School Attendance Bill, 1942—Second Stage.

Tairgim go léightear an Bhille den dara huair anois. An tAcht Freastail Scoile do tháinig i bhfeidhm i 1926, ba é ba phríomh-chuspóir dó a chinntiú go dtabharfaí oideachas oireamhnach do pháistí idir 6 bliadhna agus 14 bliadhna d'aois. Acht, le linn an Achta do bheith i bhfeidhm, do fuarthas amach go mba riachtanach feabhsuighthe áirithe do dhéanamh ar an gcóras oibre, ionnas go mbainfí éifeacht iomlán as. Le n-a aghaidh sin atáthar ag tairsgint na bhfeabhsú atá sa mBille seo.

Táthar ag brath an scéal do mhíniú maidir le páistí atá ag fagháil oideachais taobh amuigh de Scoileanna Náisiúnta, nó de scoileanna eile a bhfuil aithint nó deimhniú aca ón Aire. Sa mBille seo, freisin, ta coingheallacha speisialta a thoirmeascfas páistí d'fhostú i modh do chuirfeadh isteach ar a bhfreastal scoile; agus, ina theannta sin, baineann sé le hoideachas páistí lucht siubhail. I n-éifeacht leó sin go léir, tá feabhsuighthe eile a ndéanfaidh mé trácht orra ar ball.

Tuismightheóirí ar bith ag a bhfuil páistí idir 6 bliadhna agus 14 bliadhna d'aois, tá sé d'oibliogóid orra, fá láthair, na páistí sin do chur ag freastal scoile náisiúnta, nó scoil eile oireamhnach ar feadh seal áirithe ama, gach lá dá mbíonn an scoil ar oscailt le haghaidh teagaisc—is é sin muna bhfuil leithscéal réasúnta aca gan a dhéanamh. Má tá páiste ag fagháil bun-oideachais oireamhnaigh i n-áit ar bith taobh amuigh de Scoil Náisiúnta ná scoile eile oireamhnach, féadtar glacadh faoi'n Acht le sin mar leithscéal réasúnta. Acht níl sé mínighthe san Acht cad é an sórt oideachais do bheadh ionghlactha i gcás mar sin; agus, dá gcuirthí dlighe ar an tuismightheóir, do bheadh an míniú ag brath ar an gCúirt Ughdaráis. Táthar ag iarraidh sin d'athrú sa mBille seo. Maidir le páistí atá ag fagháil oideachais taobh amuigh de Scoil Náisiúnta nó scoile eile ag a bhfuil aithint nó deimhniú ón Aire, ní measfar iad do bheith ag fagháil oideachais oireamhnaigh, muna mbidh an t-oideachas sin deimhnighthe ag an Aire—agus, le naghaidh sin, féadfaidh an tAire a ordú go gcuirfear triail oideachais ar na páistí.

Ina theannta sin, maidir le tuismighthóirí páistí atá ag fagháil oideachais taobh amuigh de Scoil Náisiúnta nó scoile eile atá aitheanta ag an Aire mar scoil oireamhnach, beidh sé d'oibliogóid orra, do réir an Bhille seo, fuagra agus gach eolas riachtanach do thabhairt don Ughdarás Feidhmiucháin. Féadfar fíneáil do dhéanamh ar thuismightheóir ar bith nach gcoimhlíonfaidh an coingheall seo. Thabharfadh an Bille a thuilleadh cumhachta don Aire maidir le scrúdúchán scoile ar bith ina mbeadh páistí a mbaineann an tAcht leó, óir do chuirfeadh sé d'fhiachaibh ar Bhainisteóir, nó Stiúrthóir, gach scoile aca sin scrúdúchán do cheadú i n-am ar bith ina mbeadh an scoil ar oscailt le haghaidh an ghnáth-theagaisc. Féadfar fíneáil do dhéanamh ar Bhainisteóir, nó Stiúrthóir, ar bith nach gcoimhlíonfaidh na coingheallacha seo.

Faoí Alt a 7 d'Acht 1926, do tugadh cumhacht don Aire do dhéanamh riaghlacha do chuirfeadh cosc áirithe ar fhostú páistí; ach ní dearnadh riaghlacha ar bith faoi'n alt sin, óir níor measadh a leithéidí do bheith riachtanach san am. Do rinneadh gearáin ó shoin, ar an adhbhar go bhféadfadh fostóir páistí d'fhostú gan fíneáil do theacht air, agus gur lugha an fhíneáil do déanfaí ar an tuismightheóir ná an díolaidheacht do gheobhadh sé ar son an pháiste ón bhfostóir. Ionnas go ndéanfaí an scéal sin do leigheas, do chuirfeadh an Bille seo cosc áirithe ar fhostú páistí; agus do bheadh an cosc sin ann de bhreis ar gach cosc Reachtamhail eile dá bhfuil ann fá láthair. Faoi Alt a 7 de'n Bhille, do bheadh toirmeasc deimhin ar fhostú páiste ar bith faoi 12 bhliadhain d'aois. San Alt céadna, tá coingheallacha áirithe do chur teorann ar thréimhse agus ar uaireanna fostuighthe páistí idir 12 bhliadhain agus 14 bliadhna d'aois, ionnas nach gcuirfeadh an fostú isteach ar a bhfreastal scoile agus nach gcoimeádfadh sé iad ó lán-tairbhe do bhaint as an bhfreastal sin. Ina theannta sin, thabharfadh an tAlt seo cumhacht don Aire chun Riaghlacha do dhéanamh nach leigfeadh páistí idir 12 agus 14 bliadhna d'aois d'fhostú i slighe bheatha áirithe ar bith, agus thabharfadh sé cumhacht do bhreitheamh Cúirt Dúithche toirmeasc do chur ar fhostú ar bith do chuirfeadh isteach ar fhreastal scoile nó do choimeádfadh páiste gan lán-tairbhe d'fhagháil ón bhfreastal. Tá fíneálacha dhá n-ordughadh le n-a gcur ar dhaoine do bhrisfeadh coingheallacha an Ailt seo.

Maidir le páistí lucht siubhail nach bhfanann i bhfad i limistéar Ughdaráis Feidhmiuchán ar bith fé leith, níor bh'fhuras coingheallacha an Achta Freastail Scoile do chur i bhfeidhm. Taobh istigh den dlighe do bhi ann, níor bh'fhéidir na páistí seo ná a dtuismightheóirí do thabhairt faoi'n smacht do bheadh riachtanach. Imthigheann siad go tapaidh ó áit go báit, agus ní bhíonn na páistí chomh fada ar scoil agus gur féidir dóibh bun-oideachas sásamhail ar bith d'fhagháil. Meastar go bhfuil fá thuairim 950 de na páistí seo ann, agus go bhfuil fá thuairim 700 aca nach féidir a rádh go bhfuil oideachas ar bith aca dá fhagháil. Ní maith an scéal é sin, agus táthar ag brath a leigheas tré Alt 19 den mBille. Do cuirfí d'fhiachaib ar lucht siubhail eolas i dtaobh aoise agus oideachais a gcuid páiste do thabhairt do na Gárdaí gach bliadhain, agus—dá mba riachtanach é-na páistí do leigint faoi scrúdú chun a dheimhniú ciaca bheadh siad ag fagháil oideachais oireamhnaigh nó nach mbeadh. Féadfaí fíneáil do dhéanamh ar dhaoine nach gcoimhlíonfadh na coingheallacha seo. Do bheadh sé de chumhacht ag Oifigigh Freastail Scoile ceisteanna do chur ar lucht siubhail; agus, gan barántas ar bith, d'fhéadfadh na Gárdaí breith ar dhuine aca siud le n-a mbeadh páiste d'aois scoile agus é gan bheith ag freastal scoile nó gan deimhniú ón Aire go raibh oideachas oireamhnach aige dhá fhagháil. Féadfaí páiste mar sin do chur dhá choimeád i n-áit oireamhnach choinneála, agus d'fhéadfadh an Chúirt Ughdaráis Inniúla an páiste do chur chuig Scoil Saothair, nó a chur faoi chúram duine ghaolmhair nó duine éigin eile do bheadh oireamhnach. Freastal tréimhse ar bith is lugha ná ráithe, ní glacfaí leis mar fhreastal le haghaidh chuspóir an Achta. Táthar ag súil go mbeidh na coingheallacha seo ina gcongnamh le hoideachas do chur ar fagháil do pháistí lucht siubhail, agus meastar go bhfágfaidh cuid de na daoine seo a gcuid páiste ag gaolta nó ag cáirde, ionnas go bhféadfaidh siad dul ar scoil.

Thabharfadh an Bille seo a thuilleadh cumhachta d'Oifigigh Freastail Scoile, ionnas go mba tapaidhe thiocfadh leo a gcuid oibre do dhéanamh i gcás páistí do bheadh as láthair ón scoil. Páistí ar bith do bheadh faoi chosamhlacht bheith i n-aois scoile agus do bheadh fá na sráideanna i n-am scoile, do bheadh sé dc chumhacht ag na hOifigigh stad do chur orra agus a gceistniú, agus—dá mba riachtanach é—d'fhéadfaidís páistí mar sin do thabhairt leó go tighthe a gcuid tuismightheóir agus na tuismightheóirí féin do cheistniú. Ina theannta sin, tabharfaí a thuilleadh caoi do na hOifigigh Freastail Scoile le heoías riachtanach d'fhágháil ó rollaí na scol agus ó na hoidí.

Do réir mar atá fá láthair, is éigean fuagra seachtmhaine do thabhairt do thuismightheóir sul ar féidir an dlighe do chur air mar gheall ar chéad-choir faoi'n Acht. Cúis moille an scéal do bheith amhlaidh, agus táthar ag brath é d'athrú. Do chuirfeadh an Bille seo deireadh le riachtanas na bhfuagra seachtmhaine, agus do chuirfeadh sé deireadh leis an gcoingheall nar bh'fhéidir páiste do chur chuig Scoil Saothair gan an tuismightheóir do bheith cionntuighthe dhá uair ar a laighead.

Feabhsú eile dá bhfuil sa mBille, is cuspóir dó an tAcht do dhéanamh níos éifeachtaighe chun gan leigint do thuismightheoirí a gcuid páiste do choinneáil sa mbaile ón scoil gan fáth maith dleaghthach. Tuismightheóir ar bith ag a mbeadh páiste ar chóir do bheith ag freastal Scoile Náisiúnta, no scoil eile oireamhnach, agus gan an páiste do bheith i láthair, do chuirfeadh an feabhsú seo d'fhiachaibh air fios na cúise do thabhairt don árd-oide, agus gan bheith níos moille le sin ná lá ar n-a bhárach tar éis an chéad lá do bheadh an páiste as láthair. Tuismightheóirí nach gcoimhlíonfadh an coingheall sin, nó do bhéarfadh leithscéal neimh-fhírinneach uatha, d'fhéadfaí fíneáil do chur orra. Fá láthair, ní riachtanach do thuismightheóirí fuagra do thabhairt uatha go ceann trí lá, agus níl. fíneáil orduighthe do dhaoine nach ndéanann sin féin.

Is minic a bhíos trioblóid agus mearbhall ann mar gheall ar pháistí do bheith dhá n-aistriú ó scoil go scoil. Do dhéanfadh an Bille seo míniú níos deimhne ar na coingheallacha faoi n-ar ceadmhach páistí d'aistriú mar sin, agus d'ughdróchadh sé fíneáil do chur ar thuismightheoirí do dhéanfadh páistí d'aistriú ar mhí-réir na geoingheall.

Le Coistí Freastail Scoile bhaineas feabhsuighthe eile dá bhfuil sa mBille. Is iad na Coistí seo na hUghdaráis Feidhmiucháin faoi'n Acht i gCondaebhuirg Bhaile Atha Cliath, Chorcaighe agus Phortláirge agus i mBurg Dhún Laoghaire. Ceaptar iad go páirteach idir na hUghdaráis áiteamhla agus an tAire, agus tá Bainisteóirí agus Oidí Scol Náisiúnta ar na baill atá ionnta. Tá feidhmiú an Achta ag brath go mór orra; thug siad seirbhís mhaith uatha go dtí seo, agus tá súil agam go dtabharfaidh siad an deagh-sheirbhís chéadna uatha san am atá romhainn. Do réir Achta Bainisteóireacht na gContae, 1940, is ar an mBainisteóir Contae atá cúramaí áirithe do bhíodh ar na hughdaráis áiteamhla, agus, ar an adhbhar sin, ba riachtanach linn a chur sa mBille seo gur b'é an Cathair-Bhainisteóir, nó an Burg-Bhainisteóir. do choimhlíonfadh dualgais áirithe do bhíodh le coimeád ag na Coistí Freastail Scoile. Ar na dualgais sin tá na neithe bhaineas le stiúradh, le. riaradh, le seirbhís, le príbhléidí agus le pinsin na n-oifigeach, agus freisin, le hughdarú dlighe do chur an chionntuightheoirí faoi'n Acht. Ina theannta sin, dughdróchadh an Bille do Choistí Freastail Scoile fó-choistí do cheapadh.

