level we should deal with the problem. [465] Whereas I accept Senator Fitzgerald's point about the professionalism of the researchers who carried out this study, I do not believe that one in four people in Ireland has a reading problem. To come to that conclusion is totally daft. I said this in Paris to the OECD. I query the validity of the approach taken in its survey. The OECD report clearly enunciates that one in four of the population are somewhere at the lower levels of literacy. We then discover that the lower level is something marginally above primary level. If every child left primary education having achieved the primary school literacy level we would not have a literacy problem. Some of the tests used in the survey were not very clever. In one test subjects were shown the directions on a medicine bottle and asked to explain what they meant. We all have difficulty reading directions on medicine bottles.

Mr. Farrell:  Sometimes the handwriting is not very good.

Mr. O'Toole:  I do not trust the OECD to do surveys such as this. The Minister did not make clear in his speech that the Irish taxpayer paid for this report. This was money poorly spent. If we are to examine the adult literacy problem we must begin at the primary school level. There are 2,000 primary school classes of more than 40 pupils. I have no doubt that when Senator Fitzgerald and myself began our teaching careers this was much more common than it is today. We were able to cope with it, but times have changed in terms of attitudes to authority and of the freedom pupils are allowed. Trying to handle 40 pupils is much more like crowd control than teaching.

Any effective teacher will know the three or four children in his or her class who have a reading problem. It is a teacher's job to know that. One way to find out the level of the problem is to ask the teachers. They can, without identifying children, tell how many have a reading age which is 18 months or more below their chronological age. It may not be a very scientific method but is cheap.

Nearly 1,000 primary schools do not have access to a remedial teacher. If there are 20,000 primary school classes in the country, if in every class two or three children experience reading problems and if they do not get help from a remedial teacher, every year perhaps 50,000 children leave school with a reading difficulty. I can give the Minister this information for nothing. We should not be surprised to find that there is a difficulty at the adult level.

Can the size of the literacy problem be established scientifically? I am general secretary of a teachers' union which has often been represented in newspapers as being opposed to testing, assessment and evaluation. I am all for evaluation properly done. I can offer the Minister a challenge. He says he has £2 million for adult education. He [466] could spend a quarter of that money on an extensive, comprehensive and effective national literacy survey. Let us find out for ourselves the size of the problem. I do not want any nonsense from Paris and the OECD about sending people around Ireland with medicine bottles asking people to read the directions. I want us to design a test. We must decide what we mean by literacy. I do not think anyone here could define it. I could not. We teachers use the criterion that if a child has a reading age more than 18 months behind his chronological age he has a reading problem. If a child cannot read he is illiterate. Teachers would sit down with the Minister and his officials to design an instrument and we would co-operate in implementing it in the evaluation process.

A survey of the literacy level of the working population between the ages of 20 and 60 should be undertaken to ascertain the average literacy levels. A different test instrument is required, but it would be easier to compile than the first one. The third stage would involve a survey of the literacy levels of the long-term unemployed. This is crucial.

Information on these three aspects — the literacy levels of pupils leaving primary school, of the normal working population and of the long-term unemployed — will provide us with statistics which will tell us virtually everything we need to know about this issue. We can then get back to establishing the relationships between education, qualification and employment. We know the statistical connections but we do not know why.

Speaking in this House five years ago, when unemployment was over 18 per cent, I said that we would be able to reduce it to approximately 9 per cent because of the numbers of unemployed with qualifications. Unemployment below 9 per cent covers people who experience numeracy and literacy problems or who have no qualifications. Now that unemployment has dropped below 10 per cent for the first time in 15 years the challenge will be to employ these people. They found work 15 years ago in employment requiring little or no qualifications, such as factories. IBEC advises that such jobs have gone to the Middle and Far East. That is as well, because parents do not want their children to work in those kinds of industries. Furthermore, they will move from the Far East to Africa within the next 20 years. We must seek to give these people quality employment and for that they will need qualifications.

All these aspects tie in with the Minister of State's brief. If people do not have literacy and numeracy they will be almost unemployable. This is highlighted by the ongoing debate, both here and in the UK, on a minimum hourly wage. It will be sad if in this booming economy employers say they cannot pay permanent and long-term staff £5 per hour without becoming unprofitable. This issue was not addressed in the debate on emigration yesterday, but half the people serving in pubs and restaurants within a half mile radius [467] from this house are not Irish because Irish people will not work for the wages they pay, which are usually £2.50 per hour. By contrast, I was served a drink in a Brussels hotel on Monday night by a young woman from Cork. She would not do that in Cork but, like many of our children, she will do it as part of her travel experience.

A two pronged approach is required. The problems of illiteracy should be addressed at primary school level. That requires resources which the Minister of State will not get, yet the problem will continue until they are allocated. It is pointless for the Minister of State to say that he will ensure that hand writing tests will be given to check literacy levels. As I said to him on a famous previous occasion, giving hand writing tests to children to determine how bright they are is like determining a person's ability for employment on the basis of their accent. The Minister of State encountered something like this in London recently.

Mr. O'Dea:  I did not; I was widely supported.

Mr. O'Toole:  I am aware of that. Proper testing is required. Parents and politicians must have confidence in it and teachers must professionally approve and implement it. Resources should be put into addressing the problem at primary level while tackling the adult illiteracy problem. We must then see how these programmes relate to the economic development and prosperity of the country by dealing with the other issues, such as the levels of literacy at primary school level, among the working population and among the long-term unemployed.

Dealing with the issue on this basis will enable us to know what has to be done. If we bring unemployment below 7 per cent it will be an extraordinary achievement. Every percentage point below that will be back breaking because of the difficulty in finding suitable people to fill vacancies.

