You made an eloquent plea for an equivalent grant by the State, a grant of £1 for every £1 put up by the local authority. We have not yet achieved that, even after the passage of all these years. There should be power to enable the Minister to provide for the development of technical education and the Minister should try to persuade the Minister for Finance to make such provision. With the expansion of the vocational education scheme, this additional financial provision will be necessary.
While we are on finance, I would refer briefly to the amount paid for vocational education. In some quarters, and particularly in one newspaper, there appears to be great apprehension in regard to this matter. It has been stated that excessive sums have been paid out and that there has been lavish expenditure. I submit that, out of the total of £5,000,000 spent on education, only £370,000 is given direct from the State to vocational education, which is, roughly, 7½ per cent. The rates themselves provide at present only £207,000, which is not a large sum and which is not large enough. The same people who criticise the lavish expenditure on vocational education call, at the same time, for a higher technological standard in this country. Those two views are, I think, incompatible. I say this in order to support whatever measures are being taken under this Bill for extra finance for the scheme.
It must be remembered that this branch provides all the post primary education, except, of course, the secondary education, which caters, as we know, for the respectable professions, more or less. The children of the masses of the people go to the vocational schools, which are looked upon, quite rightly, as the poor man's university. As such, they are credited by the people with doing very necessary work and are worthy of every support from the State.
If you want to consider the question of cost, technical education is probably the cheapest form of education that we have in this State. Primary education costs, per pupil, £9 18s. 8d.; secondary education costs, per pupil, £13 17s. 4d., and post-primary education, which is really vocational education, because the other sections of it are insignificant, costs only £8 13s. 11d. As well as carrying on the normal educational programme, these schools, in these sections, deal with art and science and there are lectures for the adult population, which is a very good contribution to national work and has proved to be of exceptional importance in a time of emergency. For instance, during the food emergency that we had in this country, it is stated in the report of the Department of Education that 120,000 people attended lectures given by domestic economy instructresses in relation to the proper preparation of emergency food. That was a national service, and a service of that description well deserves increased financial support. Secondary education receives as much as technical education can get from the State and tha rates combined— roughly £500,000. It is not that we want to have less spent on secondary education, but to show that we are not people who are, so far as education goes, wallowing in the lap of luxury, or that there is any lavish expenditure of State funds on technical education.
Now we come to Sections 6, 7, 8 and 9. These affect the rights of the officers and, from their nature, there is no other course open to me but to look for amendments of these sections. I regard them as an attempt at an extension of arbitrary authority which should not pass a democratic Legislature like this without severe scrutiny. I am taking the narrow view, and I am taking it purposely and deliberately. If we were to take the more liberal view, perhaps we would not give such emphasis to the sections; we might let them pass; but, once having passed here under whatever pretext, they become statutory principles, and it will be found extremely difficult in the future to remove them.
Section 6 relates to the authority of the Minister to fix a retiring age. In fact, if you read it as it appears in the Bill, he can fix the lower as well as the upper age limits. Most officers, of course, are looking at the upper age limit but, taking a narrow view, the Minister can fix a lower limit; he can fix an age and a person may not enter the service until he has attained that age. The main concern, of course, of existing officers, is the retiring age, the upper limit, and that requires to be dealt with in even a more extensive manner, perhaps, than that which we gave on the Agriculture (Amendment) Bill lately before us. I may point out that up in this an officer had the option to retire at 65, but he could not be compelled to do so unless he was in a state of ill-health or incapable of carrying on his duties. He could retire if he had 25 years' service, but he could not be compelled to do so if he was fit to carry on. That means that hitherto there has been no specified retiring age in the service. Now it appears that one will be fixed by the Minister.
Retirement up to the present was governed by Section 44, sub-sections (1) and (2) of the Local Government Act of 1925. It might be well to remind the House of the provisions of those sub-sections. Section 44 (1) sets out that:
"A local body shall with the consent of the Minister grant to a pensionable officer in their employment who either (a) has attained the age of 65 years and has at least 25 years' service: or (b) becomes incapable of discharging the duties of his office with efficiency by reason of permanent infirmity of mind or, body or of old age and has not less than ten years' service upon his resigning or otherwise ceasing to hold his office, an annual allowance for his life not greater than two-thirds of his yearly salary and emoluments."
Sub-section (2) sets out that:
"A local body shall with the consent of the Minister grant to a pensionable officer in their employment who has at least ten years' service and (a) who is removed from office for a cause other than misconduct or incapacity or (b) whose office is abolished or (c) whose position has in the opinion of the Minister been materially altered to his detriment owing to changes in the conditions of his employment made without reasonable cause and who resigns his office with the consent of the Minister, an annual allowance for his life not greater than two-thirds of his yearly salary and emoluments."