Ní bheadh mórán ball ins na fóchoistí, agus, ar an adhbhar sin, d'fhéadfaidís teacht le chéile níos minice, san idir-thréimhse, agus féachaint isteach i gcása neimh-fhreastail scoile ionnas go mba luaithe do déanfaí cibé gníomh do bheadh riachtanach Nidh eile, i gcás Bainisteóirí agus Pátrúin do bheadh ina mbaill de Choistí Freastail Scoile, tá an Bille ghá thairgsint go dtabharfaí cumhacht dóibh ionadaidhthe d'ainmniú do dhéanfadh an obair ina n-áit, muna mbeidís féin i ndon na cruinnighthe do fhreastal go féilteamhail. Le neithe teicniceamhla bhaineas an chuid eile de choingheallacha an Bhille, agus ní mian liom trácht orra sin anois díreach.

When we come to deal with the question of primary education, Sir, we are dealing with the most important—if I might call it so— industrial process that we have in the country. We are dealing with the first processing of that material which is to carry on either the tradition of saints and scholars in this country or industrial leadership, political leadership, or whatever kind of social leadership we are going to have in this country. The Taoiseach, speaking on the Education Estimate—the year before last, I think—indicated that, in dealing with that Estimate, we were dealing with the most important Estimate that the House could discuss. I entirely agree. Throughout the world to-day the brains of every person, who has any responsibility for direction or administration, are sharpened to a great intensity, and their energies are alive in a feverish way to making the best out of the resources of their country and out of their people, and when we come to look on such a matter as primary education, in the spirit in which we have to look at it, and when we talk about extending the powers for compulsory school attendance, we at least should try to sharpen our minds and look realistically at the situation. Here, in this country, we have no outside interference, and nothing to interfere with the bringing up of our children in a proper way.

The Deputy must realise that this is not an Estimate, it is a School Attendance Bill.

I suggest, Sir, that it is a Bill for the purpose of improving the machinery for compulsorily sending our young people to school.

And before I deal with the details of the measure, I want to deal with one of the things, which, more than anything else, tend to interfere with or prejudice the good results of the policy which sends our children to school. I am referring particularly to the enormous numbers on the roll of classes for infants, particularly here in the City of Dublin, and I think it well to keep in front of us, either briefly or at length, what is the purpose of primary education, because I hold that, not only the whole foundation of our capacity to develop our industries and run our Government, but the whole character of our people, from the spiritual and moral side, depends to a very great extent on the processing that takes place in our primary schools. As far as religion is concerned—the practice of it and all that—that is generally looked after in the family, and also outside, but as far as the learning or studying of the rudiments are concerned—the written tradition and written dogma of our religion —that is conveyed in the primary schools. So that, from whatever aspect we look at the question, whatever administratively, spiritually, morally, or otherwise, the whole foundation from which our people will be subsequently developed is laid in our primary schools.

The Taoiseach has indicated that, from his point of view, if the children in the primary schools are taught to read, to write, and to calculate, and if they get the type of moral training from their teachers that one would expect them to get from the best parents, everything else will be possible for them after that; that education, as such, is not necessarily something that has to be dealt with in the primary schools, and that the child is put in the primary school with the chief object of enabling him to face whatever will come to him afterwards. Accordingly, the circumstances in which the work of the primary schools is carried on are of the utmost and gravest importance. There is no use in setting up school attendance committees, there is no use in having officers to hunt children in the streets, or in having special courts to deal with the parents of children who are not attending school, if you have not got the proper facilities to train the children in the ordinary way, so that they can learn to read, write, and calculate.

In this connection, I wish to point out that for the last two years I have been trying to draw the attention of the Minister to a section of people in the City of Dublin, and particularly in the North-East of Dublin. I called his attention to 12 schools in Dublin. They were not selected because they were bad schools, but because they were in a particular area. When we were dealing with this question, at the beginning of this year, on the Estimate, I had occasion to complain as to the number of infants on the rolls of classes in certain national schools in the city. I pointed out that in the Central Model Infants' National School, the junior infants were divided into two classes, with 80 pupils on the roll in the first class and 61 in the next. I also pointed out that in that school you had nine classes, and that in every one of them there were more than 50 children on the roll; that in the model school for girls there were 13 classes, and that in four of these there were more than 50 children on the roll; that in Gardiner Street convent school there were 27 classes, and that in 14 of these classes there were more than 50 children on the roll, in seven of these classes more than 60 on the roll, and in three more than 80— in one class there were 86 on the roll, in another 82, and in another 88. I also mentioned that in St. Vincent's (Senior) Girls' School, North William Street, there were more than 50 children on the roll in eight out of the 15 classes, and that in the junior infants' there were 111 children on the roll.

Now, the Minister did not query or deny those figures. They were official figures, but he had to make a case, and in column 794 of volume 87 of the Official Debates of the 2nd June of this year, he said:

"If the position is as is represented to me by the inspectors who have been making inquiries very recently into the matter—that there is an influx at this period of the year, that infant classes have doubled in size in many cases, and that on the 1st July, when the new school year commences, that situation has ended as the infants pass up to the first standard, or from junior infants to senior infants—then I do not see how we can make new arrangements for staffing classes on the basis of an entirely temporary matter which only occurs for a few months in the year."

I then asked the Minister how long would that last, and he said that, possibly, it would be from some time in April to the 1st July. Now, that is a rather substantial period of the year, but the Minister also said—column 795 —with regard to the inspectors:

"They are satisfied that for the past three years—not this year—there is no serious problem of large classes in Dublin, unless the situation has changed since Deputy Mulcahy put down his question. I have not had an opportunity of going into the figures closely. I only got them to-day."

Well, I asked the Minister recently what, again, was the position with regard to these 12 schools, after the change from the swollen classes of the spring. I find that in nine of these schools, where there are 106 classes, there is an average of 53 per class.

Does the Deputy mean 53 on rolls or 53 in attendance?

I mean 53 on rolls. There are 33 classes in which there are more than 50 pupils; 30 classes in which there are more than 60 pupils; one class in which there are 98; one class in which there are 96; one in which there are 80; one in which there are 76; one in which there are 75; one in which there are 69; and one in which there are 71. With the exception of the shockingly big class of 111 infants, which has disappeared, there is no material improvement as between April of this year and the 24th September, 1942.

I have repeatedly pressed this question on the Minister and I have pointed out to him the policy that has been adopted in Great Britain. In regard to 84,000 classes, a policy was instituted in the year 1929 to reduce all classes so that there would not be a class with more than 50 pupils in it. At that particular time in the urban districts generally, 7.9 per cent. of the classes had over 50 pupils in them. That was reduced by 1938 to 1.6. per cent. In the county boroughs, where 10.9 of the classes had more than 50 pupils in 1928, it was reduced to 2.4 by 1938. In the City of London, where 10.6 of the classes had 50 children and over, it was reduced to 0.4 by 1938 and over the whole group of schools the percentage of the classes that had 50 children or over in them was reduced from 7.2 to 1.4, in ten years.

Here we are talking about restoring the Irish language through our schools; we are talking about laying the foundations of character, and we take children in the City of Dublin and herd them into classes of from 50 to 98 pupils. If we take the nine schools that I speak of separately, the average number of children per class in each school is 56, 56, 54, 53, 54, 53, 52, 51 and 50. If you are to achieve the object for which you require a Compulsory School Attendance Bill, you must order your classes in the City of Dublin—I do not know what the conditions may be elsewhere—in such a way that a teacher can do the work he is asked to do. We cannot ask our people to face the development of their education or the cultivation of a sense of order and respect for institutions and authority or any capacity to carry on the country's work, unless we give the children, in the formative years of their primary education, a chance of living an orderly life, a chance of receiving their instruction in an orderly way and a chance of feeling that, in their early years, they are helped to develop their minds and their characters by an orderly and effective institution. It is nothing but creating a mob if you take children in their impressionable years and throw them into classes of 60, 70 and 80.

Every other nation in the world is trying to discover how to make the best use of its material. Here, where we have the example of other people abroad, where our own intelligence should tell us that the conditions are wrong, we have our training schools half empty, if not closed; we have any amount of young people looking to the State to help them to finish their education, to give them work of some particular kind, to train them as teachers. How can we face the future if our young people have to begin their education under such conditions, when our teachers are bowed down under the weight of their responsibilities and the impossibility of the task they are asked to carry out? There is no earnestness, there is no sincerity, there is no utility in talking of improving the machinery for enforcing compulsory education until the conditions are improved.

I should have imagined that on the first occasion that this matter was raised in a systematic kind of way here, a couple of years ago, it would have been fully, frankly and effectively faced up to by the Department of Education, because what is the Department of Education doing if it cannot devote its attention to these matters? What does it hope to do in future with the product of these schools? What do we mean by saying we are saving the Irish language in our schools? The Minister has indicated that his inspectors have been looking into these matters. I would like to know what the Minister has to say as a result of the inquiries carried out by his inspectors. I would like to know whether, apart altogether from the type of instruction the children get in these schools, he has asked whether the overcrowding in the classes has had any effect on attendance.

I feel that this is not a matter that we ought to have to argue about. I think the Department of State that is responsible for these things and the Minister who accepts responsibility for the Department should be aware of these things before anybody in the House or anybody outside the House would have an opportunity of drawing attention to them. I do want to know in connection with our policy of enforcing compulsory attendance at school what we are doing to provide a proper and adequate teaching fabric for our children. Why are we leaving our preparatory colleges and our training colleges empty? Why are we leaving the future nation without an adequate supply of teachers? Why are we breaking down a large percentage of the teachers that we have at present, who have very considerable responsibility and very great work to carry out? Why are we doing this as well as not providing a numerically adequate teaching corps?

On the question of the Bill itself I want to know from the Minister whether, taking the average attendance at the present time, and the average attendance before the School Attendance Acts were passed, the cost has been justified. I speak entirely from the situation that exists in the City of Dublin. I understand that before the Act of 1926 was put into operation the average attendance was 84 per cent., and that at the present time it is only 86.8 per cent. It does not seem worth while having the energetic efforts of half a dozen committees, paying a number of officers, and having prosecutions, to spend £10,000 yearly to get an increase of that kind. I do not know what the average attendance was throughout the country before the Act of 1926 was passed. The last report of the Department of Education, up to March, 1940, shows that the average attendance then was 83.9 per cent. If we compare the average attendance of 83.9 throughout the country with the average attendance in Dublin of 86.8 per cent., the average attendance in Dublin with all its facilities, and the proximity of the schools to the children's homes, should be greater when we consider the difficulties under which children attend schools in the country. The Minister indicated that he would make some amendments in Section 8 to bring this Bill more into line with the new managerial powers. I put it to the Minister that the City Manager should be made the chief executive officer.

From the experience of committees in the city, the provision in the Bill with regard to the relations of the City Manager with the staff all indicate in a logical way that these committees have plenty to do to be responsible for policy, for prosecutions, for dealing with details, generally understanding the principles for which the Act has been applied and to see that they are applied effectively by the staff. The City Manager has contact with the machinery now and it would be the greatest possible convenience to the committees if he were made the responsible officer for the general scheme, and to cut out the provision by which the committees would be responsible for the appointment of staff and officers. I do not think that is work for which committees of this kind are suitable. If the City Manager is to be responsible for the staff, then he should be the chief executive officer. The Minister questioned whether I was giving figures of the average attendance or the average on the rolls. Our educational policy should be based on the average on the rolls. The scheme by which the schools are staffed on the average daily attendance is entirely wrong.

A number of matters have to be dealt with in Committee but some of them might be mentioned now. First of all there is the question of the chief executive officer, who I consider should be the City Manager. Then there is a question as to his relation to and control with regard to appointments, as well as the staff of inspectors. The inspectors have a very limited touch with the situation. I understand that while the teachers do a very considerable amount of work in the way of keeping in touch with the people, by giving the inspectors reports on the number of absentees, which are followed up by the inspectors, neither teachers nor committees get adequate explanation or information from the inspectors' reports as to why the children are absent, inasmuch as the present machinery does not give sufficient information with regard to the trouble. The present position in the courts is that there is not adequate recognition of the necessity for having the Act complied with by parents and children.

Therefore, assistance is wanted and it can be provided by the Guards having the power of school attendance officers. If Guards in the city had the power of school attendance officers, they would, without the imposition of much additional duties or responsibilities, be much better able to watch for vagrant children during school hours. A transfer of some authority of that kind to the Guards would check very much the abuse of children staying away from school. I understand that at present in the City of Dublin there are between 7,000 and 8,000 absentees every day. The cases brought to court are very small in number. A little assistance from the Guards, even over a temporary period, would pick up a lot of the leeway, between the small number of children caught by the Act and the present large number of absentees. The committees like to get into touch with the parents if they can, but they find very great difficulty in getting the parents to come to see them when they have to go to a central office in the city. There should be some way in which local committees would have local offices. If there are five committees, each for a particular area, they should have local offices, so that at suitable hours they might make arrangements to interview parents without dragging them across the city. In these matters, a little bit of system would show that people are going to be convenienced in matters in which they ought to be interested. That would make for harmony in administration. The more the committees as a whole are linked up with the parents, the easier it might be to solve some of the present difficulties.