Mr. Farrell:  Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire agus tugaim comhghairdeas dó faoin obair a rinne sé agus an t-airgead a fuair sé ón Rialtas chun an córas seo a chur i bhfeidhm. When we speak of adult education we must think carefully about some of the figures presented in this debate. I am 30 years in public life and I have yet to meet a person who could not fill a form. People may not know the answers to questions, some of which can be complicated, but they are well able to write down the answers.

Many surveys today are agenda driven and we must be careful about what they seek to promote. For example, I would be illiterate in English by comparison with Senator Norris. What standard should be used to test my literacy as opposed to his? I saw a travelling man in a supermarket hand a £10 note to the cashier for the purchase of approximately £3 worth of goods. When the cashier gave him his change he asked her to recount [468] it and it was found to be short by 10p. Was that man suffering from a lack of numeracy skills? We must take into consideration the standards by which literacy and numeracy skills are measured.

We had high standards in our national schools before the 1970s and 1980s when good two teacher schools were abolished because experts at the time said that big schools were better. Pupils were bussed to big centres because it was calculated that it would be cheaper to educate them in big groups. The basis of the experts' information was cheap petrol and the availability of low paid drivers. When petrol prices increased after the first oil crises in the early 1970s and when the bus drivers became organised, the plan backfired.

Years ago a survey on primary education was undertaken in Scotland which measured the vertical and horizontal approach. Prior to the 1970s we used the vertical system. Infants, first, second and third classes were taught in one classroom and fourth, fifth and sixth classes were taught in another, while those going on to seventh class were taught in the master's school. The survey discovered that this system was much better than the horizontal, which we introduced in the 1970s. This entailed teaching 40 pupils at one level in a classroom. There was no problem with 40 pupils under the vertical system because they were divided between three and four classes. The teacher had more interest in his job because he was not teaching the same subjects all day.

The standard of handwriting has disimproved. I often got three slaps at school for handwriting that was better than that of one teacher I saw recently. We also did away with the need to learn tables and the alphabet. When I was young we read the newspaper to improve our English. One would get a poor education from reading today's newspapers with their misspellings and misprints. We have literacy problems because we have lowered our standards.

I do not believe 25 per cent of adults cannot write. The OECD should go to the dole offices to see how many people there cannot sign their names. When I was young I saw people making their mark with an X. Many members of that generation never went to school but they had fantastic memories. When they went to the creamery they would get the messages — butter, sugar, tea, bacon, meal, etc — for up to eight neighbours and despite having no list they would get a perfect order for every house. We did away with teaching the ability to learn poetry by heart. People's memories have been destroyed. They must depend on computers and if the electricity fails everything comes to a standstill. That would not have happened when people used pens and paper. Although we made some good changes, perhaps we also threw out many good things.

As a former student of the vocational school in Grange, I am delighted the vocational education committee will administer this scheme. I cannot speak highly enough of the vocational schools. Their only mistake was to go into secondary [469] teaching which meant they lost funding. The technical schools were the equivalent of FÁS and ANCO in my day but provided much better training. Students received work experience in their last year. That was a great form of education which we also did away with.

There is no promotion of foreign language education for adults. Many truck drivers who transport our goods across the Continent are teaching themselves foreign languages. What is being done in adult education to help such people? If we continue to provide only high tech education who will drive trucks, build houses or make furniture in five years' time?

Senator Quinn referred to the equivalent of a leaving certificate for students who are taught trades, which is very important. There will be a huge shortage of builders and tradespeople in a short while because FÁS is training people to build and plaster eight foot high walls in sheds which are then knocked down. Such hothouse training has no relevance for people working on three and four storey buildings. We must promote education in that regard.

The primary schools have done a comparatively good job but they are handicapped by large numbers of pupils. My father used to say that any school in which the pupils changed teacher too often was no good. In those days children were taught by the same teacher for three years and most had only two teachers in their life. The teachers knew how to help those who needed it. That is gone forever.

Teachers are now in a difficult position because very young students are telling them what to do in very unparliamentary language. What can the teacher do about that? In my day such a student would have got a tip at the butt of the lug which would have straightened him out and did him no harm. Teachers must walk away now. How can there be education when there is no discipline?

I regularly say a prayer for my teachers — they were great teachers and did not abuse their students. I know some teachers at that time were very brutal but it must be remembered that their salaries, which were only a couple of pounds at best, depended on their end of year results. When we criticise teachers we must remember the environment in which they worked. I have no friends or relations in the teaching profession but I have great respect for them.

I can remember third class today as clearly as the day I sat in Carney's school. Our last exercise before the summer holidays was to write a letter home. We had to rule out an envelope on another page, draw a stamp on it and address it to our parents. Mrs. McMorrow wanted every child leaving her school to be able to write a letter home from England or America. That was sensible and important education. She also taught us that year how to add up shop bills with six rows of goods. The idea was that if one could write, add, subtract and multiply one had the necessary basics to make one's way through life. We abandoned [470] reality and abolished that form of education, which is why there is so much illiteracy today.

All children should get a basic national school education. The School Attendance Act has been in existence for years but it is not being implemented because schools are too big nowadays for teachers to know who should be in their classes. That is another disaster. We will never get back to basics because the introduction of big schools destroyed the fabric of society. The biggest tomboy on the bus now leads the charge. When we walked home from school we were studying nature. We robbed orchards and birds nests but it was a nature trail. We also met philosophers who quoted Goldsmith or Yeats. We always questioned what we learned. This form of education was valuable.

The Minister is doing good work in funding adult education. However, if we are all professionals, there will be no one to drive diggers or use a shovel, and this will be a sick society. We should get our priorities right. Everyone in the world is a link in a chain and no link is stronger or more important than another. There must be workers and bosses.