These were the conditions which every officer understood would apply to him on entering the service, Now it appears that by an Act of this Legislature, long after he has entered the service, these conditions will be materially altered.
There are other points to be considered on Section 6. Up to recently all vocational education officers joined the service after the age of 25 years. This is not a service which the youngest men join. The officers are mature when they come into the service, and that was especially so in the early years of the technical instruction scheme, when the Department had no training facilities or courses, and officers on appointment were required to have had previous business and educational experience. These men are all affected by this measure. You must take into account, too, that the date of the adoption of the Agricultural and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act, 1899, does not permit any officer a full 40 years' service. If appointed after the age of 25 years, as most were, none of them would have 40 years' service around 65 years which, I assume, is the age that will be fixed by the Minister. There are few graduates at the University who finish before 25 years and many of them have to wait several years for an appointment. Even after appointment, if they are lucky enough to secure that from a local committee, they have to spend several years on probation, and rightly—that is one of the conditions of service—until they are appointed as permanent whole-time officers and become pensionable.
The passing of the 1899 Act did not mean that the technical instruction schools arose immediately. Several years elapsed before most of the schemes came into effect. We have reviewed the situation and found that 1905 and 1907 were the years when most early appointments were made. Those officers are a long time in the service and they are coming near the retiring age. The Dáil will see how the actual dates affect this question of retirement and pensions.
There is another point in reference to these officers: that a condition inherent in their appointment and implied in the provisions of the superannuation clauses of the Local Government Act was that they were to continue in employment until rendered unfit by permanent infirmity, incapacity or such like cause. We have no objection, and I think few in this House would have any objection, to the fixing of a retiral age. It was suggested, I believe, by another Deputy that the remarks made on the Agriculture (Amendment) Bill in reference to the same thing meant that we left the door wide open, and that officers could continue on in service until they were 80 or 90 years of age. That is, of course, absolutely impossible. We have no objection to the fixing of a retiral age, but there must be certain qualifications in regard to that. We must take into consideration, as I have pointed out, the efficiency of the teacher, his private rights, the work that he has put into vocational education, and the lifetime that he has spent in the service of the State. If there is to be a retiral age fixed, there should be with it some provision for an arrangement to let officers be credited with added years to bring their service up to 40, or as near 40 as would be deemed equitable in the circumstances of each individual officer.
This question of added years is nothing new. We refer to that again, but in fixing the pension, if we do not give the teacher these added years, if we do not allow the officer to be credited with 40 or as near as possible to 40 years, we adverse1y affect him in this way: that until recently, unlike the Civil Service, there were no salary scales in the vocational education schemes, and in many cases years elapsed between the receipts of increments of salary. Again, in the early stages of the vocational education schemes, the officers were underpaid. Scales were non-existent, and, later on, when they did come into force, they could not be said to remunerate the officers for what they had already suffered in regard to small salaries. Therefore, in the case of pensions granted to officers who have less than the 40 years' service, who have roughly, say, 30 years or something less than that, the officers will be very adversely affected.
The training and the practical experience required before appointment as a teacher in a vocational education school or the special qualifications required in connection with some particular post, such as the head of a department, a headmaster or a chief executive officer, implied that on appointment the officer was so matured that it would be impossible for him, on the completion of 40 years' service, to be 65 years of age, if we take that as the likely retiring age. The Department of Local Government has given evidence of the fact that it recognises this state of affairs. In Circular No. G.15477/25 the Department states:
"For positions requiring highly technical qualifications it is realised that it may not be possible to secure the services of suitably experienced officers at ages sufficiently youthful to enable them to qualify eventually for the full two-thirds superannuation. In such cases, where the services have been satisfactorily carried out, reasonable additional years might be added to the actual numbers served for the purpose of calculating pensions."
and they suggested, as a maximum, one-third. I think that this circular which was explanatory of the 1925 Act, showed that the Department approved of this principle of added years when an officer joined the service late in life, or joined because he could not have attained that position without business experience. In view of the facts that I have adduced I think the House will agree that vocational teachers should either be allowed to continue their service until they reach the forty years' service necessary for a full pension, or if they are retired earlier under this Bill that this principle of added years should be adopted—that years should be added to their service to enable them to receive the full pension.
I may say that it is quite obvious to those who know the facts that officers in the vocational education services are not anxious to retire while they are still vigorous and can carry out their duties efficiently, and can be of service to the State. It is not merely a case of hanging on in order to obtain a pension. They feel that they have a function in life and desire to continue that function as long as it is possible.
