It is quite true that the Deputy referred to this matter on Second Reading. I do not think any other voice was raised in the same complaint, and, in any case, so far as my recollection goes, the Deputy was very careful to explain—I hope I am not misinterpreting him—that while he recognised that I was fully within my powers under the Constitution in bringing in this clause, its introduction and passing into law might, as he has just repeated, lead to certain dangers, in his opinion. It is always a question of opinion whether certain legislation will lead to certain dangers or not. I think a great deal depends on the motives of the Government of the day. If the Government of the day stands by the philosophy for which the Irish people are noted, and keeps in mind, as our Constitution does, these principles which are very sacred to our people, it is not very likely that any great dangers will arise, though I do not at all question that it is a very important matter which should be constantly kept in mind. I, personally, and the Government, generally, would certainly regard it as a very important matter. If there should be a Government not bound by these principles—I do not think there is much likelihood of such a Government—I do not think that the tendencies or nuances in the legislative Acts we now put through are likely to be the only excuses, if excuses are being sought. The dangers the Deputy apprehends would really seriously arise only if we have a complete change, a very revolutionary change, of feeling among the common people of the country.
May I suggest that the safeguarding of these principles is not entirely a matter for the Legislature? There are protectors whose special duty it is to see that these important principles are safeguarded, and who, I venture to suggest, will not be lacking in that duty, but will see to it constantly. The fact that particular things are happening on the Continent is not, I hope, to be taken as an indication that such things are likely to happen here. The principle is undoubtedly a very important one, and I think that the section we are now discussing, while endeavouring to see that the basic minimum requirements which the Constitution prescribes as necessary for our children, are satisfied, safeguards the rights of the parents at the same time.
There is the general right of the parent as laid down in the Constitution not to be compelled to send his children to schools or institutions established by the State or to any particular type of school, but, on the other hand, there is the provision that the State must see to it that, in view of actual conditions, a certain minimum education is required and is obtained by our children. There is also, of course, the duty of seeing that every reasonable aid is given in respect of our young people receiving proper education, always having regard again to the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.
This section prescribes that a certain procedure has to be followed before a school can be recognised as suitable by the Minister. It provides that, before issuing such certificates, the Minister may satisfy himself, by way of inspection or by way of the submission of suitable evidence to him, that in fact the education given in a school is suitable. Should he consider that, on that evidence or on his inspector's report, he is not in a position to issue a certificate, he shall first, according to the present provisions, communicate to the manager or conductor of the school, before refusing to issue it, the ground on which he proposes to refuse such certificate, and must give such parent, or, where appropriate, such manager or conductor, a reasonable opportunity of meeting the requirements of the Minister for the purpose of removing the said ground of refusal.
I think that with the goodwill which that indicates, if there is corresponding goodwill on the part of the parent or parents, and the manager or conductor of the school involved, it ought to be the position, as the question will be a question of fact—whether the children concerned are actually receiving the minimum educational requirements laid down or not—that there cannot be serious misunderstanding. It will, I imagine, come down to a question of whether, in fact, the education given comprises the basic requirements which the Minister for Education would consider necessary.
The Deputy, so far as I remember, did not ask me how many cases there were. Had he asked me specifically, I would have tried to get the information, although it might have been rather difficult. He certainly did ask me what were the reasons for bringing in this proposal, and he now asks again whether the School Attendance Act might not be left as it is. The position is that, in my view, the School Attendance Act has been found wanting. The meaning taken out of it by the Department was that the Minister had power to certify, or to refuse to certify, whether suitable elementary education was given in schools which applied for certificates of suitability.
One particular case, at any rate, has arisen and has been the subject of legal proceedings, and a decision has been given upon it which suggests to me that the present provisions are defective. It may be a matter of opinion whether this situation should be remedied or not. In my opinion, it ought to be remedied. The decision in this particular case was to the effect that a child may be receiving suitable elementary education according to the provisions of the School Attendance Act, 1926, notwithstanding that the subjects in the ordinary curriculum, we will say, of the national schools are not being taught in such a school. According to the present programme, the primary school subjects are: Irish, English (optional for Standard I), mathematics, history, geography, needlework for girls, and music. Therefore, I conceive it to be the policy of the Ministry, in determining whether a particular school which applies for a certificate of suitability is suitable or not, to consider the manner in which it endeavours to provide a curriculum of this nature. If the basic subjects, for example, are not provided in the curriculum of the school, the question may very well arise whether the Minister would consider that he would be justified in giving a certificate of suitability. In this particular case there was no doubt but that a very important basic subject was not being taught in a way to satisfy the Department's representative, and therefore, the question arises whether State policy in a very important matter can be entirely set aside, or whether we have not, at any rate, reached this stage, that we can see that these subjects which we consider are fundamentally necessary from the State point of view are taught in the schools which are to be recognised as suitable.
It is very difficult to deal with this matter. It is a matter, as the Deputy has suggested, of great importance and a rather delicate matter. I fully recognise the difficulties of it. I would rather if it had not been found necessary to deal with it. But, in my opinion, no loophole should be left in this very important matter. The definition of elementary education received a great deal of consideration when the Bill was being considered for drafting, and it was found very difficult, in fact impossible, to arrive at a definition of elementary education which would be applicable and suitable in all the circumstances.
Therefore, alternatively, the present provisions have been drawn up by which, in brief, the Minister has the right to inspect or call for evidence as to the type of education which is being provided in the schools applying for certificates of suitability. He must then, as I have said, communicate to the conductors of the schools or managers that he is prepared to give a certificate or, if not, the reasons why, giving them in the latter case a reasonable opportunity of fulfilling the conditions that he considers necessary to enable him to grant the certificate. I think, as I have said, that having regard to the provisions of the Constitution and to the fact that I hope we are all at one in trying to safeguard these principles and trying to prevent any creeping in of these detestable and harmful foreign doctrines which have been referred to, there is very little danger so far as one can reasonably anticipate—one cannot prophesy as I said in the beginning what may happen in the event of very revolutionary changes—that the provisions which are now set out in Section 4 could of themselves lead to any such dangerous situation as the Deputy thinks might possibly arise as a result of them.