There is a story about a bellringer and sacristan who died and the parish priest who was asked to give the job to his son. The parish priest said he would but asked the son if he could read and write. He said he could not and the parish priest said he could not give him the job. The son went to America, did very well and came back to a big reception. The parish priest said the son deserved great credit as he had so little education he could not give him his father's job. The priest asked him if he had education what would he be doing today and he said “Father, I would be down there ringing the bell.”

Mr. Quinn:  I thank Senator Farrell for the enthusiasm and determination of his contribution. The Government is also determined in its commitment to adult education. I am delighted a Minister has been given a portfolio for adult education as it is an area which never received attention.

I was not aware of the problem until last June when I was asked to speak at a prizegiving ceremony for an adult literacy course in the Dublin Institute of Education in Mountjoy Square. I assumed a dozen or so people were taking the course. However, I discovered a couple of hundred people were involved, including helping and teaching. A large number of those people determined at a late stage in life to solve a problem which began much earlier. The majority of them were not doing the course to get a job. Three or four people I spoke to said the reason they decided to go back to education in their late thirties and early forties was because they were ashamed they were unable to help their children do their homework. This problem was not recognised and did not get publicity. I welcome this [471] debate, which will help to draw attention to a problem the Government has already recognised by giving the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, special responsibility for it.

The OECD report is fascinating. I had a black and white view that illiteracy was an inability to read. I did not realise there were six different stages of illiteracy, which the report discusses, along with the ability to reach these stages. The report is worthwhile reading for those who have not had a chance to do so. The summary discusses the current situation in relation to adult literacy.

The problem of adult literacy is not talked about often and tends to be swept under the carpet. This is because people with the problem do not want to talk about it, even to their own families. I got a jolt when I discovered a number of my employees who are competent, capable and enthusiastic were unable to read or write because they did not reach the initial standard when they needed to. Admittedly, the jobs they are doing are not the high paid jobs of the future.

The public is slow to admit the existence of a problem, because it cuts across our self-image as a well-educated nation. Similarly, some people involved in education regard the existence of a problem as a reflection on their competence as educators and sometimes tend to go into denial whenever anyone raises it. I expected Senator O'Toole and Senator Liam Fitzgerald to do this and I am impressed they did not. The problem does not lie with educators but with the system they inherited which they are obliged to make work. There needs to be changes in that system.

I want to make some general remarks about the overall importance of the literacy issue. I have heard it said that literacy is not so important today as it once was because so many media are available that do not depend on reading. Most people get their news from the broadcast media. A person could be reasonably well-informed without ever reading a word. There are also a wide range of entertainments that do not depend on reading.

However, it is as necessary to be literate now as it ever was. It is interesting that the OECD report shows an improvement at all levels, although Ireland is low on the list in international terms. One needs to be literate to get a job, hold it down and get ahead in life. Literacy is necessary because the number of unskilled, manual jobs is decreasing. Adequate literacy skills are needed to do most jobs. There are very few jobs one can get without having some qualification. Educational qualifications depend on literacy. If one's literacy skills are inadequate, one is unlikely to have a qualification of any kind. No qualification means no job.

I have a particular perspective on literacy skills in education due to my involvement in the leaving certificate applied. For many years I have argued that the assessment system relies too much on written examinations and too little on oral skills [472] which are equally important in the world of work. This is beginning to change. In this year's leaving certificate applied, for the first time there was an examination of oral English. Most communication nowadays is oral. Written exams only are not the way of the future.

There are people who can write a good sentence but find it difficult to be articulate face-toface because they have not been trained in that. Accordingly, assessment should not be so dependent on written examinations. In making this argument I have never intended to reduce the importance that is rightly attached to being literate. Adult literacy and numeracy skills are basic life skills and are the foundation on which everything else is built. People without those skills are overwhelmingly likely to become the have-nots in our society. Why does this problem arise and why does our education system fail to address it adequately? It is because of the way our system is structured.

Our system is like a bus which is moving all the time. If a person falls off the bus at any stage, it will not stop. Those who want to catch up with it are doomed to run faster and faster after it, but they never get back on. In certain areas of learning, including literacy, numeracy and language skills, the basics are everything. If, for any reason, one fails to grasp the basics properly at the start, one is lost forever as far as the mainstream system is concerned. The bus keeps moving, leaving them running behind it.

We have structured our system on the assumption that most people can cope in the mainstream and that only a tiny minority cannot do so. Senator O'Toole said a teacher is able to identify the small number in a class who cannot cope. We assume that because it is a tiny minority, it can be dealt with by a correspondingly tiny effort in remedial teaching. This structure is fundamentally misconceived. The number of young people who could benefit from remedial teaching in some area of literacy, numeracy and language learning is not a tiny minority. It is, at the very least, a substantial minority.

I am not sure that most young people do not fall behind in some of these skills at some stage in their education. I remember the day I fell behind in maths. When the teacher asked if we were clear on calculus, I did not have the neck to put my hand up and say I did not understand. Had I done so, I might have got back on the bus. I failed to grasp calculus in February of my leaving certificate year so I dodged those questions in my leaving certificate exam. Everybody loses contact at some stage. If they miss that bus, they do not get back on it again.

Most of our resources go to mainstream education and a derisory amount goes to the remedial side. A large amount of what is spent on the mainstream is wasted because we are trying to teach people who cannot learn because they lack the basics. They fell behind at one point and did not catch up. At the extreme end of the scale, [473] young people who lack these skills do one of two things, both of which are equally undesirable. Either they drop out of education prematurely, which is a recipe for disaster, or they reluctantly stay in education and become bored and disruptive and resources spent on trying to educate them in this way are wasted. Sometimes they may even interfere with resources spent on the other students because they become troublemakers. Our system is based on the misconception that the majority are capable of getting the basics of literacy, numeracy and language learning right first time. Resources are allocated on that basis which is fundamentally flawed.