Another matter concerns birth certificates at a particular period, say when a child reaches six years. Perhaps there might be a regulation by which a birth certificate would be submitted for the child, and that it could be available in the same way as a certificate for national health insurance purposes. I think the Minister will have to consider whether he will not introduce an amendment by which it will be necessary, say after a week's absence, to have a medical certificate produced. Whatever improvements can be added to the Bill in Committee, I do not think any of them will be worth while, unless a serious attempt is now made to reduce at once the size of the classes. I understand that it would take 200 additional teachers in the City of Dublin to reduce the classes below 50 per class, that is, to bring about a situation in which children would not be herded into crowded classes. If that is the situation in the city, it is shocking from the point of view of the children, and shocking from the point of view of education in the future. If in the City of Dublin we are looking for 200 teachers the question arises: how many are we looking for in other parts? In the meantime, we have the material for training, we have the institutions, and we have practically a semi-idle nation, because of circumstances over which we have no control. Let us show some earnestness as to what we might do if we had full control over other aspects of our life by facing up to, and definitely doing, what we can and should do in the educational line. I would ask the Minister, when replying to this and to any other suggestions that may be made with regard to this Act, to tell the House frankly why classes of the shocking size that I have mentioned are allowed here, how long they are going to continue to be allowed, and what is his policy generally with regard to them.

First of all, I wish to thank the Minister for his usual courtesy in supplying me with a translation of his introductory speech. Deputy Mulcahy has raised quite a number of important points that undoubtedly call for serious consideration. As he has covered these matters, I do not propose to go into them. I presume that the general aim which the Minister has before him is to secure a better attendance of children at school. With that general aim everybody will have sympathy. On the other hand, in trying to achieve that aim I cannot altogether rid myself of the rather uncomfortable feeling that he may be in danger of running into things, things with which I shall deal in due course, that are much more serious than, for example, getting another even .5 attendance at school. The Minister limited his speech practically completely to pointing out what was in the Bill, and, quite rightly, he stressed three or four particular matters. Generally speaking, they lay in the direction of closer definition, of trying to make things perfectly clear, in reference to the responsibility of parents to take on themselves the natural duty of educating their children, the effort to deal with the very difficult problem of vagrant children, and a closer definition of the clause in the Act of 1926 as regards the question of the employment of children, particularly those under the age of 12.

Roughly speaking, these would be the principal things contained in the Bill. What I should like to have from the Minister is some information on the necessity for the Bill, and I hope he will avail of the opportunity he will have when closing the debate to give the House that information. I do not mean a desire to tighten things up, to define things more strictly and more in detail, but rather to tell the House how the Act that is in operation at the moment has worked, and, if it has not worked, where he thinks the failure lies. Does it lie mainly in the provisions of the Act or in the difficulty of enforcing it in the country, or is it due to the unwillingness of anybody who is entrusted with the enforcing to enforce it? There are a number of people connected with the enforcement of attendance at primary schools: the attendance committees or the Guards on the one hand, and the district justices on the other. What has been the position actually, and what does the Minister look forward to in the direction of a practical improvement? I am stressing these matters, as the Minister I hope will see in a moment, because I feel that I am being asked to make up my mind between balancing two evils. There may be a certain amount of looseness in the Act. If that stood by itself it might be desirable to tighten it up. I shall deal more fully with that when I come to Section 4, but I am not sure whether the actual gain you will get will compensate for what seems to me to be the enunciation of, or the advance towards, rather dangerous principles.

How has the Act worked? I have heard the criticism from some quarters that have been connected with the administration of the Act that the Guards are not the proper authorities. I must say that I have not been convinced by the arguments I have seen put forward in that connection. Deputy Mulcahy referred to the City of Dublin and to his desire that the Guards would play a bigger part than they play at present, so far as the City of Dublin is concerned, which I take it is one of the four scheduled areas. I think the reason why the committees were kept on in certain areas under the 1926 Act —unless my memory plays me false— was the fact that the Commissioner of the Guards at that time said that he had not the Guards to enforce the Act in these particular areas. I would like to know from the Minister, has he experienced any difficulty in getting sufficient Guards in other places to enforce the Act? One township, in the neighbourhood of Dublin, where you have the Guards enforcing the Act has been brought to my notice. There you have 12 schools or so, with a large number of pupils, and the position there is that you have practically one Guard entrusted with the whole administration of the Act. Are there sufficient Guards told off for this particular purpose in the country? I should also like to have from the Minister some account of the effectiveness of the enforcement through the country of the provisions that are there at present. Is the Act being fully enforced? Are the actual powers which the Minister has being carried out as fully as he would like? That point, I suggest to him, is rather important.

Coming now to Section 4 of the Bill, it is a very elaborate effort to expand what was left deliberately vague, so far as I personally was concerned, in the 1926 Act. There is an article in the Constitution, and I quote it not because it is in the Constitution, because I am not quite sure how the courts at the present moment would regard the relative binding force of an Act of the Oireachtas and an Article of the Constitution. But there are principles laid down there about the rights of the family in the matter of education. It says:—

"The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.

Parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes or in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State.

The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State."

The State shall, however, exercise its own rights to see that a minimum of education is given. I do not want to press anything unduly against the Minister, but, when you come to Section 4, I feel you are pointing the way to interfere with that right. I refer to the right not because it is in the Constitution; I think it is higher than the Constitution. I think it is a natural right, and it is a natural right which many people have insisted on for many centuries. I often wonder whether it is a natural right that is sometimes used only as a matter of controversy, but I am taking the right as being a serious one. If the Minister says that, unless he has this right in Section 4, he cannot provide that every child gets education, I put to him this question first: has this section been used? How many parents, roughly—I do not want it in statistics—have been brought before the courts, have pleaded that they are giving an education in their own homes, and have been dealt with by the magistrate on the grounds that they are not satisfying what the State is entitled to demand, a necessary minimum of education?

I would put him a further question: Roughly, what extra percentage of children does he think Section 4 will affect? If it is not very considerable, I put it to the Minister that, as I have said, he is liable if not to violate at least to endanger the principle. Here, the question as to whether a parent is doing his duty is not to be decided by the parent; an inspector of the Department holds an examination—that seems to be what is intended—and it is for him and not for anybody else to decide whether the parent is doing his duty. Is what the Minister gains worth that? I confess I have always attached great importance to this question of parental rights. I recognise the right of the State, subordinated as it is to the right of the parent, but I have to be persuaded that the gains, even to the State, are considerable before I would endanger a right of that kind. Who is to decide the form of the test? I presume Article 42 of the Constitution was carefully drafted in order to safeguard the natural rights of the parent. Taking what the State is entitled to demand, a necessary minimum of education, who is going to decide what that is? You leave no option to anybody once you put it into the hands of an inspector appointed by the Department.

That, I would suggest to the Minister, was the reason why the old section, so far as I was concerned at all events, was left deliberately vague. At the present moment, as I understand this section, if an inspector says sufficient education is not being given to the child, there is no answer on the part of the parent. When the parent is brought up before the court, he is guilty; he cannot undertake to prove there that he is giving a sufficient amount of education. In that way, the rights of the parent would very easily be violated, and I am not at all convinced that the game is worth the candle. That is the reason why I should have liked from the Minister some indication of what he expects to gain.

It is quite natural for any Department to wish to tighten up the machinery, but I am putting it that you may be in danger of paying too high a price for getting rid of jagged ends. I often wonder whether anybody in this country takes seriously Article 42 of the Constitution, or whether any parent thinks of asserting his right in that particular matter. Personally, it is a principle which I have always tried to observe in any particular policy of education in which I was interested. That I will confess is my principal uneasiness about this Bill. It seems to me that you are treading on distinctly dangerous ground, and I do not think the excuse is big enough for the risk. What kind of test is envisaged? Is it an examination by the inspector, or what else? Who will determine the type of that? I put forward that matter, and will be interested to listen to or read the reply of the Minister. As the Minister knows, I am not putting it forward in any controversial spirit whatever. I know the difficulties. In 1926, when the Bill was being introduced, I was fully aware of all the pitfalls that there are in a Bill of this kind, and I tried to avoid them as much as possible. I do not say I always succeeded. I was often even doubtful about some of the powers that the State at that time took to itself, and I feel now that by a closer definition we are advancing still nearer to the danger line, if we have not gone beyond it.

The next really important matter in the Bill is contained in Section 19, where an effort is made to deal with the children of vagrants. There you are in a different position. In the first case, I was speaking of the ordinary parent, settled definitely in the town or country, who puts forward a plea that sufficient education is being given to the child at home, and who prefers that method of educating the child. In Section 19 you are dealing with a different case, namely, where a parent has neglected his duty as a parent. Where there is obvious and open neglect of his duty there are plenty of precedents as to how that should be dealt with.

Section 19 is a very important section and removes at least some difficulties in that it makes certain things more definite and indicates where action can be taken. Some very difficult cases have arisen under the Act of 1926, especially the case of a person moving around the country who has no fixed residence. What is going to happen in that case? Take the case of the ordinary vagrant with a family—and there are a number of them who still wander around the country. Can anything else happen to him other than that his children will be taken away from him and sent to an industrial school? Is that the purpose? If these people are moving from one place to another how are they to send their children to school for a quarter of the year? I am not, however, raising any question of principle in that regard. These people are neglecting their plain, obvious duty. It is only a question of what procedure will be adopted to deal with them. How they can fulfil their duty if they are really vagrants in the fullest sense of the word, I do not know. The section, so far as it helps to solve the problem, is as a whole to be welcomed.

Then there is the question of employment. Again, this is an expansion. I think it is possible, from what I can gather from people who have spoken to me on the matter, that some of the district justices have felt difficulty in interpreting Section 26, I think, of the Act of 1926, and they certainly would welcome a closer definition than you have in this section. But what is to happen the parent who does not allow his child to be employed by somebody else, but who exacts from the child a great deal of extra work? That case, I think, is not covered. I do not say it can be covered, but I wonder whether it has occupied the mind of the Minister. Various provisions of the Bill which aim at closer definition are to be welcomed, but I confess that I am not quite clear as to what is meant by paragraph (ii) of sub-section 1, Section 7. This is more a committee point, I will admit, than a point of general principle. The paragraph states:

"... the employment on any school day shall not exceed three hours in duration and shall not begin before the hour of 7.30 a.m., and shall not, in so far as it takes place before noon, exceed one hour in duration, and shall end not later than the hour of 9 p.m."

That means, I suppose, that two hours of the employment can take place in the afternoon, but on first reading it was not quite clear to me. Paragraph (d) of the same sub-section, which is a sub-section which is meant to define things very accurately, practically throws the whole section again open to the district justice. Having gone to great pains up to then to define everything, it appears from that paragraph that it is left to the discretion of the district justice to decide whether the things referred to in the previous sub-sections interfere with the proper education of the child. What is the meaning of the previous sub-sections if we leave it to the district justice to decide this problem? It may be said that it limits his discretion. The previous paragraphs do, but certainly that paragraph confers a great deal of discretion on him again.

I notice generally, as I have said, a tendency to tighten up the provisions but is it really intended to enforce Section 15 as it stands? If it is not, I think it is a mistake. The City of Dublin, the City of Cork and the towns are not the only places in the country. There are areas called rural districts as well, and people still live on the farms of this country, notwithstanding the efforts of the Government. I put it to the Minister, is it reasonable to prosecute a man living two miles from a school if he does not immediately on the day following the absence of his child from school give notice to the teacher of the cause of such absence? He might find it impossible or difficult to do so but yet he is liable to be prosecuted for this offence. Whether the district justice is entitled to let him off on the ground that he was expected to do something that was not reasonable is another matter. When the original Act was being drafted, that question of a proper interval was considered. It was thought reasonable then to give three days because we had the country districts in mind, but here the country districts seem to be left out of account. This provision means that the parent cannot use the post office, if there is a post office near him, to give the required notice to the teacher. What I fear in this case is that you are enacting something that is not going to be enforced. Again I am wondering as to whether what is wrong with the School Attendance Act as it stands is the faulty provisions of the Act or the fact that what is contained in the Act is not being enforced. For that reason I was hoping I would get an indication from the Minister, not alone of the provisions of the Act—he has given these fairly—but some indication of why the present Bill is necessary.

