There was a time during the early days of vocational education when the agricultural committees and the vocational education committees were as one, until the Vocational Education Act was passed. It established the vocational education committees. There are many members of this House who have given very long and faithful service on vocational education committees. They no doubt realise the great value and importance of vocational education. I am quite satisfied that in very recent years, particularly in the past year and in the present year, there seems to be in rural Ireland a keener interest and steadier growth in vocational education. I am sure the records of the Department will bear that out. They have applications in regard to sanction from vocational education committees, not alone in the midlands but throughout the country, for new schools, extensions to existing schools and additional buildings. This is where I want to agree very fully with Deputy Cunningham. It will eventually reach the stage when it will be impossible to staff these schools.
Most of us who are members of vocational education committees know that the big difficulty that presents itself is the staffing of our schools. with trained teachers. I would ask the Minister to take steps to double up on the output of teachers for our vocational schools. An effort should be made to bring home to the parents of those who are seeking careers that there are many openings. With the steady growth of vocational education, there should be further openings for people who are interested in the teaching profession.
I am not at all satisfied with the manner in which the Department of Education are dealing with this steady growth. There seems to be either a shortage of money or a deliberate holdup of sanction, both for extensions to existing schools and for the giving of the green light for the construction of new schools. In my constituency, we probably realise the value of vocational schools more than in any other constituency. In the county of Offaly and in the county of Laois, there are vocational education committees with a splendid record of service to the public.
Bord na Móna have been closely connected with vocational education in the training of apprentices for the various workshops and they deserve to be complimented on the manner in which they have co-operated with the staffs of vocational schools probably not alone in my constituency but in other constituencies also where Bord na Móna are carrying out activities. The same applies to the ESB. We have a number of ESB power stations in my constituency. The ESB have expressed their appreciation in no uncertain terms that their employees, in their early years, received a sound education in the technical schools. They have co-operated in the conducting of classes for apprentices and others in that regard. The same applies to the briquette factories in that constituency. Many of the key workers are the products of our vocational schools. We were disappointed we did not get the fertiliser factory which Wicklow got. I am sure we would have the very same boast in that regard.
Vocational education is an absolute necessity. Whilst we have to pause and question ourselves in regard to its financing, we have to admit, viewing all the legislation that comes from the Government, that every Bill that has been brought in has piled an additional burden on the taxpayers, either directly or indirectly. That is particularly striking when we carry our minds back to the undertakings given by the Government to relieve the taxpayer. Not alone is the taxpayer not getting any relief but every Bill brought in here piles up an additional burden of taxes.
This Bill will increase the rates as well as central taxation. There was an uproar in this country by the members of the present Government when, during the time of the old Cumann na nGaedheal Government, the rates were 3/6d. in the £ and taxation was £20 million. Today, taxation is £163 million and in many cases rates stand at 53/- in the £, as a result of the policies being implemented by the men who pledged themselves to cut down on the 3/6d. rate and the £20 million taxation. Now we see rates at 53/- in the £ in many counties and taxation standing at £163 million. However, we have to view the picture as it is here.
This House realises that vocational education is an urgent necessity. I have often wondered why the Department of Education had a ceiling on the amount for which a vocational education committee could ask its county council. If vocational education is to develop in order to meet the educational requirements of our people in the Common Market period which lies ahead, the curbing of spending on vocational education must stop.
When vocational education committees are given their allocation of money in the form of a State grant, on one hand, and a contribution from the county council, on the other, there is too much restriction by the Department on the spending of that money. I was expecting that, when this Bill was introduced, vocational education committees would be given a little more power in relation to the spending of their funds.
I want to take this opportunity of offering serious criticism to the Department for failing to sanction a proper rate of pay for caretakers of vocational schools throughout the country. I understand that, when the vocational education conference met in Athlone earlier this year, there was a full-dress debate on this matter. I am sure that when the report of that conference is submitted to him, the Minister will, for his own information, note the comments in that regard.