There is an issue of social exclusion here which goes right to the heart of the problem. The better off a person's parents, the more likely they are to get those things right in the first place. They will have had a head start if they come from a house with books and one in which most people read newspapers. Most people consider it important to read newspapers. They will have a head start if they have been sent to pre-school from an early age because most pre-schools will lay a foundation for literacy and numeracy skills. Many children go to national school without those advantages. They start in the formal education system with a profound disadvantage. Our system tends to deepen that disadvantage rather than reduce it.

A disadvantaged child is more likely to encounter basic learning difficulties. When that happens, a further disadvantage emerges. When well-off parents see a child falling behind, they will pay to have the matter seen to. Either the child will go to a private school where the pupil-teacher ratio is low enough to permit individual coaching or the parents will pay for private coaching outside school hours.

I return to my analogy of a bus. If a well off child falls off that bus at an early stage, which they are less likely to do anyway because of their basic start, their parents can hire a taxi to catch up with the bus. Other children have to run to catch up, some of whom never do so. That is the direction in which the Minister is going. It is a recognition that our present system does not give all students the basics. If we give them the basics, we will enable them to stay on the bus. The answer is recognising the problem in the first place.

I am delighted the Government is taking a greater interest in adult education than before and that it has provided increased funds in the budget to do so. The extra money which will go to adult literacy is small in terms of the overall size of the problem but it is enormous in terms of the good it will do. We should not consider that we are addressing this problem correctly until we also address its root causes, no matter how hard that task. I congratulate the Minister on his ability to focus the Government's attention on this matter, on his commitment and on the determined effort he is making to solve this problem.

[474]Dr. M. Hayes:  Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus gabhaim buíochas leis as ucht teacht anseo inniu. Tréaslaím leis as an maoin airgid atá faighte aige ón Roinn Airgeadais. It is difficult to follow Senator Quinn's insight into and compassionate and sympathetic analysis of the problem. He has left little for anyone else to say. On the analogy of the bell ringer, I shudder at the thought of what the average basket of groceries would cost if he had mastered calculus. This a much wider problem than people believe and I am glad the Minister and the Government are focusing attention on it.

I support Senator O'Toole's idea of some sort of benchmarking survey to establish what we are talking about when we speak about illiteracy. I believe we are talking about functional illiteracy — the inability of people to have a full social life or to take advantage of the employment opportunities being offered because they cannot read or write. They are increasingly excluded from employment which requires intellectual skills. There is a danger of society breaking up into two groups — 85 per cent of people who are doing quite nicely in the economy and 15 per cent who are not doing well and are fated to remain locked into a type of poverty which is defined more than anything else by poor education and lack of skills.

People need to be computer literate. Oddly enough, more people are computer literate than have the old fashioned type of literacy. It is tragic to see children go through the education system and leave it unable to function on that basis. Like Senator Quinn, while I welcome the money being spent and the involvement of the vocational education committees, we are putting a sticking plaster on a huge gaping wound. We need to focus our attention at a much earlier stage in the system. There must be some attempt at pre-school education and a remedial reading unit in every school whereby children who are falling behind in reading can be brought up to speed.

Senator Quinn said that the difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich can cope with these problems. I am involved in the Ireland Fund which gives money to some community groups on the Shankill Road in Belfast and where there are enormous problems in relation to education. In the past education was not necessary for those living on the Shankill Road as apprenticeships were available, for example, in the shipyard. Such jobs are no longer available and the schools have refocused on the new level of expectation. People say that if their children lived in a richer area, extra tutors and teachers would be available, and this is exactly what residents on the Shankill Road are now doing on a voluntary basis. I commend this example to the Minister.

People have coped with illiteracy over the years, even to the extent of filling up social security forms. Indeed, one is better able to fill out a social security form if one is illiterate — they certainly baffle me. Suddenly illiteracy is being exposed and people need to be helped. Doing so [475] through the vocational education committees is a good idea. However, I hope the vocational education committees address the problem with imagination and a sense of how difficult it is to get people to recognise this condition and to overcome it.

For most people illiteracy is a shameful condition which they have been hiding, perhaps even from their own family. Exposing it requires much courage and help and courses devised to reflect this should be welcomed. Some years ago in Britain an adult literacy campaign was run on television and I suggest this to the Minister as a possible medium which allows people deal with the problem in the privacy of their homes.

The issue of computer literacy was raised earlier. It was found in some areas of Belfast that children who could not read were quite computer literate from playing computer games. This computer literacy was used in helping the children to develop their functional literacy.

A number of schemes at community level and organised by women are being run in Belfast. If it were helpful I can put the Minister in touch with some of these schemes.

There must be a fundamental examination of literacy in the schools in order to stem the flow of people losing ground in terms of literacy. We owe it to our children and our citizens to give them the opportunity to fully function in society and to take advantage of the jobs which are available. If we do not do this, we will find that the problems will cluster and result in all sorts of other social problems.

We must try to work through community groups. People know their neighbours and can take instruction from people in areas which they were turned off from in school. There must be some sort of depots, even shop front depots, where people can attend courses. Both North and South there has been enormous investment and great development by community groups and this should be harnessed in addition to the work of the vocational education committees.

I wish the Minister well in his campaign and congratulate him on the focus he is giving the matter. I hope that, in addition to the resources being devoted to remedial work, that resources can be allocated to prevent the problem from arising in the first instance.

Mr. Costello:  I welcome the Minister to this House and his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science with special responsibility for adult education. This is important and highlights the fact that this is the year of life long learning. It also provides a context for this debate which takes place against the backdrop of the OECD report.