These are the principal points to which I wish to draw the Minister's attention. Deputy Mulcahy mentioned other points. They are of importance so far as the whole working of education in this country is concerned. I understand—I do not know where I saw it quoted recently—that the Taoiseach on one occasion said that there would be no lack of money so far as education is concerned. For overcrowding, the only excuse is the cost. We know perfectly well that you shut down training colleges. We know you have the panel system—a very bad system, it seems to me, and a very dangerous system, too. When you have all that, it must be a question of cost. Is it? If so, let it be stated boldly and bluntly that it is a question of cost and nothing else that is preventing smaller classes and a sufficient supply of teachers in order to secure smaller classes. However, it is really Section 4 that makes me genuinely uneasy. I have to be convinced that it is absolutely necessary and I should like to know from the Minister, as I have said already, and I stress it again, what return in the way of a percentage or a decimal fraction of a percentage he expects to get from that section.

I am anxious to know what the Minister expects to gain by this Bill. I gather he is going to give extra power to attendance officers to make attendance at school more effective. I was rather alarmed to hear Deputy Mulcahy state that there were 7,000 children daily absent from school in Dublin. We have not that big number in Cork, but the attendance of school children in Cork has been somewhat disturbing for the past year or two. I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan that it would be interesting to know what is really wrong that makes this Bill necessary. I would like to know if the Minister thinks that the bad attendance in schools might not be due to bad social conditions, bad housing and poverty.

The school attendance committee in Cork recently was somewhat disturbed at the reduction of school attendances this year as against last year and asked for a report from the school attendance officers as to what they considered to be the cause. Probably the Minister has seen a copy of that report. The officers there are very efficient and we have good reason to be proud of them. On one or two occasions they have complained to me that they are handicapped in not having sufficient powers to deal with the children who are not going to school, and have said that it is too easy to get a certificate from a doctor that the child is justified in being absent. There is a good deal of laxity, perhaps, on the part of some children, but I would like to give one or two of the points mentioned in the report. The officers say that one of the reasons for such a falling off in attendance was the increase in poverty this year as against last year, the increase of contagious skin disease, the lack of clothing, and semi-starvation in many of the homes. They also stated that some of the parents told them they would not send the children to school, as they would have to leave in the morning without a substantial breakfast and would not have much to bring with them.

I suggest that the lack of anxiety of some of the parents to give their children the minimum of education is due to poverty and bad housing and bad social conditions. These officers commented on the number of children absent. They investigated cases and found that many of the parents were unemployed. They bring out the point that the bad attendance of most of the children was due to poverty. I would like to hear the Minister's view as to whether we should not start off by giving some kind of incentive to parents to educate their children. I have taken some interest in cases where children did not go to school and have been taken to see some of the places where they were born and reared; and I can say that it is difficult to think there could be any desire or hope for the future in the minds of those parents.

I see difficulty in dealing with the question of the children of vagrants throughout the country: it is hard to know how to deal with them. I do not think there is any great fear that the State will interfere unduly with family life, as Deputy O'Sullivan fears. I have good reason to say, about many parents in Cork City, that the way they are struggling to educate their children, in the stress and circumstances of to-day, is marvellous. It seems to me that much of the lack of attendance at school is due to bad social conditions and poverty.

The previous speakers have dealt with many important aspects of this Bill and it is not my intention to refer to the points they have made, but there are one or two other points which I would like the Minister to consider before the Committee Stage is taken. In Section 9—non-attendance at meetings of members of the school attendance committee—it is intended to disqualify a member from membership of that committee if absent from three consecutive meetings. I think that should be amended in some form or other, as it may deprive a very qualified member of that committee from membership, though he may be absent through no fault of his own. That is a small point, but there are others which are more important.

Section 16 gives power to school attendance officers in respect of children found out of school. The Minister intends to give power to an inspector, having questioned the child, to use force, and I contend that that power should not be given to any official of any kind. If there is an occasional child from whom the officer cannot get satisfactory replies to his questions, there are many ways which he can be dealt with—for example, by going to his place of residence— besides giving power to use force on anyone's child. Regarding the failure of parents to comply with the Act, there is a very good scheme in operation at present under school attendance committees, under Section 17 of the School Attendance Act, 1926, whereby parents who do not send their children to school are supplied with a warning form and are brought before the committee. I intend to move some amendments on the Committee Stage, and would ask the Minister to give these points his consideration in the meantime.

The Bill is a very important one and if, as already suggested, the Minister can secure an increased attendance of children, he would be doing a good thing for the education of our youth. It is lamentable that a large number of school children are absent from school each day, and this machinery may make some improvement in that. Amendments on the lines suggested should be acceptable to the Minister, as each member of the House wishes to help him in improving the present situation.

This is an amending Bill and, therefore, few matters of principle arise upon it. I am not going to delay the House with a discussion of Committee points on this Second Stage, as one or two important matters of principle do arise on this School Attendance Bill — amending Bill though it be. The first of these is as to where we are going to draw the line about poking our nose into our neighbour's family. I hear Deputies piously saying that it is a very good thing to make children go to school, but does any Deputy want a Government inspector coming in to snoop about his house in the morning in order to find out whether he sent his children to school or not, and, if not, why he did not do so? I think every Deputy would resent that and say: "Go away and do not be annoying me; it is no business of yours." The Minister may reply that the greater good demands that some compulsion be brought to bear on recalcitrant parents, but he must admit that this effort by the State to force parents to do certain things is an undesirable feature of modern bureaucracy.

He may say that it is only to avoid a greater evil—the evil resulting from certain parents failing to do their elementary duty by their children. How many parents fail to do that? And are we seriously to impinge upon the sacred character of family relations throughout the whole State in order to catch the very microscopic minority of parents who fail to do their duty by their children?

I watch the growth of bureaucracy in this and every other country with growing alarm and consternation. The number of elected people in the world at present who think they can run their neighbours' families and businesses better than their neighbours can, is positively consternating. What Deputy in this House is prepared to invite his 137 colleagues to rear his family for him? Yet, Deputies are going to let loose on every unoffending citizen a school attendance officer who can pull children through the streets, arrest them in the streets and drag them by force to the houses of their parents, on the ground that he does not think the parents are doing their duty by the children.

Suppose that one of the children of a Deputy is going down the street to buy twopence worth of barley sugar, and a school attendance officer stops him and says: "Why are you not at school?" The lad, possibly an impudent little fellow, may say: "What the hell has it to do with you?" The next performance is that the child will be dragged through the streets, screaming and roaring, to the house of its parents. When the door is opened the officer asks if the child belongs there, but then if he hears it is Mr. Derrig's child, or General Mulcahy's child, he "beats" it as fast as ever he can go. But if it is Pat Murphy's child, Pat Murphy will be called down to the parlour and asked to give a reason why the child was out buying barley sugar instead of going to school. Before all the neighbours the child and its family are made a show of, and are held up to ridicule. Possibly, if a good reason is vouchsafed to the inspector, he will be satisfied and he will depart, but, nevertheless, a lot of damage is done, and a certain amount of annoyance and humiliation is inflicted on the parents.

The civil servant, or the Minister, sitting in remote seclusion in the city, thinks that these things cannot happen, or, if they do, it is a very rare occurrence. That is damn poor consolation to the unfortunate man who is made a joke of before his neighbours. That is one aspect of it.

On the grounds of highest principle, is it desirable to interpose, between the child and its parents, the State? I do not think we should ever create in the mind of the child the idea that there is any authority to which it owes a duty except its parents. In the case of a child below 14 years, the parents should be the sole object of civil obedience and devotion. Do we want to institute in this country, as there is instituted in some continental countries, a divided allegiance between parents and children? Do we want to set up here the conviction that a child has some particular duty and relationship to the State independent of its parents? Do we want the day to dawn when Irish children can be used for the purpose of spying on their parents? Do we want the family divided or not? If we do not, the less we bring the State between parents and children, the better for the society in which we live.

As I understand the Taoiseach's position, he is 100 per cent. for the construction of a society upon the foundation of the family. In that I am in entire agreement with him. I do not want my words to be taken as an implied suggestion that the Fianna Fáil Government has made up its mind to uproot the family institution, because I do not think it has; but although there is pretty general agreement here about the preservation of the family and the protection of its integrity as a matter of prime importance, we might quite unconsciously be permitting the slow spread of bureaucracy to strike a very serious blow, in the name of expediency, at a principle to which we are all profoundly attached. This continual nagging and gnawing and poking our noses into the family circles of our neighbours is calculated very seriously to injure the family institution.

The proper persons to see that children go to school are the parents who, under the law of God Almighty, are invested with the duty of rearing the children. Some may say that parents are not the best persons to do that, but the law of God Almighty ordained that children should be brought up by their parents. Maybe He did not know His business, but I say He does, and I say that He knows His business better than Dáil Eireann. I am prepared to take a risk on the contention that the Divine plan is the better plan, and that no human tinkering with that system is calculated to improve matters. Were I in Dáil Eireann when the first School Attendance Bill was introduced, I would be extremely reluctant to support it, because I think the purpose it was designed to achieve could have been, and would have been, achieved by other means without this detestable business of invoking State intervention within the family circle.

I observe that under Section 15, whenever a child is attending a national or other suitable school, but is absent from such school on any day or days on which he should attend, his parent shall, not later than the next day after the day or the first of the days of such absence, communicate to the teacher the cause of such absence. Suppose a parent makes up his mind that he wants to keep his child at home, in his absolute discretion, is that a good cause? Is it reasonable to ask the Minister is that such a cause as is anticipated by this section—if the parent simply writes and says, "I have decided to keep Tommy at home to-day"?

It will not be accepted, I hope—it has not been.

Under the original Act it would not be accepted.

Does the Dáil deny the right to a parent, in his absolute discretion, as the Divinely appointed guardian of the child, to withhold that child from school on a given day if he thinks it right to do so? Does the Legislature claim the right to deny that?

If you admit the right for one day, why limit it to one day?

You are treading on dangerous ground. Does the Legislature declare that it suspends the family institution at the point at which the parent in his absolute discretion, would say: "I have determined, in his best interests, not to allow the boy to go to school to-day"? Is the Oireachtas to intervene and say: "We will not allow you to do that"? If you feel entitled to say that, where are you going to stop? Are you going to say to parents: "The child must have four meals a day," and will you go on to say: "At the four meals he must not drink tea."? I can vouchsafe that there are many parents in the country giving their children a diet every day of their lives which is a damn sight more injurious to those children than one day's absence from a national school. But does Oireachtas Eireann claim the right to go into every home in the country, call the mother and father and say that their child must get four meals a day—that he must get at his breakfast oatmeal porridge, sugar, milk, no tea, but a slice of wholemeal bread and butter; that he must get such and such at his lunch; that he must get something else at his tea, and something else at his dinner? If we claim that right, why do we not take all the children and put them on farms, taking them away altogether from their parents? I deny that right. I say that such legislation is unthinkable in a Christian country and carries no moral sanction, and that there would be not only a right but an obligation on Christian men to resist it as an absolutely impermissible intrusion by the State into the family which has rights precedent to the State.

I have never seen any breach made in a fundamental principle in this House that, within five or 10 years after it was made, an attempt was not made to widen it. The School Attendance Bill was passed 16 years ago, and now we are confronted with Sections 15, 16 and 17 of this Bill. Who wants this Bill? Is there this great evil, for if there is, I know nothing of it? Is there some extraordinary outbreak of absence from school in the cities that we in the country know nothing of, and if there is, have the matters mentioned by Deputy Hickey been carefully considered? Have we concerned ourselves to remove the obstacles before we lightly undertake to increase compulsion? I am perfectly certain we have not.

I know schools in rural Ireland— never mind schools in the City of Dublin—to which I should be very slow to send a child. They are dirty, damp, draughty, miserable hovels, with sanitary accommodation substantially inferior to the ubiquitous ditch. Have we put that state of affairs right before we determine to tighten the screw in order to force children to go to such places? Have we the right to seek powers to enforce more rigidly the Compulsory School Attendance Act, unless we are satisfied that there are suitable schools to which every child can be sent? I do not believe that the Minister for Education or the Taoiseach for one moment believes that all the schools in the country are suitable for the children who are intended to go there, and surely before we start employing more compulsion, we ought to see that they are suitable. Surely we ought to satisfy ourselves that the cause of any absence which is occurring at present is not poverty and starvation in the home. Surely we ought to be clear in our minds that the absence for which we prescribe compulsion is not due to disease or hunger.

Deputy Hickey is a reasonable man. He has read an extract from a report by the school attendance officer in the City of Cork, and that man says that absence from school is largely due to hunger, that it is due to disease and to the fact that the children have not clothes to go to school in. Has the Minister taken cognisance of this before drafting this Bill? I cannot conceive that he has, because, if he did, he could not have forborne to mention it, and I have heard nothing of it from him so far.

I detest this whole business of declaring by implication that the parents of this country are unfit to raise their own children. The parents of this country raised their children before the Board of Education was ever heard of. I do not blame the individual members of the Department, but I blame the whole bureaucratic passion for undertaking everybody else's work. So far as the Minister for Supplies and the other Ministers are concerned, they are merely nuisances. They are like a bad smell filtering into everybody's house, but which can be blown out by opening the windows; but the Department of Education is eating at the foundations of the house. It is not content to come in the door and be blown out the window. It wants to take itself into the very centre of the home. It wants to claim a pre-emptive right to control your children and to dispose of their lives.