In towns such as Portlaoise, Portarlington, Birr and Tullamore, I fail to understand why a caretaker of a vocational school should be treated as he is being treated at present. Consider a man who is devoting all his time to that work. Even when school is not in session, there are the grounds to be kept, rooms to be looked after, machinery to be watched. The premises have to be looked after. I fail to understand why the Department insists that his rate of pay should be linked to the rate of pay of an agricultural worker in the district.
There is no comparison whatever between the duties of an agricultural worker and the duties to be performed by the caretaker of a vocational school. I think there is a circular in the Minister's Department—No. 17/51, if my memory serves me correctly— which lays down certain duties whereby the members of vocational education committees must provide for the caretakers of vocational schools. That circular is outdated and the Minister should take the necessary steps to review the position.
This has been a constant worry to the vocational education committee of which I am a member. When the committee sit down to consider the rate of pay for men giving valuable wholetime service—men who are prepared to work many hours in addition to what they would normally be called upon to work—we find that, when the committee are prepared to pay what they think is a reasonable rate, the Department threaten to surcharge the members and fail to give sanction and effect to the wishes of the committee. Vocational committees are made up of men who have a certain responsibility in the matter of the spending of ratepayers' money. they also have a sense of the value of their employees. For those reasons, the Minister would be well advised to seek closer co-operation with vocational educational committees in general.
As I said earlier, caretakers in vocational schools—there are hundreds of them in the country—are entitled to wages sufficient to ensure for them a reasonable standard of living, and if county vocational educational committees are prepared to foot the bill to provide such wages, I think the Minister should not clamp down on them. Why should such caretakers not be grouped as a separate section in the community, instead of being forced to depend on local agricultural rates of pay?
In matters of that kind, as in many others, the Department would be well advised to have periodic consultations with representatives of vocational educational committees to find out what the general pattern of feeling is in regard to what the standard rate of pay for school caretakers should be. The Minister may have difficulties in such consultations, because a congress is held once a year of representatives of vocational educational committees, but that congress has not got the same negotiating machinery as is available to the General Council of County Councils and the General Council of Committees of Agriculture, both of which come together and have resource to top level conference.
I recommend to the Minister that he should take the initiative in giving to a body formed of representatives of vocational educational committees facilities to consult with his Department on problems relating to vocational education. I had hoped this Bill would make provision for the setting up of such machinery, for the setting up of a congress of vocational educational committee members from throughout the country with facilities for top level consultation. At the moment you have the people responsible for the vocational education system completely unorganised, as one might say. If the Minister, as Deputy McQuillan suggested, is to launch a huge building scheme of vocational schools throughout the country, he must have such consultation facilities available in order to determine where such schools should be built.
There is undoubtedly a huge demand for new vocational schools— schools in which there will be facilities for the general teaching of engineering as well as many kindred subjects— throughout the length and breadth of the country. In face of this demand, it becomes obvious that there is an urgent need for the setting up of machinery whereby there can be provided machinery for consultation between the Department and representatives of vocational committees. I am not at all satisfied that the annual congress of vocational committees held in some town by the seaside for two or three days is at all effective in this matter. A representative body of those committees should be set up and should meet more frequently.
Members of vocational committees give unselfish service and I think that when the Minister is replying he should pay a tribute to those people, members of county councils and the clergy and others, who give their time so selflessly in the interests of vocational education.
Another problem the Minister should consider seriously is that of the provision of transport for pupils anxious to attend vocational schools. In most parts of the country, vocational schools are in the big towns but the time has now arrived when farmers' sons want to attend classes in engineering. Every farmer's son nowadays knows that the day has come when he must have mechanical training, when the horse is a thing of the past on the farm. He wants to know something about mending and maintaining a tractor, about how to keep and drive a combine harvester. He wants to know about replacements for mechanical implements. The sad part is that most farmers' sons now leaving national schools live at great distance from vocational schools.
As Deputy McQuillan rightly pointed out, it is in matters such as this that the need for closer co-operation between the Department and the vocational education committees is so obvious. There is this great new demand for schools in each county and it is only representatives of county committees who can give the Minister the required information about where new schools are most needed.