[476] The OECD report places Ireland almost at the bottom of the OECD countries in terms of this question. We may be critical of the report or say it is inadequate and does not take into consideration the cultural and other aspects of the Irish experience, but it is a comparative study. In that context we criticise it at our peril. It shows an alarming situation whereby the percentage of those with serious literacy problems, which we thought to be 10 per cent, is 25 per cent in the 16 to 64 years age cohort. The people in this group were found to have literacy skills approximate to those of 12 year olds or less. This places a serious question mark over our education system and its ability to deliver an adequate expertise in basic literacy and numeracy to the population.

Many of those surveyed were unaware of their deficiency. On the contrary, many thought they had excellent levels of literacy. Involvement in adult literacy programmes is one of the lowest in Europe, at less than half the average per capita participation.

These facts have to be addressed against the background of a waste of human resources and potential. The effect of illiteracy on a person, who because of their problem finds it difficult to get a job, is enormous. Their self-confidence is undermined as is their personal perception of themselves among their peers. There is a stigma attached to illiteracy, many people deliberately hiding it. The potential which is not tapped due to people losing out somewhere along the way, be it from mitching or getting into trouble, is incredible. This is evident in areas of disadvantage where there are high levels of crime and poverty and low levels of literacy.

The survey shows the huge lack of information about illiteracy and a lack of interest among educationalists in dealing with the problem. There is also a lack of organisation in the provision of services and a lack of funding to support such provision. We are only touching the tip of the iceberg. If we are talking about 5,000 people out of a population of 500,000, then effectively only 1 per cent are in receipt of adult literacy training. Very little impact is being made at present. A massive 250,000 people are unemployed, among whose ranks would be a high number of people with adult literacy difficulties. We have created a lifestyle of virtual dependency for these people from the cradle to the grave. In areas of endemic unemployment, people are born into the social welfare society and do not leave it until their death. The present system finds it difficult to provide an adequate level of education in these areas.

The Minister has indicated some very important policy developments and decisions which he proposes to make to create an awareness of the problem. He proposes to publish a Green Paper, establish an education bank into which funds can be invested, directed and targeted and examine what steps can be taken in relation to the existing library structure throughout [477] the country in terms of provisions of literacy services.

In terms of pilot initiatives, the Minister outlined an initiative in the area of child care provision — I presume this refers to cre ches — and an initiative to enable educationally disadvantaged women to pursue lifelong learning educational opportunities. This is an area in which there is huge scope for development.

The City of Dublin vocational education committee runs 67,000 post-leaving certificate courses which are largely of an adult education rather than adult literacy nature. One thousand adults are participating in adult literacy schemes in Dublin of which there are 13 in existence. Only two full-time adult literacy organisers are employed by the vocational education committee while 53 voluntary groups, directly funded by the vocational education committee, operate an outreach system. There are two community based guidance counsellors in the Dublin vocational education committee area. A total of 350 youthreach students, 1,100 VTOS students and 300 second level allowance scheme participants - the scheme is a hybrid of the VTOS — all receive adult literacy training to one degree or another. In total, 17,000 people attend courses in the adult sector and out of that number there are 1,000 dedicated adult literacy participants. Out of the 5,000 people participating in adult literacy schemes countrywide, approximately one-fifth are participating in courses provided by the vocational education committee. I am glad to see that the Minister recognises the vocational education committees to be the main providers in this area.

The budget has already been described as fairly derisory and that is a fair description. Until 1997, approximately £2 million out of a total Education budget of more than £2 billion was provided for adult literacy. That worked out at 0.001 per cent of the total budget and was a mere drop in the ocean. Even if the percentage were to be raised to 1 per cent, the figure would still be only £20 million. That is not a huge amount of money.

The figure has been doubled this year from £2 million to £4 million and that is to be welcomed. However, we must look at the extent of the problem. One hundred adult literacy schemes are being operated throughout the country by 38 vocational education committees. A figure of £2 million or £4 million is still a very small amount to cover all the schemes, community based and otherwise, being offered. Much good work has been done by organisations such as the National Adult Literacy Agency, Aontas, the People's College and directly by the vocational education committees.

As he commences his term in office, the Minister should look at this issue speedily and thoroughly in terms of what can be done. We should adopt a two tier approach to the problem. The real problem lies in the fact that mainstream education is not adequately addressing the educational [478] problems facing young people and adults in disadvantaged areas. Paddy Clancy's study of rates of access to third level education still shows only 4 per cent of the student cohort in Dublin 1 having access to third level education and that figure has not improved significantly over the past ten years. In spite of the amount of money invested in home school liaison, psychological services, the breaking the cycle scheme, guidance counselling, remedial services, pupil/teacher ratios and so on we are not making an impact on the problem. Our education service is a layered one, from primary to third level and none of these layers flows into the other properly.

The necessary flexibility does not exist in education but we must become flexible. We must look at establishing a national pre-school service; this service already exists in some areas. We must target young people before they start primary school. Some areas do have a service which is operated on a shoestring by parents or private groups.

We must also look at the establishment of an after-school service. Young people should not have to do their homework in the overcrowded flats and inadequate housing which are part and parcel of the local authority housing structure in many areas. They find it very difficult to do their homework and there is no service within the schools or the communities for them to do it. Parents could become involved in the establishment of an after-school service through adult education programmes and designated centres could be set up in various areas. Young people should have the opportunity to do their homework in a regulated and controlled environment.

The fees for the junior and leaving certificate examinations must be abolished. It is crazy that students are still being charged examination fees. Savings in this area are only approximately £2 million per annum. We should provide free education where it really bites and where its effects can be seen. Young people often avoid doing examinations because their parents cannot afford the fees.