Deputy Morrissey asks: "If you let a parent keep his child at home for one day, where are you going to draw the line?" I ask, in reverse: "If you claim the right to limit a parent's discretion in the upbringing of his child, where are you going to draw the line?" In what has that resulted in every other country in the world? Has it not ultimately resulted in the conclusion that the State is very much better able to bring up children than the parents—that, brought up in institutions, brought up in camps, far away from parental influence, they become better citizens than if they were left to the chance beneficence of the parents God gave them? I take the old-fashioned view. I would sooner see a child brought up by the least sophisticated parent in the world than by the most efficient institution or body of bureaucrats which a democracy or dictatorship ever produced, and what the child in its home may lose on the swings, it will more than recover on the roundabouts.

Again I want to interpolate that I am not suggesting that the Taoiseach or the Minister are out on a great campaign to destroy the family institution in this country—I am quite convinced that they are not—but what I am saying is that they have allowed themselves to be convinced that this school attendance problem is of a character which requires further compulsion, and that, in the course of that compulsion, they may be doing damage to a very sacred principle by allowing a still greater incursion upon it than was originally made 16 years ago. Deputy Byrne and other Deputies from the city know more about the school attendance problem in the city and the special difficulties with which parents resident in the city are confronted than I do, but I know something about the problem in rural Ireland. I know the wretched little damp, windy, ill-kept bandboxes scattered about the bogs into which children are herded every day, with wet clothes, wet feet and perished with cold. They bring a sod of turf under their arms and try to kindle a bit of fire, but long before the fire is lighted and is giving out any heat, it is time for the children to go home.

It is not the teachers' fault and it is not the managers' fault, because the problem of providing rural schools is one which ought to be undertaken by the central administration. All this ridiculous "codology" goes on whenever a parish priest wants to build a new school. There is a fight that 40 people could join in as to how much the parish priest shall contribute and how much the Department shall contribute. I have often seen a sow or a litter of bonhams sold more quickly, more cheaply and with less annoyance than the matter of determining how much the parish priest shall contribute and how much the Department shall contribute to the erection of a new school.

I recently had before me at the Public Accounts Committee a case in which one of these little exchanges took place, and by the time the pair of them had finished 40 per cent. of the children in the parish had got no education for a year. The school fell down in the middle of the transactions, and for 12 months there was no school. The teachers were paid their full salary, but 40 per cent. of the children in the district got no education. I forget whether they ever got a school at all.

I am now going to suggest to the Minister what I suggested to him ten years ago, nine years ago, eight years ago, and seven years ago, and I suppose that now, on the occasion of the eleventh or twelfth mentioning of it, I may hope that we will begin to get somewhere. I taught the Minister how to deal with juvenile delinquents. It took me seven years to do it. I taught him his duty to those who were in industrial schools and it took me a long time to convince him. Now, I propose to continue my instruction on his duty to the children attending the rural schools throughout the country before he attempts to apply the thumbscrew to the parents to force them to send their children more regularly to these schools. Why is this country unlike any other civilised country in the world? Why has it not central schools to which children are brought every morning in buses and carried home in buses to their own districts in the evening? In the western states of America, 60 years ago, they had little national schools such as we have in the Province of Connacht at present. Thirty years ago, they abolished those schools in the western states. Only in the depths of Carolina will you find rural schools such as we have at present. Decent central schools were erected, shelters were put up and children were brought from within a radius of four or five miles to the central school. There they were deposited at 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock in the morning. At the schools, there were baths, recreation facilities, gymnasia, decent classrooms, equipment to give the children a substantial meal in the middle of the day and provision to do their home work, so called, in the afternoon. When their work was done, they were deposited at home and told to amuse themselves in the sunshine.

What happens here? These unfortunate creatures are dragged out on foot to the damp bandboxes I have described, whether there is hail, rain or snow. Under Section 16, if they do not face the weather, they will be asked why they were not at school, and the almanack will be looked up to see whether last Tuesday week was sufficiently wet to provide an excuse for their non-attendance at school. Having been kept in school in their wet clothes until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the children are sent home with enough home work to keep them going for three or four hours. There is only one candle between five children, who sit around the kitchen table and pull the candle, one from another, in order to get their work done.

The Deputy has now gone outside the ambit of the Bill.

I am suggesting that the Minister provide the right kind of schools to which these children can go.

In suggesting the provision of good schools the Deputy is in order, but I think that he has gone beyond that.

Nobody would dare to suggest that these children be kept at school after 3 o'clock in order to complete their homework, so called. To keep them there until 3 o'clock is bad enough, but to suggest that they do their homework there would be ludicrous, because, as Deputies know, there is not even a candle in the national schools, and the children might have to do their work with the light of the turf fire. Why have we not decent, central schools, or why should we not build them? The children could be brought into them, we could see that they got a decent meal in the middle of the day and that proper equipment for that purpose was provided, and they could have their homework done there before being shipped home in the evening, if necessary, by ass and cart, or horse-lorry or whatever vehicles we have to use in this time of shortage but, ordinarily, in buses. I do not suggest that the vehicle should go round with Johnnie, Tommy and Mary and leave each at his or her own door. What I suggest is that they be brought to shelters, erected for that purpose, from which they could disperse to their own homes. Before thumbscrew measures be applied, something along the lines suggested by Deputy Hickey and myself should be exhaustively examined. My experience of the Taoiseach in regard to matters of education is that, unlike his ordinary self, he is a very reasonable man. I would be glad to hear his views on this matter.

On this Bill relative to school attendance, a debate on education would not be in order.

I am dealing with the question whether the Minister for Education has provided schools into which it would be reasonable to force animals, not to speak of children. A great many schools are not fit for the housing of animals, not to speak of children. Before we provide new sanctions to force parents to send their children to these schools, we ought to effect improvements in many of the schools. On the family aspect of this subject and on the question of school accommodation, the Taoiseach is, probably, in agreement with me, but perhaps he is too discreet a man to admit that his Minister for Education has fallen down on the job. There is no necessity for him to maintain even the pretence that any of his colleagues approximates to efficiency. We all know that they do not. He is the Grand Panjandrum, and the rest of them do not measure up to their responsibilities. He need not take the trouble of pretending that they do. It will not do any harm to admit that they do not——

This is not a vote of confidence in the Government.

The problems envisaged by this Bill might be overcome if proper measures were taken by the Minister for Education. If he put his mind to that aspect of the matter, he might be able to find a solution other than the detestable provisions included in this Bill.

Mr. Byrne

My criticisms of the Bill will be very few, and I hope constructive. Nearly all that I wanted to say has been said so effectively by Deputy Dillon that I shall not refer to many of the things to which I wished to draw attention. The Bill is intended to make provision for the better attendance of children at school. My first constructive suggestion is that we should make the schools more attractive by heating them and lighting them properly. We should carry out our own Constitution which guarantees free education to our citizens. Most of the children who fail to attend school as regularly as we should like them to do are barefooted and scantily clad, and if we inquire we shall find that they left their homes with very little, if any, breakfast.

The lowly-paid worker's child and the unemployed person's child are denied, when at school, the free education guaranteed by our Constitution. Free books are provided in certain cases after an extraordinarily difficult and objectionable form is signed by the parents. Exercise books, which are now fairly costly and which the children must have, are almost unobtainable by these children. A person on poor law relief or in receipt of unemployment benefit has to try to find 4d. for what a couple of years ago was known as the "penny exercise book". They got no increase in their allowances to provide that extra 3d. Kindergarten equipment, essential to the education of small girls, is also denied to them, although a proposal was carried in this House for the provision of free books. I was in one of the biggest and best convent schools in the country, where many of the children were unable to procure the coppers necessary for the provision of kindergarten equipment and the teachers, who, as everybody knows, are not overpaid, had to meet the cost out of their own pockets. That is not fair to the teacher.

Surely the Deputy does not want to go into the whole administration of education?

Mr. Byrne

No. I want to show that if we make the school attractive and not have children going to school in fear because they have not got a fourpenny exercise or the necessary kindergarten equipment they will not have an excuse for staying at home. If these things are provided, I believe there will be a better attendance at the schools. As I say, I have seen teachers paying for lunch for the children and for exercise books. Yet, unfortunately, the attendance goes down, and the last teachers in lose their employment because of the drop in the attendance. I submit that the teachers should be paid by the number on the roll.

Which submission is wide of the Bill.

Mr. Byrne

Then I should like to draw attention to some of the clauses in the Bill on which I have made a few notes. The Bill says that if transport is at a reasonable distance from the child's residence the child must attend. It does not say that the bus or other transport will carry the child free of charge to school. Although the child may not be able to find the fare for the transport to bring it to school that will not be taken as an excuse by the school attendance committee. I have referred to the fact that children are without boots and clothing. A few weeks ago in this city I saw children in a school who were cold and almost naked. I saw one shivering child with a wet summer blouse on her and the teacher wrapping a flannel muffler around here in order to take the blouse away to dry it.

There is another clause here which I personally object to, and that is giving the right to anybody to keep a child between the ages of 12 and 14 at home to do work when we have so many children between 14 and 16 unemployed. A large number of children in this city who leave school at 14 years of age do not get employment for a year or two after they leave school. A good many of them go to the technical schools, but there is not room in these schools for them all. Another thing to which I wish to draw attention, and which I do not think is acceptable to school attendance committees, is having a child suffering from ringworm in the head going to school. Ringworm, as everybody knows, is infectious. Why should a child suffering from ringworm be permitted to go to school, much less sent for and punished, as one Deputy said, in order to make it go to school? That child may wear a cap on its head, but other children coming in contact with it are in danger of getting the ringworm. The mother of the child who sits next to it in school may hear of this and keep her child at home. To my own knowledge mothers have kept their children away from school for that reason and tried to make some excuse for doing so. These points should be considered.

Then I come to the question of the period at which a child can be transferred to another school. It is only at the end of a certain period that a child can be transferred to a new school. Surely a mother should have the right to transfer her child to another school whenever she wants to. The school may be a long distance from the child's residence, and if the mother wants to change the child to another school, surely she should have the right to do so without waiting for the special period mentioned. Sub-section (2) of Section 5, states:—

"The fact that the certificate mentioned in sub-section (3) of Section 15 of the Principal Act is not available at the time when a transfer is made under this section shall not of itself render such transfer a contravention of this section."

I should like the Minister to tell us under what conditions the certificate or the transfer form will not be available.

Section 11 places a very serious responsibility on sub-committees of school attendance committees. If a sub-committee is responsible for dealing with cases of absence, what are the special duties of the monthly committee? Why give a sub-committee power to deal with this matter without reporting to the full committee and getting sanction for whatever action may be taken? I do not know how many members are to be put on a school attendance committee, but I do not think a sub-committee should get full power to deal with that matter.

Sub-section (4) of Section 18 states:

"Whenever a school has been inspected under this section, the Minister shall, as soon as conveniently may be, inform the manager or conductor of such school of the result of such inspection."

I am aware that it is customary, although it is not compulsory, for the teachers to get a copy of these reports as well as the manager. I think the teachers who have the welfare of their children at heart should be informed of what is in the committee's report. I suggest that the school inspection report should be sent to the teachers as well as to the manager. Finally, I come to a point which has been dealt with by Deputy Dillon and which probably is outside the scope of the Bill.

A dangerous preface!

Mr. Byrne

It may be necessary at certain times to take a child from its parents and send it to an industrial school. I do not mind children who have no parents being sent to these splendid institutions, because they are well looked after there. But if the parents of a child want to take it home, I think a shorter term should be provided for—say, three months or six months, and not three years or six years as has happened in many cases. I have drawn the Minister's attention to cases where the detention of children for three years in these institutions had broken the parents' hearts and almost broke up the home as well. I would suggest a period of three months. With Deputy Dillon, I have joined in a campaign to try to get the Minister to deal with the question of child delinquency in the way it should be dealt with. After my return from America I drew attention to the way in which these children were dealt with there. I also drew the Minister's attention to the way in which such children were dealt with in Glasgow. Thank God, the Minister has wakened up and a very desirable body in this city is now dealing with child delinquency without having the children brought to the police court or put to the awful ordeal of being dragged through the streets or locked up in the awful ordeal of being dragged through the streets or locked up in the detention camp at Summerhill, where Deputy Dillon at one time said he would not like to see greyhounds or terriers kept. I shall not go any further. I think I have gone beyond my usual time, which generally extends to about ten minutes, but I hope that the Minister will seriously consider the suggestions I have put forward: that the schools may be made more attractive, that the children may be better fed, and that provision will be made for giving a hot meal in the schools, because I believe that all these things will help to increase the attendance and keep the rolls at the point where they should be, and they would also help to keep teachers in decent employment.