Reverting to the question of providing transport for pupils to vocational schools, in my constituency, committees have been set up for providing transport for such pupils. That is an idea to be commended— the idea of public-spirited citizens coming together to give children an opportunity of attending vocational classes. However, I think an effort should be made by the Department to revise their policy in this respect so that county vocational committees will be left free to make financial provision for such transport.
I fully agree with Deputy Cunningham that no vocational school should be without facilities for the teaching of engineering. It should be a condition laid down by the Department that no vocational school will be without an engineering classroom. I was also impressed by what Deputy MacEoin said but I should like to add that there is a very good opportunity for co-operation between the trade union movement and vocational committees. The same spirit of co-operation, I am glad to say, exists as far as industrialists are concerned. Some of our finest industries are to-day being managed by people who had their first grinding in vocational schools. That is a great credit to the people concerned and to the educational system. I feel, however, that it is necessary there should be more frequent conferences between the trade union movement, industrialists and the Minister because a lot more could be done in this direction if a greater spirit of friendliness and co-operation existed.
One Deputy suggested we should have better facilities in our vocational schools for the teaching of continental languages. I agree. We heard in the radio recently where in one midland area 40 people were enrolled in a French class, 40 were turned away and and an Irish course attended by six people had to be closed down. There is no doubt that in every county a great demand exists for training in continental languages. We are coming to the time when continental languages will be necessary for our people. In this connection, I would ask the Minister to make it clear whether it is a fact that if a person offers himself as a teacher of French or German. he must first have a qualification in Irish before being allowed to teach the continental language?
If that is the position, it shows a high degree of lunacy on the part of the Department and steps should be taken forthwith to end it because there is a demand for the teaching of French or, indeed any continental language. French is probably one of the most important universal languages and it is now becoming an absolute necessity for anyone who wants to do business on the Continent. French is a language we should know and it must be taught to our people in the future. That is why I think we should get more teachers, and we should cut out the condition that they should be qualified in Irish in order to teach a foreign language.
I should be glad if the Minister would refer to that when replying because I am given to understand that it is one of the reasons why there is such a shortage of teachers of foreign languages. Steps should be taken to encourage such classes and the Department should provide the teachers. We have now reached the stage at which the shopkeeper must cater for the customer. Our schools must now cater for the demands coming from li = "3" fli = "-2"those who attend them. If there is a demand in that regard, an effort should be made to meet it.
This Bill is welcome. I hope and trust that the debate which has taken place will give the Minister at least some food for thought. There is a growing realisation not only in this House but throughout the country to-day of the need for a furtherance and continuation of large-scale vocational education. I should like to express the hope that we may see the day when there will be a greater link-up between our national school education and our vocational school education. I should have liked to see a dove-tailing of one into the other in order that when children leave the national school at 14 years of age, the services of the vocational schools in which wonderful and outstanding work is being done, will be immediately available to them. The teaching staffs of our vocational schools deserve the highest possible praise for the excellent manner in which they discharge their duties.
This Bill will certainly be a help. The only thing I am afraid of is the growing protests from the ratepaying community against any further burden on local rates. Steps should be taken by the Government in an attempt to relieve the demands and pressures on the ratepayers by giving increased grants and increased financial facilities to vocational education committees to help them to carry out their valuable and important work.
Clara is an industrial town. Arrangements have been made by the Offaly Vocational Education Committee to proceed with the erection of a vocational school in Clara. For over 40 years, there has been a genuine demand from Clara—which is probably one of the most industrialised towns in the midlands—for a vocational school. Now that it is being started, I would ask the Minister to ensure that no time will be lost and that there will be no hold up on any financial commitments entered into by the committee and the Department. I would ask him to keep a special eye on the proposed vocational school for Clara to see that no time is lost in having it satisfactorily completed.
The same applies to the extension that is about to be added to the vocational school in Birr. In view of the growth of the town and the enrolment in the school this season and last season, a very good case has been made for a substantial extension. I hope the Department will be helpful and that the obstacles which very often present themselves will be reduced as far as possible.
In regard to the other county which I have the honour to represent, Laois, the Minister gave sanction in principle to the erection of a vocational school in Mountmellick. By some strange coincidence, the sanction in principle arrived ten days before the general election.