We must also examine the issue of PLCs. This Government must honour its commitment to provide maintenance grants for PLC courses which are estimated to cost in the region of £13 million. This is the area in which most young people from disadvantaged areas are likely to get third level or further education. A greater proportion of those who attend PLC courses come from disadvantaged areas than from other areas. That is the area we should be targeting and I would like to see that done.

It is time we took the educational issue by the horns. We should create a further tier of mainstream education in addition to the existing primary, secondary and tertiary tiers. The fourth tier would deal with continuing adult education. If we did so, we could provide a separate budget line for adult education, a professional structure and specially dedicated and strategically located education [479] centres. We could provide a range of courses that would be pathways not just to literacy but to employment and other progressive activities in education. We could provide full-time literary organisers as well as a proper range of part-time tutors.

If we decide adult education is so important that it needs to be treated in a similar fashion to the existing educational tiers, then we can put a proper national policy framework together with adequate funding and resources. This is the key, but it would have to be argued for strongly in Cabinet and elsewhere.

Adult education must be brought into the mainstream otherwise it will remain as it has been — on the periphery — and it will be impossible to obtain adequate funding for it.

These arguments have been put forward by every sector. The business sector was represented by Senator Quinn who spoke about the loss of employment and human resources. People are condemned to a lifetime of belonging, effectively, to a subculture outside society. Society's ghettos encompass crime and loss of life. They pose questions concerning the style and quality of life for the disadvantaged people who live there.

I am delighted with the Minister of State's appointment with specific responsibility for adult education. Having been the most neglected area of education in the past, it is now the most ripe for development. It has always been operated on a shoestring, hand to mouth basis. I fervently hope the Minister of State's appointment will herald a new approach to adult education with particular emphasis on the importance of dealing with literacy. I hope national structures will be put in place to adequately deal with a problem that we do not seem to be able to cope with at present.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea):  It has been a very interesting debate and I have taken careful note of the various contributions on which I will reflect.

Senator O'Dowd referred to the need for a broader structural approach. When I was appointed as Minister of State I found the adult education system, as Senator Liam Fitzgerald rightly said, was all over the place. In recent years it has grown hugely, but in a very haphazard manner, and so much so that very few of the players on the field realise the full extent of what is involved.

My first priority was to put a structure on adult education and I am proceeding to do that with outside experts whose help I acknowledge. That is why I have directed the Department of Education to issue a Green Paper on the subject by 20 January. This will generate a national debate from the various interested parties, including business, trade unions and employers. Within a timescale of six months I hope that will culminate [480] in a White Paper which will be a signpost for action. Nobody should be under any illusion but that I am determined action will be taken, based on the recommendations which ultimately come through the White Paper.

Senator O'Dowd also referred to the complexity of official forms and there is something in his point. In my own constituency I regularly deal with farmers who have to wrestle with the new series of grants dictated largely by regulations from Brussels. It is a source of constant wonderment to me how they cope with many of these forms and the bewildering array of schemes. Sometimes such schemes produce very little in terms of grant aid that a producer can qualify for.

We must always be conscious of the need for simplicity and clarity in official forms. It is not just a question of the complexity of the form itself. Much of it, particularly in the social welfare area, has to do with the approach of the person who is behind the desk who is supposed to help people complete their forms. That is something we need to keep under constant review.

Senator O'Dowd recommended that each local authority and official office should have somebody to help clients fill out their forms. That is a matter for the local authorities and Government Departments themselves. It is not within my brief to issue any directives or make any decisions on that matter. Suffice it to say that the Senator has the germ of a good idea.

Senator O'Dowd thinks the net result of the OECD report is that we have literally wasted all the money spent on the education system since the foundation of the State. That idea is basically off the wall. The fact is that while we have an illiteracy problem, by and large everybody — including a whole array of international independent economic commentators — have linked the economic boom and the birth of the Celtic tiger to our excellent education system and the skilled workforce it has produced.

If one studies the OECD report closely, one will see that the problem is far less among the 16-25 age group and only slightly worse among the 25-35 group. The worst problem is at the upper end of the scale in the 55-64 age group who were in the system before the introduction of free secondary education. The figures demonstrate that the situation has been constantly improving as one moves down the age bracket.

At the other end of the scale, a number of reports indicate that we are first among the OECD countries in terms of the numbers of science graduates, aged from 25 to 35, per 100,000 of the population. For example, we have twice the number of science graduates as Japan. A number of other reports indicate that we have established a competitive advantage over the rest of the world in terms of science and technology, particularly among the younger age groups.

The legislation we are enacting today will establish a scientific and technological investment fund of £250 million which will not be spent at [481] the expense of other areas that require money from the Department of Education. The fund will be quite exclusive of the Education budget. It has been put in place precisely to press home the advantage we, as a nation, have established in that area.

Senators O'Dowd, O'Toole and others referred to the insufficiency of remedial teachers and the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level. There is no doubt that the problem of the ratio will be partly solved by demography. However, we are not content to sit back and let that solve the problem. The Minister has made it clear that resources will be voted for and invested in that area to constantly reduce the pupil-teacher ratio, which has fallen progressively over the past decade. I am told there are now almost 1,200 remedial teachers at primary level and 360 at secondary level. Some might say it is not enough, but it is the highest in the history of the State, and this is at a time when the pupil-teacher ratio is probably at its lowest level. We are committed to further improvements in that area. There have been a number of recent initiatives at primary level, for example, the “Early Start” programme, the “Breaking the Cycle” programme, home-school links, junior certificate elementary programme, the applied leaving certificate, etc. We acknowledge the contribution of previous Ministers for Education in establishing some of those initiatives. The House can be assured we intend to expand and build on those.