Tomás O Maoláin

Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Bhí Bille de'n tsóirt seo ag teastáil go gear uainn le fáda. Baineann sé le poinntí a thug trioblóid do h-oifigi freastail scoile, dos na coisdí agus do daoine eile a cuireann suim i gcúrsaí oid-aonais, go mor-mor dos na múinteóirí. Tá feabhsuighthe mor leagtha amach annseo agus, do réir an Bille seo, beidh na h-oifigí agus na coisdí in ann obair i bhfad nios fearr a dheanamh nuair a bheidh na feabhsuighthe seo i bfeidhm ar fud na cathrach agus na tíre. B'olc an scéal é go raibh agus míle de daoinibh óga ar strac ar sráideacha Bleath Cliath amháin gach lá sa tseachtain agus tá suil agam go gcuirfear an t-Acht nuadh i bfeidmh chomh daingean agus chomh luath agus is féidir.

In general, Sir, this amending Bill meets the points that have been raised here from time to time in connection with school attendance. These points kept cropping up in school life and in home life, and also in the experience of social organisations which were dealing, in conjunction with school, State and Church, with the problem of making the best use of the money that is being spent upon education in this country, and in endeavouring to educate our youth in a manner that would be as fitting as possible for the young children of a free nation. That a tightening-up process was necessary was very obvious to people who had any experience of what was happening. When I mentioned here, on the Education Estimate, that there were at least 7,000 absentees from school per day who could be at school—that is the difference between the 86 per cent. and the 94 per cent., which is a reasonable figure at which to aim—there was general surprise. I think it is generally admitted now that these figures are, to say the least of it, a very conservative estimate of the number of children who are roaming about the streets of one city alone every day, who could be at school and who, in the majority of cases, are in poor circumstances and could be getting a meal at midday in the school which, perhaps, in the very poorest homes, they would not be able to get otherwise.

Now, anyone who knows anything about life or about children—and I have had to listen to a lot of generalities and extraneous matters introduced here; matters that were not mentioned in this Bill—must know that it is very easy to get careless, that one spot of carelessness leads to another spot of carelessness, and that the habits acquired in youth, if they are good, generally lead the boy or girl into good paths in after life. Many know, by experience, that having trodden a path that, perhaps, is not the best, it is very hard to get back and correct the habits that have been formed in youth. People who have spoken so eloquently to-night about the freedom of the individual, the sanctity of the home, and so on, should have taken other factors into consideration also. They should have realised that there is more than the home to be considered. The home is not the only unit in the life of the country, although it is the best. Besides the home, there are the parents, the teacher, the priest, the guardians of the law; and all these are formed into the one homogeneous whole, which is called the nation. When one particular aspect of the life of the youth of a country, or of the life of a nation, is taken out of its context and paraded as an argument in favour of one particular section of a community, the very best, certainly, is not being done to utilise all our resources or to build up our nation in the way in which we should like to see it built up.

I have referred to the money that has been spent on education in this country. I have no figures with me at the moment, but I should say that, probably, the amount that has been spent on education in this country is at least as high as in any country in the world and, perhaps, much higher than in many countries in the world. Now, the question to which we, as a democratic people, no matter to what Party we belong, should devote a lot of attention is towards seeing that the very poorest of our people—and the very poorest in this State are entitled to the highest positions in the State— shall not suffer through any kind of carelessness, and that no social circumstances shall prevent any citizen of this State, no matter how poor he may be, from reaching his objective.

The argument that I have heard used here to-night struck me as being very futile in certain cases. If that argument were brought to its logical conclusion, why should it be only as regards education that we should allow the individual to do as he likes? Why should we not do the same thing in the Department of Supplies and the Department of Local Government or any other Department? Why should we not remove all control and restrictions on the individual? Is that the concept of a Christian State? Is that the concept of the home? What does a good father or a good mother do? They guide the children and, when necessary, they correct. Do they, in their own home, allow the children to do as they wish? If children are not allowed to do as they like in the home, why should they be allowed to do it in such an important institution as the school?

To return to the practical matters in this Bill. I was very glad to see that the question of the districts has been settled in such a manner that the school attendance officer can deal with the cases as he finds them in school with the advice of the teacher and the manager. Mention has been made of different excuses that are made in respect of absence from school. Take the one that Deputy Byrne mentioned a few minutes ago—ringworm—a contagious disease. The school medical officer is the only doctor who issues a certificate without payment, and the certificate issued by a school medical officer is always to the point and is generally reliable. I do not for one moment intend to convey that certificates of other medical officers would be unreliable, but it is the job of the school medical officer to deal with cases of that type. The school medical officer has specialised in illnesses that are peculiar to children and he is the best doctor for children. I am sure Deputy Byrne will agree that the City of Dublin school medical service is a splendid service, located in a splendid modern building in Lord Edward Street, and easily accessible to any part of the city. There is a first-class staff of doctors, nurses and other officers. A periodical general examination is made of all pupils in the schools. In addition, the doctors are present in Lord Edward Street every evening after school hours and on Saturday mornings to attend to special cases that are brought to their notice.

Parents are encouraged to take their children there whenever there is anything wrong, and if the child cannot be attended at Lord Edward Street, the parent is given an authorisation which entitles the child to attend a leading specialist in the particular ailment from which he is suffering. All this is free to the parent. There is also a tuberculosis dispensary in Charles Street and a convalescent home at Cheeverstown. Other facilities are provided which are intended to dovetail, with a view to getting the best possible service for the children, improving their health and securing better attendance at school.

Mr. Byrne

Does the child with the ringworm go to school in the meantime?

I will tell you why.

Mr. Byrne

Does he go?

I will tell you why. I am glad Deputy Byrne raised that point because, unfortunately, I am afraid the attitude of a lot of Dublin parents to this splendid service is not what it should be, although it has been established for the benefit of their children. It is not always the parents that come from the more comfortable homes who are the most earnest. You often find that it is the very poor people who are the most assiduous in having their children at school and in keeping them clean and decent.

Mr. Byrne

Does the child with ringworm go to school—yes or no?

There is no "yes" or "no" about it.

Mr. Byrne

Are the other children playing with his cap?

Indifferent parents regard that service as a kind of nuisance. Why? Because some of them—and everybody must admit it— are always on the lookout for an excuse to keep their children from school and some of them—they are in a very small minority I admit—are not very concerned when the children contract an ailment that will furnish them with an excuse to keep them from school. These are the facts and we have to face up to them.

Mr. Byrne

The child goes to school——

Deputy Byrne was not interrupted.

Mr. Byrne

Deputy Mullen is a school teacher.

Being a school teacher might help a Deputy on this measure.

Mr. Byrne

I agree, but he is avoiding the issue.

I say that some of these people are not in a hurry to procure medical treatment. Possibly it might mean that they would recover a little bit too speedily, and then there would be no excuse. I have never seen a case of either ringworm or skin disease which, with proper treatment, could not be cured in a fortnight to three weeks, but it often persists, through neglect, for three, four, five or six weeks until the whole house is infected. I have seen cases in which that has happened, and in these cases parents have undoubtedly been careless or they were glad of the excuse.

Mr. Byrne

Oh, no.

Yes, there are such cases—again I say that they are in the minority—but there have been such cases. Before the Committee Stage I intend to suggest to the Minister that an amendment should be introduced which would make it compulsory for children to be brought to the school medical officer after an absence of a specified period—whatever period would appear reasonable. That is necessary because, undoubtedly, the fact that the services that are provided for parents and children in the City of Dublin have not been availed of has been responsible for a number of absences.

There is another point. Deputy Mulcahy suggested that the Guards might be asked to deal with children found wandering in the streets. A child found wandering might refuse to give his name or any information, and while I was never enamoured of having Guards in charge of the administration of the School Attendance Act, even in country districts, it might be considered advisable to provide that an attendance officer would be empowered to take such a child to a Guard for interrogation. If he took the child home the parents might not be there. Every artifice will be used to defeat the aims of this Bill and, even though it may be said that I am somewhat strict on this question, I believe it is better to be hard at the beginning rather than allow the present position to continue. If a school attendance officer was empowered in certain cases to bring a boy to a Guard for interrogation that might be sufficient.

There is a big difference in the case when those concerned include a man in plain clothes and a man in uniform. There have been cases of boys absent from school for months, where fines of 1/- or 2/- were imposed on parents by the courts. In fact, the offence is regarded as not being a serious one. I do not think the full benefit of this amending Bill will be achieved unless there is some type of minimum penalty. It is not usually in the poorer houses that these cases arise. Unless there is a minimum penalty there will not be respect for the law. My reason for saying that is, that the figures show that at least 7,000 pupils who should be in school are roaming the streets of Dublin every day or are absent. It is understandable that in country districts boys might be fishing or otherwise engaged, but I am forced to the conclusion that in the cities they do not learn anything that is to their advantage.

If a teacher, who takes a human interest in his pupils, asks some of them how many times they have been in court, he finds that the percentage is very high. The number on probation is also high. I believe that boys playing truant or "mitching" from school provide one of the fundamental reasons for the position in the cities. If we could get them to attend school, especially at a time like this, when we are trying to build up and to Gaelicise the country, even at the sacrifice of a little of what we call natural liberty, the results would be worth while. These young fellows would be better off in school from the point of view of education, character, moral training, and Gaelic training.

I must disagree largely with the views expressed by Deputy Dillon, and, to some extent, supported by Deputy Byrne as regards compulsory school attendance. In the main Deputy Dillon endeavoured to establish the point that compulsory school attendance would be something in the nature of a reign of terror as far as the child was concerned, and an undue interference in the relationship between parents and child, andvice versa. I am afraid that if the Deputy had any knowledge of the manner in which the machinery for securing compulsory attendance at school worked, he would find that the situation was very different from that indicated by him. Little or no attention is paid when a child is absent for one day. It is only when the absence indicates neglect on the part of the parents, or some delinquency on the part of the child, that steps are taken to compel the parents to send him to school. It may be that Deputy Dillon's views are very advanced in this matter, and that a time may come in the future when compulsory school attendance will be unnecessary, but in present circumstances I do not think anybody in touch with the situation would agree to any relaxation of the law.

I should like to direct the Minister's attention to the position of school attendance officers. According to the standard laid down in the Act of 1926, and in the amending Act, the requisite qualification of a school attendance officer is the seventh standard in primary schools. I suggest to the Minister that that qualification is altogether out of date, having regard to the fact that for every appointment in recent years no less than a dozen of the applicants had honours university degrees, while some had diplomas in social science. The laying down of such a standard is a hardship on applicants who have a good secondary school education, and who have a right to believe that their qualifications are such as to give them more than a reasonable prospect of securing such appointments. In actual practice the qualifications of candidates for the position are so high that I suggest to the Minister there is real need for altering the minimum requisite qualification for such posts. I believe there is great need for making the schools more attractive. If something were done in that direction the onerous work of the school attendance officers, school attendance committees, school managers and teachers would be considerably lessened.

There is one particular aspect on which the Minister when replying will, I hope, express his views. The Minister for Local Government and Public Health has been resisting—many regarded the resistance as amounting almost to stupidity—the provision of hot meals for school children. All welfare organisations in the City of Dublin, local authorities, and practically all those connected with schools, not only agree that that is necessary but are taking whatever steps lie in their power to have these meals distributed on as wide a basis as possible. I think a word from the Minister at this particular time would be very encouraging for those whose efforts are to some extent being hindered by the attitude taken up in other quarters on this matter.

There is a further point in connection with school attendance committees to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention. It seems to me very harsh that a regulation should be made disqualifying a member of a school attendance committee who is absent from three consecutive meetings. This regulation makes no provision whatever for absences due to legitimate cause. I can assure the Minister that the effect of such a rigorous rule, in the case of members of school attendance committees, will be to deplete their numbers to less than half over a period of about two years. I do not believe it is the intention of the Minister to make the rule so rigid in that regard. While it is desirable to do something, because of the fact that the attendance at these committee meetings has been very much worse than it should have been, at the same time I believe that the steps that are being taken by the Minister to improve that position are so harsh that they may have the opposite effect to that desired by him.

While, in the main, this is a good Bill, it contains a section which seems to suggest a reversal of the trend in modern social legislation—the section which permits of the employment of children of tender years. When we compare this section with the Constitution enacted by the Oireachtas, a Constitution which purports to guarantee and protect the family as the necessary basis of social order, we see how little in tune it is with the lofty sentiments in the Constitution. The section permits of the employment of children between the ages of 12 and 14 years without, mark you, imposing any obligation whatever on the employer concerning the welfare, health or morals of the children so employed. The section provides for the employment of children for two hours a day on school days between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. during the period from October to May. It further provides for the employment of children for three hours, provided they are not employed before 7.30 a.m. or later than 9 p.m., during the period between May and October. It permits of the employment, on non-school days, of young children for as long as five hours a day. I cannot understand why this section has been put into the Bill in view of the great amount of juvenile unemployment there is to-day. The fact is that there are many children between the ages of 14 and 16 years who cannot find employment. Is not that position going to be further seriously accentuated by permitting the employment of children at the age of 12 years? I venture to suggest that the Minister will find that this section will be rigorously resisted by school managers in Dublin and by members of the teaching profession. I am sure that the Minister will take serious note of objections that come from such authoritative sources, and I hope that, when the Committee Stage of the Bill is being taken, he will introduce amendments altering this position.

