Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - College of Art Teachers.

51.

asked the Minister for Education whether two teachers in the Foundation School of the National College of Art dismissed on Wednesday, 20th October, had on Monday, 11th October, a week before the college opened to students, sought instructions from the acting director on the course they were teaching, in view of the high failure rate in the previous year when they pursued a course without such instructions; whether they were told on Wednesday, 13th October, that a head of the Foundation School was about to be appointed; whether they approached the person concerned with a view to seeking instructions but were told by him that he had not yet accepted the appointment; whether they were dismissed immediately before his appointment; and, if so, if he will reconsider this decision.

52.

asked the Minister for Education if he is aware that a person (name supplied) was dismissed from a position in the National College of Art; whether he has had any inquiries made regarding this action; and, if he will make a statement in the matter.

53.

asked the Minister for Education if he will make a statement concerning the recent dismissal by his Department of two members of the staff of the National College of Art.

54.

asked the Minister for Education if he will make a statement on the dismissal by his Department of two part-time teachers from the College of Art.

55.

asked the Minister for Education if he will state the grounds for the recent dismissal of two members of the teaching staff of the National College of Art and if he will make a statement on his immediate plans for a resumption of teaching in that institution.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 to 55 together. The two teachers concerned were dismissed for good and sufficient reasons. I do not propose to alter that decision or to enter into any discussion on it. I do not propose to reopen the college until a new governing body are appointed.

Could I ask the Minister, first of all, whether the facts as suggested in my Question No. 51 are correct, because, if correct, they would suggest that in the absence of some reason of a rather extraordinary character which we do not know about the dismissal was inappropriate?

I do not intend discussing this matter. I informed the Deputy of my attitude towards this type of question in the debate last night. There is another question later in relation to assessments and I would be willing to answer questions on that. However, I do not propose to answer questions in this House in relation to dismissals.

The Minister has indicated that the staff concerned were dismissed "for good and sufficient reasons". Would the Minister not consider it extraordinary that the staff in an institution under the direction and management of the Department should now be placed in the public position whereby they have lost their jobs, been dismissed by the Minister, and he merely states that he has good and sufficient reason for doing so. Yet, in the public interest and in the right of Deputies to make inquiries concerning the termination of the employment of these people the Minister refuses to state why the Department took this action.

Question No. 56.

On a point of order, surely it is the function of your office, a Cheann Comhairle, to determine whether a question is admissible and if your office passed Question No. 51 as admissible, is not Deputy FitzGerald entitled to an answer to it?

It is not a matter for the Chair. The Minister is entitled to give any answer he wishes.

Therefore, are we to take it that in relation to Question No. 53, a Minister is entitled to come into this House and refuse to answer a question that has been allowed——

Refuse to answer for his actions?

——and, indeed, to account for a decision reached by public servants, presumably, the secretary of the Department and his staff, acting under the direct authority of the political head of the Department who, in the present case, is Deputy Faulkner, the Minister for Education?

All I propose to say here is that this decision was not taken lightly and I do not intend to discuss it any further.

Surely the function of Question Time is to compel Ministers to answer to Parliament for decisions which they take or which are taken under their responsibility? They have a duty to answer questions in relation to actions they have taken. That duty is one that I have not heard challenged before. If this body are transferred subsequently to a board, it would not be proper that questions would be directed regarding their day-to-day activities but for as long as these people are under the control of the Minister, he has an obligation to answer questions concerning them. Otherwise he is making a farce of Parliament. Therefore, will he reconsider his decision and answer a question which he has a parliamentary and democratic obligation to answer?

If the Minister has deemed it right and proper that these people should have been dismissed for good and adequate reasons, is it not appropriate that he should state his case?

Hear, hear.

I am calling Question No. 56.

As I said on a previous occasion in relation to a somewhat similar case, there could be many instances in which the people concerned would not wish to have information given publicly as to why they were dismissed.

In this case, they do.

Therefore, what the Deputy is suggesting is that in certain instances I should give the information while in others I should not give it.

I am not suggesting that.

My personal decision on this is that I will not give the information to this House for the reasons I have stated already.

Question No. 56.

Could the Minister indicate in what way Parliament can make a Minister answerable to them if he adopts that attitude in matters of this kind?

If this information is not given publicly, can the Minister say whether it might be given to Deputies in some other way?

I have pointed out already that there are many cases where people are dismissed but where the persons would not wish the reasons to be known. If, because it happens to suit me or to suit somebody else, I were to establish a precedent and give the reasons why the person was dismissed, I could not refuse on any future occasion to give such information even when it would not be to the advantage of the person concerned or when the person would not wish the information to be made public. Therefore on those particular grounds I believe that I am justified in not giving any further information in relation to this matter.

I am calling Question No. 56.

Would the Minister say whether the reasons were given to the people concerned and whether if it is the case that the reason given to them was that they had refused to obey instructions but that when they asked for instructions, they were refused them?

I have given what I consider to be a very fair and honest reason as to why I would not wish to discuss matters such as this in the House.

Did the Minister give the reasons to the persons concerned?

In fairness to everybody concerned, it must be pointed out that cases of this nature can arise in different ways. In some instances it would be a simple matter to give the reasons while in others it would be most unfair. I do not intend creating a situation where I would give the information when it happens to suit either me or to suit somebody else but where, when it happens not to suit somebody, I would refuse to give it.

Will the Minister not accept——

I am calling Question No. 56.

——that by his action he is casting a grave reflection on the characters of the two people concerned when in fact the reasons given to them were that they had refused to carry out instructions but when in fact they asked for instructions they were refused them until the appointment of a head of the department?

There is no reflection cast on anybody's character.

Is it not a reflection to say that a person is dismissed for good and sufficient reason?

I am calling Question No. 56. We have been debating this question for long enough.

The teachers concerned do not seem to be members of the appropriate trade union. If they had been, I would have expected that the matter would have rested with the Minister and the organisation concerned, but when a Minister comes into the House and says that for good and sufficient reason he has dismissed some public servant and then shelters behind——

Would the Deputy put a question and cease making these long speeches during question time?

Can the Minister say if he is prepared to brief members of this House privately as to why the two teachers were dismissed? They have protested in public about their dismissal. Surely a grave reflection has been cast on the characters of those people?

The Deputy can be assured that the Minister has never hidden behind anybody or anything. I have given an adequate and fair reason as to why I should adopt this particular attitude.

The Minister has given no reason.

Of course I have given a reason.