Section 6 is also, if you examine it, a violation of Section 99 of the Principal Act. I think it would be a deplorable act on the part of this or of any other Legislature to give solemn statutory protection to public servants in one Act—the Act of 1930—and then after a lapse of years, and with the development of the Act and when these officers' proved worth is admitted by the Minister, to treat the protection given as scrap paper. I think the very least, the Minister might do is to exclude existing officers from the provisions of this Bill. The spirit of the original Act should permeate this amending Bill, and there should be, I think, no amendment by implication. I think that the Minister, if he is not prepared to go to that extent in this Bill, might give some undertaking or some guarantee to the existing officers that they will not be adversely affected by this measure, and that the newcomers, if they like to take service under these conditions, will be free to do so. It is a contract between them and the Minister, and they should stand or fall by it, but existing officers, officers who are already in the service and who came in under different conditions, should not now be brought within this legislation and adversely affected by it. They should in all honour be excluded from it.
I said that this Bill was a violation of Section 99 of the Principal Act, and I think I had better quote the particular sub-sections to show exactly what I mean. Under sub-sections (2) and (3) of that Act of 1930, there was given a statutory guarantee that the conditions of service and the remuneration of officers of vocational education committees taken over under the Vocational Education Act would not be altered to their detriment. Sub-section (2) sets out:—
"Every officer transferred by this section shall, subject to the provisions of this section, perform in the service of the vocational education committee to which he is so transferred the like duties as he performed in the service from which he is so transferred."
Sub-section (3) sets out:
"Every officer transferred by this section shall not, in the service of the vocational education committee to which he is so transferred, receive less remuneration or, subject to the provisions of this section, be subject to less beneficial condition of service than the remuneration to which he was entitled and the conditions of service to which he was subject in the service from which he is so transferred."
These were sub-sections which safeguarded the rights of these transferred officers, and obviously the spirit of these sub-sections should continue down through this amending Bill. Further, if the Act were to be worked in a proper spirit, the Minister should also he given power in reference to specified appointments, not only in regard to the ordinary officers but particularly with regard to chief executive officers, head masters and those in very responsible positions, to extend the age or to add years for pension purposes. There is, as I said, no great desire in the part of these higher executive officers to leave the service. Many of them at present have reached the age of 60 and 62 years, and they are considered by the Department to be still in the full vigour of life and capable of carrying out their duties and functions with the greatest efficiency. Why then should these men be compulsorily retired by any such section? Many of them, if they were to get the full benefit of their pension, would have to continue much later in life than 65 years and the Minister, I think, should take the power or should modify the sections in the Bill to enable him to grant that benefit.
Finally, many of the existing officers were recruited and, for all I know, future officers may be recruited, from other branches of the educational service and, for that reason, I think that for superannuation purposes this previous service should be recognised. In particular, I specify service given under the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, the Commissioners of Intermediate Education, the primary and secondary branches, the Gaelic League, and even service under the former Congested Districts Board. Officers were taken from all these different spheres and asked to man the vocational education schools. They were ask to take on this new form of instruction and to develop it. Their efforts met with success, and I think they should be duly credited with their previous service. I think we have made a good case for an amendment of that Section 6 and even for the withdrawal of it. If we cannot get that we might get from the Minister some undertaking or some statement with regard to these existing officers.
Section 7 is also a violation of the existing rights of officers guaranteed by that Section 99 of the 1930 Act. It follows the usual pattern which we have examined in the Agriculture (Amendment) Bill. The section gives power to either a vocational education committee or the Minister to suspend an officer summarily, if there is, in the opinion of such committee or of the Minister, reason to believe that the officer has done something deserving of disciplinary action. As I said with regard to the Minister for Agriculture —and the same applies to the Minister for Education—the phraseology is too loose. The Minister may have reason to believe anything he likes—no one can prevent it. Every one of us can believe anything he wishes and particularly in the sphere of human relations, it is quite easy to believe things which afterwards turn out to have no foundation whatever. Despite that, on the mere belief of the Minister or of the committee, an officer may be suspended.
Some safeguard should be inserted calling for greater grounds for belief or retarding the movement which results in the suspension of an officer and causes him grave detriment. An officer may be suspended with the approval of the Minister, but, under sub-section (2), the Minister has power to terminate such suspension when he so wishes, and every such suspension, it states, shall continue until so terminated. If one reads that correctly, the meaning of it is that suspension may be indefinite. There is no conclusion to be reached, if the Minister does not so wish. This, of course, is taking a narrow view of the situation, but it is set out in the Bill. There is nothing to fix a time limit and surely in ordinary justice to the officer there should be some time limit. No investigation or inquiry could conceivably last indefinitely. There should be a time limit to prevent the proceedings being drawn out to an unwarranted length, particularly in view of the sections which deal with the remuneration of an officer during suspension. It follows from the section that, during suspension, an officer, even though not even accused, even though he has not come under inquiry—there may be no inquiry—gets no pay whatever.