I was rather surprised at the line of argument taken against the Bill, first, by Deputy O'Sullivan, in a mild way; secondly, by Deputy Dillon, and, thirdly, by Deputy Alfred Byrne. All three were very much concerned about the divine right of parents to direct and control the activities of their children. Deputy Dillon went so far as to suggest that the 1926 Act was the first attempt by the State to drive a breach between the child and the parent, and that this amending measure was going to widen still further the gap between them. That attitude amazes me. I would like to hear Deputies who adopt that viewpoint say if they consider that the child has any rights at all, and if it is not much better to drive a wedge, if it has to be driven, between the child who is the child of lazy, improvident or careless parents who are not looking after the child properly, than to see the child thrown on their hands and not looked after or given a proper education and a proper upbringing in life. As far as I am concerned. I believe that the 99 per cent. of the parents of the country who are rearing their children properly and are prepared to give them the best possible education, as far as their means permit, do not feel that either the 1926 Act or this Bill is driving any wedge at all between them and their children. I am certain that their attitude would be this: that it is far better to be stiff with parents who are careless and improvident, and who do not care what happens so far as the education of their children is concerned, than that one child should suffer because of the carelessness of its parents.

Deputy Dillon, in particular, criticised sections of the Bill as if this was the first School Attendance Act that had been introduced here. He made reference to the rack and thumb-screw methods adopted towards parents. In my professional capacity, I have had a fair amount of experience so far as the administration of the School Attendance Act in the courts is concerned. I have never been in a District Court for the past ten years when there have not been prosecutions—a few every day, probably—under the School Attendance Act of 1926, and neither by the Guards in the rural areas nor by the school attendance officers in the cities have I ever seen anything that could be remotely described as harsh or severe action. In the rural districts, I am quite satisfied with the administration of the Act being left in the hands of the Guards. I am quite satisfied that 90 per cent. of them are men who come from country districts themselves, men who recognise the position of the parents and the position of the children, and who do not in any way over-exercise their authority in the enforcement of this Act.

Deputy Mullen took the other viewpoint. He said that the weakness in the last Act was the way the people were dealt with when they came to court. There is this great difficulty: when cases come before the district justices, a number of them may be technically within the Act, and the excuse offered in court may not be sufficient to take them entirely outside the Act, but still it may be, in the eyes of any reasonable person, a completely extenuating circumstance. That is one of the great difficulties in the administration of an Act like the School Attendance Act. I would suggest to Deputy Mullen that he might induce some of the school attendance officers to adopt the lines of a certain district justice in the country who never imposed a penalty or never dealt with the first prosecution for breaches of the School Attendance Act at all. When a parent was prosecuted the first time for a breach of the Act, the justice adjourned the case for one year. If the children attended regularly during that time, that was the end of the case, but if it were shown —this was what Deputy Hannigan was referring to, I am sure—that there were habitual absences from school caused by the lack of interest of the parents and the fact that parents were not prepared to do their duty, then, being satisfied that the offence was habitual and that matters were getting worse, he imposed the severe penalty for which Deputy Mullen was anxious. I think that system is a very good one. I do not at all agree with the idea of imposing minimum penalties for the first offence. Under an Act like this, there are hundreds of extenuating circumstances, and I think the idea of imposing minimum penalties for the first offence would not meet the case at all, while the other system which I have proposed would meet it. When people are charged on the first occasion with not sending their children to school the case could be held over their heads for a considerable period; if they reform in the meantime, no more will be heard of it, but, if they do not mend their ways, they will be dealt with. That is as good a system of dealing with cases under this Act as you could possibly get.

One great difficulty about administering an Act like this is apparent in this amending Bill, because Section 3, sub-section (2), paragraph (d) sets out, as a reasonable excuse for failure to comply with the section, "that the child has been prevented from attending school by some other unavoidable cause." That immediately lends itself to a difficulty of interpretation. It will ultimately mean that the district justice, on the evidence before him from the Guards, the school attendance officer and the parents, will have to interpret what the other unavoidable cause was. It is quite possible, and more than likely in fact, that you will get every second district justice having an entirely different viewpoint as to what that unavoidable cause is or should be. On the Committee Stage, I think the Minister should go some distance at any rate in defining the other things that might be regarded as unavoidable causes.

I have listened to the city Deputies talking about children from poverty-stricken homes, children who are badly fed and badly clad. I can understand their position; I can understand the Deputies' interest in those children. But that position is equally bad in country districts. Even though the country children, comparatively speaking, may be better fed than some of the children in the city to whom those Deputies have referred, very often they are not so very much better clad, and they have to travel long distances in shockingly bad weather, over very bad roads, roads which are often impassable in the winter. I should like to know from the Minister, when he is replying to this debate, whether in the case of children living two or three miles away from the school, in a district badly served by roads, he would consider bad weather "an unavoidable cause," a justification for keeping those children from school. When people are prosecuted in a District Court in the country for offences under the School Attendance Act, the one great excuse you hear for not sending the children to school is that the weather was bad, that the children were badly clad, and, inevitably, that they were badly shod. There is no doubt that that is the position in rural areas.

I went to the trouble of looking up the report of the Department of Education for the year 1937-38, and, while the reports under the school medical schemes do not cover every county, I took Kerry as a typical county, because there is no borough there; the large towns and the small towns and the villages and the rural districts are all treated in the one block. In Kerry, there were 6,555 children examined at routine examinations. Out of that number, 854— roughly one in every seven—were found to be defectively clad, while 777 were found to have completely defective footwear. In other words, one in seven and one in eight were defectively clad or shod. In a county like that, and in a lot of the other rural areas, the Minister will appreciate what it must mean to a child to have to travel two or three miles in the winter over the type of roads very often to be found in remote country districts, in bad weather, insufficiently clad and insufficiently shod. I do say to the Minister that in nine out of ten cases that come before the District Court in the country the excuse given—and in nine out of ten cases it is a genuine excuse —is that the children were prevented from going to school by the fact that their clothing was not suitable to stand up to the weather conditions they had to face.

When the people who were so horrified about the effect of this Bill on family life were criticising the Bill, they criticised mainly Section 15, which deals with the notification to be given by the parents, Section 16, which deals with the powers of the school attendance officer, and Section 17, which deals with the question of penalties. Deputy Dillon asked what was the justification for this Bill or the other Act? He wanted to know whether things were so bad at any period, or even now, as to justify the imposition of an Act such as this on the parents of the country. If Deputy Dillon had gone as far as reading Section 19, he would have got one of the greatest justifications for a school attendance Act that could possibly be required, and I am very glad that at last the Minister has made up his mind to deal with what was becoming one of the most serious problems in the rural districts of this country—the problem of vagrancy. I remember, when the Minister was introducing the new Children Act some years ago, I asked him to deal with that matter.

I am satisfied that, no matter what some people may think about the divine right of parents, it is a good thing that the State is now being given power to remove the children from the care of those vagrants if they are not treating them properly and giving to those children the opportunities which they should get in a State like this. I am very glad to see that the situation has been faced at last, and that something will at last be done for those unfortunate children who are dragged around the country from the day they are born, who are turned into little beggars from the time they are able to walk, and are not given even a remote opportunity of ever becoming good citizens or ever earning their living in a proper manner.

I should like to point out to the Minister that in his drafting of that section he has made a mistake. Sub-section (1) states: "In this section the word ‘vagrant' means a person who has no fixed place of abode and habitually wanders from place to place." In order to make the section tight enough, I suggest to the Minister that he should leave out the words "has no fixed place of abode". The sub-section would then read: "In this section the word ‘vagrant' means a person who habitually wanders from place to place." My reason for making that suggestion is that there is quite a number of these vagrants who have a fixed place of abode in the sense that in some small town they have a little dump that is the headquarters of the clan or tribe. I am quite sure country Deputies who have experience of these people will agree—Deputy Corry will agree with me that it is so, at all events, in County Limerick and County Cork—that in most small towns one will find the headquarters of these tribes or clans. They return, like swallows, at stated intervals. When a new season opens, they set out again on their travels. Their season usually lasts from early spring to late autumn, because their mode of living is to travel from fair to fair, pattern to pattern, to flapper race meetings and fixtures of that kind. All these events are held during the early spring, the summer or late autumn, and when winter comes they return to their headquarters again.

The reason, therefore, that I suggest that the words "no fixed place of abode" should be left out of the section is that legally these people have a fixed place of abode in these places. Very often they own these hovels themselves or some member of the family may rent them at a small rent. They would legally have a fixed place of abode, and I am sure you would find their names on the voters' list for that area. I am quite satisfied that the fact that a person has his name on the voters' list for a certain area entitles him to claim that he has a fixed place of abode. If this sub-section is allowed to stand, the Minister might find his object as regards vagrants very easily defeated. I can assure the Minister that if there is any great number of prosecutions against these vagrants, they are the one fraternity who have no lack of knowledge of the law, and if there is a loophole of this sort to be found, they will find it as quickly as anybody else. The very minute they discovered this loophole you would find them putting up the defence in court: "We have a fixed place of abode; we are only out here on business purposes, we intend to go back in a few weeks' time and to stay there." The Minister, I am sure, appreciates that point because what usually happens is that a number of families are in the same tribe and some of them are permanently resident in places which they use as headquarters. I think the Minister was entirely wrong when he mentioned the figure of 700 to 900 as the number of children that would be affected by this section. I think on investigation, when this section is put into operation, the Minister will find that certainly the number is much larger than that. Country Deputies will again agree with me that the vagrancy problem has been increasing particularly for the last few years. Why, I do not know, but that definitely is the fact. Whereas formerly one saw these people in a district only on the occasion of a big horse fair, one will now find them moving continually from district to district. That was certainly not the case ten or 12 years ago.

As regards Section 15, I agree with those Deputies who suggested that the next day after the first day of absence is a little too early to expect the parents to report to the teacher the cause of such absence. I think that under the original Act it was laid down that notice could be given any time up to three days after the child's absence, and that was quite reasonable. The Minister can visualise a situation where there are only two or three young children in the house. There may be only one child of school age, and that child comes home and falls ill on a particular day. The house may be a couple of miles away from the school, and it may be that it is not possible for the parents to go themselves to the school or to get anybody to take the message. I think the Minister might give way by giving a period up to a school week, that is five days, because the type of person who genuinely does not want to keep the child at home unless it is ill is very often the person who is likely to forget this obligation to notify the teacher of the cause of absence within a day after the child has been kept at home. On the other hand, the type of person who will keep a child at home without good reason is very likely to be the person who will send notice to the teacher whether the cause of absence stated is genuine or not.

There is one other matter in regard to giving notice which I should like to put before the Minister. I do not know what system is adopted by the teacher in dealing with these notices. I do not know whether the teachers are compelled to keep a record of these notices, but my experience in the District Courts has been this: time and again people have been prosecuted for not sending their children to school, and time and again they have come into court and said that they sent notice to the teachers. The Guard prosecuting them merely refers to his notes and says that the teacher told him that notice was not given. I have heard people, whom I could not possibly doubt, state that they sent notice to the teacher giving reasons for the child's absence, and that that notice was either ignored, lost or destroyed. I think every country Deputy has heard that said too, that people who have sent notices to the teacher very often find that notices are ignored. I am very much afraid that there is something wrong about that position. I know of several cases where that defence was raised in the District Court, where the people were able to satisfy the district justice that they were telling the truth, and where notice was ignored or not entered in the school record in whatever way it has to be entered by the teacher. I think there should be some means of compelling the teacher to keep a record of the people who send notices, whether the excuse given for absence happens to be good or not. If it comes down to a question of whether a person sent notice or not, there should be some means of checking whether the teacher did get notice.

There is just one other point I should like to mention. I think it was Deputy Dillon again who referred to the horrifying scene where a Deputy's son went down the street for twopence worth of butterscotch, was captured by the school attendance officer, asked why he was not at school, was dragged, screaming, through the streets and landed home to his unfortunate parents who, as a result, were disgraced for ever. I think the Deputy did not read that section either, because if he did, first of all, he would have noticed that it applies only to the county boroughs. Secondly, if a school attendance officer notices a child wandering around the streets at a time when that child should be at school, I think it is only reasonable that he should have power to question that child. I am quite satisfied that such power is required in the Cities of Dublin and Cork, because it is common knowledge amongst everybody who uses his eyes in walking through these cities that there are children in part employment who should be at school. I do not at all object to a school attendance officer being given that power, and I doubt very much that anybody who has any knowledge of the circumstances will say that it is unreasonable. Mind you, if there is a type of youngster growing up, such as was described by the Deputy, who will answer the school attendance officer very flippantly and tell him what he should do with himself, it is no harm in the world if that youngster is caught by the ears and taken through the streets. It would be no harm at all to instill into a lot of people more respect for somebody or other, whether the control happens to be State or parental. The people who are so anxious to preserve the relations between parents and children, without any touch at all from outside, must have had a very soft upbringing. The best parents, and those most likely to make a success of their children's lives, would be quite satisfied to administer an Act like this and would take care that, if any of their children were caught "ducking" away from school, they would be sent back to school a lot sorer, no matter how much the parents may feel ashamed of the children being captured in the street.