Senators O'Dowd, Maurice Hayes and others pointed out the reluctance of people with literacy problems to come forward and we are conscious of that. I have directed the vocational education committees to use some of the extra money I have put at their disposal to advertise these literacy courses and services in a more humane, userfriendly and less embarrassing way. It all comes down to language. We have examined what is being done in the UK, where a different form of language is used and where there has been a move away from the terms “literacy” and “illiteracy”. The language used is designed to minimise the embarrassment for people who wish to come forward. I have no doubt, having spoken with NALA especially, that many people want to enrol but have not, partly because of embarrassment and partly because they are reluctant to admit they have a literacy problem. The major part of the problem is lack of resources. I accept Senator Costello's point that £4 million of the total education budget is very small. Nevertheless, it is £2 million more than was provided last year. The opportunity for people to enrol will be twice as great this year as it was last year. That is the net result of what we have done. The £4 million figure is the base upon which we can build for the future.

Senator O'Toole was unhappy with the outcome of the OECD survey, especially with the methodology, if I understand him correctly. He thinks the Irish Government wasted money. I [482] assure the Senator that the Government's financial involvement in this project was to contribute £30,000 for our part of the survey, which is very small. The survey was carried out by local people involved in the education system and the OECD compared the results with other countries. I realise there are differences in culture and language and that there were slight differences in the methodology of carrying out the survey in the different countries. That said, it still gives cause for concern.

Senator O'Toole said it was rubbish to state that one in four Irish people could not read or write and I agree with him. However, it is not a question of being able to read and write, to sign one's name on a dole form or to recognise something on a poster. The conclusion reached by the OECD was that one in four Irish people was insufficiently equipped educationally to function properly in the complex information society and to take advantage of the employment opportunities increasingly offered in that kind of society. That is the difficulty and problem; it is not about literacy or illiteracy. The OECD survey graded literacy from one, the lower end of the scale, to four or five, the top end of the scale, which includes people who are supremely competent in functioning within the information society. It found a disturbing number of Irish people, 25 per cent of the adult population, were at level one, which was only exceeded by Poland, and that gives cause for concern.

Senator O'Toole suggested we overcome these problems by spending £250,000 on another survey which we conduct ourselves. Perhaps there is some value in that and I will discuss it with the Minister; but I have more urgent needs for my budget and I could not commit myself to spending £250,000 of the £4 million I have for improving literacy on yet another survey. Whatever difficulties we might have with the methodology and the comparative methods used by the OECD, we will have to work on the assumption that there is something in what it says and that is borne out by our daily experiences. There is a problem which must be tackled. If the Celtic tiger keeps roaring and more money pours into my section of the Department, the day might arrive when we can afford such a survey. I know it is a fundamental problem, but we can go on what the OECD has said, given that the Irish statistics were compiled by Irish people who are skilled in that area and in the area of examinations.

Senator Farrell mentioned language teaching for the adult population because of truck drivers crossing different boundaries. It is something I will bear in mind. It is not strictly part of the literacy category but it is part of overall adult education which I will deal with later.

The Senator also pointed out that the School Attendance (Amendment) Act has not been enforced. I have some difficulty with its nonenforcement. We intend to introduce new school [483] attendance legislation which I hope will be in the next Dáil session.

Senator Maurice Hayes referred to the need for computer literacy. We are discussing basic literacy. Computer literacy is for people in the workforce who have not had the advantage of computer training and who find they now need it as part of the lifelong learning process. The Senator also referred to the need for vocational education committees to be sensitive and to encourage people to come forward and I have dealt with that.

Senator Costello referred to the lack of funding, which I have already stated is twice now what it was before. He also referred to the inadequate provision within the City of Dublin vocational education committee. It is one of the 38 vocational education committees which will benefit from the increase in funding. The Senator also referred to VTOS, but we are discussing the adult literacy and community education budget. The VTOS budget is separate. The Minister announced extra places for the VTOS scheme some time ago. We find at the moment that the supply of places roughly meets the demand, but it is again an issue of encouraging more people to come forward.

Mr. Costello:  I was referring specifically to Dublin.

Mr. O'Dea:  I accept the Senator's point about Dublin. The same applies to Limerick city. If there were more places, there would be no shortage of people to fill them. I am conscious of that, as I am of the need to refocus the VTOS in ways which time does not permit me to elaborate on. I hope we have the opportunity to discuss it on another day.

Senator Costello was anxious that the Government meets its commitment to provide maintenance grants for PLC courses and it is determined to do that. Both the Minister and I were disappointed we did not manage to have it included in the Estimates for this year, but I have no doubt it will be in place next year. I have had many pickets placed on my office and house to remind me of our commitment in that regard. I assure the House it will be put in place next year.

Senator Costello's suggestion of a further tier for mainstream education is interesting. If it could be done, it would ease many of my difficulties. However, I must work on the assumption that it will not happen. It is an interesting proposal, which I will discuss with the Minister. The Senator has given me ammunition in that area and I thank him for it. If it cannot be done that way, I have a number of initiatives which I will pursue to approach the issue in another way.

Adult education is not only about literacy, even though literacy is important and must be given priority. We are entering an era of lifelong learning [484] in which, in about 30 years, people will have to change jobs five or six times. We must provide for this and put Ireland at the forefront of that movement. We must stay ahead of the competition. That is why I speak of concepts such as an education bank which I will formally announce in the new year.

I have radical ideas on lifelong education to maintain our competitive advantage. Other countries are now thinking of this issue and recognise the changes being brought about by technology and the information society. I am determined that Ireland will be as well, if not better, prepared for that than any country. This is why I will announce a number of initiatives early in 1998.

I thank Senators for their contributions and I take their views seriously. I will take a number of their ideas on board and discuss them with the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Finance, who is an equally important player in this matter. I thank Senators for recognising that adult education and lifelong learning are, and will be, of paramount importance to Ireland in the next Millennium. No matter how long I am in the Department of Education and Science, Senators can rest assured that I am conscious of my responsibilities on literacy and lifelong learning. I have given and will continue to give of my best.