His remuneration is suspended with his suspension. If, after his case has been inquired into, we assume the best, and say he is reinstated, the Minister still has the power to keep his pay, either in whole or in part, or devote it to whatever object he desires or dispose of it as he so wills. That, I think, is an extremely loose method of dealing with the matter. One would imagine that there should certainly be some method of recompensing the officer for all he suffered during an unjust suspension. If the inquiry finds that there was no ground for his suspension, that the whole proceedings were misconceived and taken incorrectly, if he is declared not guilty and, if the movers in the matter, whether the committee or the Minister, are shown to be at fault, even though that fault may have been by no means without justification so far as they can see, yet the person concerned has suffered all through that period from the ignominy of being under suspension and from the loss of his remuneration. If he is not guilty, I say there should be put explicitly in the Bill some section to make it mandatory that he should receive his full remuneration for that time. It should not be at the discretion of the Minister. He should not only receive it in full, but there should be some method of recompensing him for the costs that he might incur in defending his case.
In the 1930 Act, Section 27, there was a slightly different provision. The Minister could not remove the officer under that Act without having first held a local inquiry, the procedure for which is described at length by Section 105 of the Act. We need not go into that. But the holding of an inquiry in itself would not absolve the Minister from having regard to the necessary rights under Section 44 of the Local Government Act. If the officer were dismissed following such an inquiry, his remedy would be to take his case into the courts, and that is the last resort of the citizen. In this Bill, however, we find, as I read it, that the Minister is given judicial power. He is given power to determine these things and, so far as I can see, under this Bill the aggrieved officer could not go into the courts, could not contest the case. If he has gone through the correct procedure as laid down by the Bill there does not, appear to me to be any further relief for the officer.
In this sub-section (1) (a) the question of unfitness comes in. I think I have dealt fully with the view of the officers as a whole on the question of unfitness. But, is it not rather loosely phrased in the Bill? Should there not be some further qualification—that the statutory grounds for the removal of the holder of an office under Section (8) would be the unfitness of such a holder for such an office? Should there not be some definition of this unfitness?—educational unfitness, may be. The Minister should have this made more definite in the Bill. As it stands, unfitness might include any number of things. It might include the political opinions of the officer. It might include individual idiosyncrasies. To put it in the most extravagant way, it might include such things as his views upon matters which might not affect education at all. He might be quite fit so far as the educational standard was concerned, but, in regard to other standards, he might be considered unfit. Should there not be then in this Section 1 (a) some closer definition of what unfitness means?
In sub-section (2) there is mention of a local inquiry, but there is no provision in the Bill as to how this is to be constituted. We do not know whether there will be the right to call witnesses, whether those witnesses are to be examined on oath, or what is to be the power or judicial function of this inquiry. It mentions "any local inquiry". What does "any" mean? Who is to hold it? Is it to be held by an inspector or by the committee, or by the two combined, or is it to be held by some local court? Finally, is it to have the same meaning as in the Principal Act? If it is to have the same meaning as in the Principal Act, it should be so stated and there might be no objection to it.
But the worst sub-section of all is sub-section (3). The Minister's opinion is the only test here. It would appear from this sub-section that the Minister has power of dismissal without an inquiry, merely because he is of opinion that the officer should be dismissed. Surely that is a contravention of the Principal Act. If we are to have democratic rights in this State—and I am perfectly sure we are all democratically-minded; we are not a totalitarian State—every accused should have the right of defending himself against an accusation and every citizen the right to be considered innocent until he is proved guilty. That right appears to be taken away from the officer under this sub-section (3).
But there is even worse here. Perhaps I had better read it in order to be quite clear on it, because I have read it several times and it seems to me so extraordinary that I do not believe there is any relation whatever to any other Act previously passed here or we would have heard about it. I would be surprised if any Dáil passed any Local Government Act in the same terms as this sub-section, which states:—
"Where the Minister is of opinion that any of the statutory grounds for removal from office exists as regards the holder of an office, the Minister may send by post to such holder at the principal office of the vocational education committee under which such holder holds such office a notice in writing stating the said opinion, and if the Minister, after the expiration of seven days from the sending of such notice and after consideration of the representation (if any) made to him by such holder, remains of the said opinion, he may by Order remove such holder from, such office."
Surely the Minister never contemplated taking this power. I doubt very much whether the Minister would ever exercise this power. It is so unjust, it is so outrageous that a Minister, or anyone else, should send by post to an accused party notice of his dismissal and that seven days after the sending of such notice the Minister may remove him from office. Mark well the word "sending." It is not seven days or one day after the receipt. The Minister only requires under this law to prove that he sent the notice; it does not require him to prove that it was ever received by the aggrieved party. That short space of time, seven days after the sending of the notice, is given for the aggrieved party to make his representations, if any, but there is no provision in this Bill whatsoever to ensure that the officer has received the notice and has been able to consider the opinion of the Minister.
Surely the members of the House, who have had a great deal more experience than I, never passed a sub-section of any Bill which gave a Minister such arbitrary power as that.