There is a lot of loose talk about the divine right of parents, because people will not recognise that there is a great lack of parental control, which is typified by the expression Deputy Dillon used in regard to the young fellow who told the school attendance officer "to go to hell". If those parents who do not want to see their divine rights filched away from them would exercise a little more parental control and see that that type of flippancy and cheek were kicked out of a lot of the youngsters, there would not be half the need for enforcing the School Attendance Acts that there is at the present time. Some parents—and children as well—regard it as an insult that any Act should interfere with them. They are quite satisfied when everybody else is regulated, but the very minute someone treads on their own corns they protest. Those people are not of much use either to the State or their own families.

The administration of the first School Attendance Act was quite good: it was administered neither harshly nor unjustly. The tightening-up regulations of this Act, with one or two minor modifications, are quite satisfactory. I am glad the Minister is dealing with the question of the vagrants and, if this Bill never did anything else, it will relieve 950 to 1,000 children—on his own figures—and if it relieves so many children from the type of existence to which they are condemned now, it will have done much better work than many of the Bills which have been introduced in this Dáil.

I agree with Deputy Linehan that there is no justification for the complaint that this Bill is interfering with the rights of the family. The principle of compulsory school attendance is not new—it was not new even in 1926—and it has been an accepted principle for a long time that there should be compulsory attendance at primary schools. It is no argument to say that 90 per cent. of the parents are so interested in their children that they would see to it themselves, without any compulsion, that their children get the free primary education provided by the State. Even if the figure were 99 per cent., there would be justification for an Act of this kind, as it is the duty of the State to see that no child is left without the facilities for learning at least to read and write, and that no parent —not even one parent in the country— is allowed to refuse to do his duty in that respect. It is our duty to see that parents are not allowed to neglect to send their children to school.

Apart altogether from the vagrants provided for in Section 19, there are many parents who would not take their duties seriously in this respect, if it were not for an Act of this kind. It is well known that, here in Dublin, prior to the introduction of compulsory education, small children, from the very earliest years, were kept to sell papers or to beg in the streets when they should have been at school. That would continue if it were not for legislation of this type. I suppose the Minister has consulted the Irish National Teachers' Organisation in regard to the provisions of Section 19. I can quite imagine that national teachers throughout the country will not welcome these vagrant children into the schools, but I suppose this is necessary before they are committed to an industrial school. I take it that the idea at the back of the Minister's mind is that the attendance of vagrants at national schools will be very little indeed, and that this section will mean that these children will be gathered into industrial schools. I think they would be a very disturbing influence in any national school: if Deputy Hurley were here, he would give his opinion on that. I am sure that, in the rural schools, they would be something more than a nuisance: they would be in only for about a week at a time in any one school, and while there they would be an object of distraction to the other children. Probably that question will not affect very many schools seriously, as I can foresee that most of those children will find themselves in industrial schools by virtue of sub-section (11) of Section 19.

The Minister should take note of Deputy Linehan's remark regarding the definition of vagrant, as undoubtedly there is a loophole. It may be better to change "and" to "or", so as to make sub-section (1) read: "... who has no fixed place of abode or habitually wanders from place to place". Otherwise, very many people may get out through the loophole. In the same section there is a very peculiar drafting error which is rather a matter of English. Sub-section (5) reads:—

"The attendance of a child to whom the Principal Act applies and who is in the custody of and living or travelling with a vagrant at a national or other suitable school for a period of less than a recognised quarter (including periods of absence authorised by the Principal Act or this Act) shall not be attendance at such school for the purposes of the Principal Act or this Act."

That is very vague and reminds one of the old chestnut that used to be told to us about 40 years ago, about the school geography which published a description of a village which recently had had erected there "two very fine schools capable of accommodating 400 pupils with their gable ends turned towards the street". This section is very much of that type. The clause probably should read: "The attendance at a national or other suitable school ...of a child to whom the Principal Act applies..." There is a similar slip in sub-sections (7) and (8), which should be remedied. Sub-section (7) reads:

"Any member of the Gárda Síochána may arrest without warrant in any place, other than the county boroughs and borough mentioned in the Schedule to this Act, any person who appears to him to be a vagrant and whom he suspects of having committed an offence under any sub-section of this section or having failed to cause a child to whom the Principal Act applies in his custody and living or travelling with him to attend school in accordance with the Principal Act and this Act."

That should be, obviously, "... to whom the Principal Act applies and who is in his custody". As it stands it reads incorrectly. The same thing applies in sub-section (8). I am in favour of the Bill for the reason that it tightens up the law where loopholes were found in the original Act.

I think we are all agreed that it is desirable to have, if possible, a 100 per cent. attendance at our schools, but I do not know that we are approaching this matter from the proper angle. I believe that the number of children who are kept from school or who stay from school through the wilful negligence, or even the carelessness, of their parents is comparatively few. I believe that abstention from school is largely due to economic causes. Those causes have been aggravated in the past three years and, as the cost of living increases, are being progressively aggravated. I made inquiries recently in my own district, which is typical of any other district in the country, into a few cases where children were not attending school regularly. I found in one case that there were six children in the family and the eldest was 12 years. The father was working on a relief scheme and was paid 27/- or 28/- a week—that was the total income of that household.

I think it will be admitted freely that it would be utterly impossible, having regard to the cost and the scarcity of commodities, to feed and clothe that family and to pay for rent, fire and light out of that money. I discovered that the mother, in order to give bare necessities to her family, was forced to work at washing and scrubbing outside for as many days of the week as she could get that sort of employment and, as a result of that, the eldest child had to be kept from school in order to look after the younger children. I am sure any Deputy can visualise such a case happening in his own town, village or district. That is the type of case that is mainly responsible for lack of attendance at school and that is the type of case that is not going to be cured either by the original Act or this Bill.

I quite agree with a great deal of what Deputy Dillon said, but I think the Deputy spoiled a rather good case by overstatement and exaggeration. Undoubtedly there is a tendency towards too much interference, but nobody in this country would suggest that we should not have any powers to see that children are educated. Many families in this country are destitute. I suppose the only hope that the children will ever be lifted out of that destitution is that they can be educated to such a point that they will not be satisfied to remain half-hungry and half-clad for the remainder of their lives. Trying to cure the poor attendance at our primary schools by legislation of this sort, while ignoring the cause or causes of the abstention, is, in the old phrase, trying to cure a broken leg with a penny stamp. I venture to suggest that the passage of this Bill, either in its present form or as it may be amended, is not going to secure a better attendance at the primary schools than we have to-day. I doubt, so long as the economic conditions remain as they are—not to talk about them getting worse—you are going to get anything like the attendance at school that you should get.

It is all very fine for this House to pass laws making it illegal for a child under 14 years to be employed, but if there are five, six or seven children in a family where the total income is anything from 20/- to 35/- a week, then the children or the mother or both must do something to supplement the income of the father. In the alternative you will have the children reduced to such a condition that it is not going to school they will be, but going to hospital suffering from malnutrition. Do we not know that the very poor, either in the cities or the country towns, were depending mainly, when it was available, on tea, together with bread and butter? Do we not know that at the present time tea cannot be procured by the very poor except in limited quantities? Sugar can be obtained only in limited quantities and, so far as butter is concerned, only workmen in receipt of fairly decent wages can procure it. It is out of the question for the very poor to purchase butter. We are also aware that, as a result of the emergency, the substitutes for butter that were formerly available are no longer available, even if the money were there to pay for them. With butter almost outside the scope of the working-man, with bacon completely outside his scope, with mutton and beef rising in price rapidly and threatening to become as scarce as bacon in a comparatively short time, what will the working-man be able to give his family to enable them to live? If he has a fairly decent income he will have some chance of existing. Does anyone seriously suggest that, with an income of 25/- or 35/- a week, it is humanly possible for a man with a wife and four, five, six or seven children to receive sufficient nourishment, not to speak of clothes or boots?

Deputy Dillon touched upon another point, and very properly. Those of us who live in the country have, on more than one occasion, seen children on a cold, wet morning trudging two or three miles to school. These children are soaked to the skin by the time they get to the school, yet they are expected to remain there from an early hour in the morning until 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon and then they have to walk home again, and perhaps they get a second wetting. Would any Deputy put out his children to walk two or three miles to school on days of rain such as the three or four days of rain we got in the South of Ireland on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week, knowing that they had to sit in that school for five or six hours with their wet clothes clinging to them? Of course he would not. Those, if I may say so, are some of the points which ought to be present to the minds of the Minister and his staff. When we talk about so many children being absent from school per day we ought to ask ourselves how many are absent because of the sheer carelessness or neglect of parents, and how many because there is no alternative.

There are a number of points which I shall have to leave over until Committee Stage, as the debate is to be adjourned at 8 o'clock, but they are, in any case, more appropriate to Committee Stage than otherwise.

We shall have tomorrow.

I have been asked what is the reason for the introduction of the Bill. As I explained in the beginning, the reason is that experience has shown certain weaknesses and certain loopholes in the original Act, and an effort is now being made to close up these loopholes and to remedy the weaknesses. I cannot, of course, say that the Act has not been administered fairly satisfactorily, but, whether I have too high standards in the matter or not, I feel I would be lacking in my duty if I did not take such steps as I think may be suitable and such as are outlined in the Bill to improve the position. Compared with other countries, we certainly cannot say that our school attendances are too high. These countries compare with ours to a certain degree. Take the case of Scotland, which is a rather mountainous, cold country. A large proportion of the population live in congested industrial areas, but, even in the mountainous, cold districts, I feel that the attendances are probably better than ours, no doubt due to the splendid tradition the Scottish nation has in educational matters.

Some of our own areas, too, have been very good, but there has been a decline. For example, in Cork City, where in the year ending 30th June, 1939, we had an attendance of 89.3 per cent. of pupils between the age of six and 14, in the year ending 30th June, 1941, the percentage had fallen to 84, a fall in two years of 5.3 per cent. In Dublin the attendance for the last recorded year was 86.8 per cent., which on the whole shows an improvement for some years past, but if we go back to 1929, we find that we achieved a percentage attendance of 87.1 per cent., which we have never since reached. In Waterford City the attendance for the last recorded year was 83.4 per cent. There seems to have been a decline there since 1937, when it stood at 88 per cent., and, back in 1930, after some fluctuations in the intervening years, we find the percentage is 90.3.

There are various reasons, no doubt, for falling attendances. There is the question of weather, of illness, of poverty and of social and economic conditions generally. Nevertheless, the lamentable fact is, as has already been pointed out, that, in Dublin County Borough, we have 7,869 children between the ages of six and 14 absent daily from school, who are by law supposed to attend school. In Cork County Borough, we have 1,954, and in the Twenty-Six Counties as a whole we have a daily average of 64,422 children between those ages absent from school. Therefore, I think there is room for a great deal of tightening up. We have the schools. We could do with more employment for our teachers, and even if the measures which I now propose to the Oireachtas are not as successful as I would wish, it is, I think, useful to have a survey of the position, to have the attention of the country called to it and to ask all those whose interests are concerned, and particularly those whose duty it is to see to the administration of the school attendance code, to endeavour to tighten up matters and to get better results if possible.

A great many points have been raised, including the question of the condition of the schools. I do not think that the condition of the schools, or the absence of suitable provision for school meals, which are very often available in urban and borough districts, should be taken as an excuse for not sending children to school. In this connection Deputy Linehan made a very useful speech, upon which I congratulate him. If I may say so, he displayed to the House an attitude which one would like to be characteristic of members of the House and public men generally throughout the country—what I might term a really progressive spirit in educational matters, the kind of spirit which says: "The child is our first interest. Let us look to the children. They are the people upon whom the future of our country depends, and let us, in God's name, give them the best preparation we can. We may not be able to give them everything we would wish, but let us at least see to it that they get that very precious acquisition, a sound education in the fundamental things, such as obtains in the ordinary national school."

Even if you cannot give them food?

In times like these, it is particularly necessary that emphasis should be laid upon this matter. We have, not in the peaceful State in which we live, but in other countries, conditions which I have no doubt will influence us—conditions of insecurity and a reckless spirit being engendered in the youth—and it is particularly important that the necessity of keeping children regularly at school should be emphasised and that, if necessary, the law and its administration should be tightened up in order to secure that result. I think reasonable efforts are being made to assist children through the provision of school meals, books and so on. Very often the school meals scheme is operated locally, and I am gratified to know that, so far as cookery is concerned, a good deal of emphasis is now being placed upon it in girls' schools, showing that even working-class or poor mothers feel that benefits can be obtained, even in a practical and direct way, by giving the children practical instruction in these subjects.

I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.