Mr. Costello:  This matter is not unrelated to adult literacy. There is a link between lack of education, literacy, unemployment, disadvantage and involvement in drugs. The original ministerial task force on measures to reduce the demand for drugs was established to tackle this problem. Arising from that report, a two pronged approach was initiated involving local drugs task forces in designated areas in Dublin and a Cabinet sub-committee on drugs set up to examine the problems.

The Youth Services Development Fund arises in the context of the Cabinet sub-committee. This fund was established by the last Government and £20 million was committed for development purposes. This was seen as an important development which would provide funding for various community projects directed at youths who were at risk or who had been, or might become, involved in drug abuse. The fund was to be significant and targeted to deal with the demand for drugs by providing alternative activities.

I was appalled that the budget allocated only £1.25 million for this year. The £20 million fund covered three years from 1998 to 2000. However, £1.25 million is a particularly poor start. It indicates a lack of urgency at Cabinet level. The purpose of establishing a Cabinet sub-committee was to underline the importance of the drugs problem. This fund was seen as one of the major ways [485] of tackling the problem by providing alternative structures and projects.

It is only 18 months since the death of Veronica Guerin in the midst of a drugs epidemic. Since then, communities in deprived areas have come together at grassroots level because of the apparent inadequacy of the various State agencies empowered to deal with the problem. The fund is intended to tap into grassroots community involvement and activity so that communities will be empowered to provide services and projects to divert youngsters from crime, and drugs in particular.

I was recently at a meeting of the Hardwicke Street Association chaired by the local parish priest. The group involves the local community, the Garda and the business community. Every group was anxious and enthusiastic about the project. It was a three phase programme intended to give youngsters an opportunity of repairing cars, particularly stock cars, to channel their energy away from vandalism; to bring them into recreational and sporting activities; and to phase them into employment.

Central to this programme was the belief that there was a substantial fund available. This community led the fight against drugs. It was the first community to organise and get rid of drugs and drug pushers. It did so in a democratic fashion. However, the community then found that there was no guarantee that any funds were forthcoming and that the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs had rejected its application. This undermines the efforts made by local communities. It is not long since we had an drugs epidemic. The drug barons can easily come back into communities which are now relatively free of drug pushers.

Irrespective of politics, if only £1.25 million is being made available then we could quickly slip back into the old situation. I hope the Minister can assuage my fears and give me some hope that the Government will provide adequate funding for the Youth Services Development Fund.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea):  I am glad that the Senator has raised this matter as it gives me an opportunity to explain the position to the House in view of the fact that the Youth Services Development Fund will be administered by my Department.

In October 1996, the ministerial task force on measures to reduce the demand for drugs published its first report. Arising from one of its recommendations, the Government established a national drugs strategy team to oversee the implementation of the Government's drugs demand reduction strategy.

The principal recommendation in the report related to the establishment of local drugs task forces to ensure effective co-ordination of drugs programmes and services at local level; involve communities in the development and delivery of [486] locally based strategies to reduce the demand for drugs; and focus actions on tackling the problem in the communities where it is at its most severe. Arising from this, 12 local drugs task forces were set up in Dublin and one in north Cork city.

The task forces, which comprise representatives of the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, were mandated to prepare service development plans in line with the above objectives. The Government approved funding of £10 million in 1997 to support the implementation of these plans, this funding to be allocated by the Government on the advice of the Cabinet committee on drugs following an evaluation by the national drugs strategy team. Recognising the links between social exclusion, drug abuse and alienation, the present Government decided that the most strategic way to tackle the problem of social exclusion was to reconstitute the drugs committee into a wider Cabinet committee which would address disadvantage in the broadest sense. The committee directs the work of bodies such as the national drugs strategy team.

The previous Government, in approving the recommendations in the second report of the ministerial task force on measures to reduce the demand for drugs, approved the establishment of a youth services development fund. It was proposed that the fund should comprise contributions from the Exchequer and the corporate sector and it was envisaged that an Exchequer contribution of £20 million would be made available over the period 1998-2000 towards the fund.

As announced in the budget, an initial allocation of £1.25 million has been made by the Government towards the youth services development fund in 1998. Future allocations will be determined in the context of the annual Estimates. The detailed arrangements for the administration of the fund, including the issue of corporate contributions, are currently being developed.

With regard to the projects currently being funded from the £10 million allocated by the previous Government, a significant number of these relate to the youth services. To date, over £1 million has been allocated to youth/education related projects. It is expected that the bulk of these moneys will be drawn down by the project promoters in 1998. Many of the projects are in the early stages of development and will have to be evaluated to determine their effectiveness. It is only prudent to await the outcome of this evaluation before a commitment is given to invest additional funding towards the youth services development fund.

Youthwork is recognised as a particularly successful intervention in terms of demand reduction among young people. In the youth services area, the Department of Education and Science cooperates with the Department of Health and Children in introducing education about the use of drugs, especially as part of the national youth [487] health programme, and in support of the development of resource materials and of training for youth workers.

The Department, also in co-operation with the Department of Health and Children, has introduced a programme of substance misuse prevention for post-primary schools and has begun the development of a similar programme for primary schools. We have also expanded and deepened the network of health promoting schools and introduced extensive and intensive training programmes [488] for teachers on implementing substance misuse prevention education in schools.

In addition to the above, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has been requested to prepare guidelines for schools, at both primary and second levels, to ensure that social, personal and health education, to include education about use of substances, will become an identified part of the curricula of schools at both levels.

The Seanad adjourned at 4.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 19 December 1997.