Before going on with the general theme of my speech I want to revert momentarily to the question of the community schools. The Minister made an announcement in his opening speech the last day. In reply to a question by me he also clarified a point about the faith and morals clause. Unfortunately, owing to the fact that he confined himself to a very unobtrusive sentence in his speech on the issue of the trusteeship and ownership of the schools, and owing to the fact that he omitted any reference to the faith and morals clause from his speech—I had to draw it out from him by way of interruption—I do not think the public are yet clear on the changes that have been made. In fact, some of the newspapers the following day did not understand the point about the faith and morals clause. It is significant that even an educational correspondent as well informed as Senator John Horgan, in his article today, does not seem to appreciate the fact that the Minister clarified this point by way of interjection in the debate. Presumably the Press report omitted this reference.
It is important for us to sum up at this stage the point we have reached in the community schools issue, the extent of the climb-down by the Minister in response to Opposition pressure, and the extent to which the scheme as originally devised, in a form which would have been sectarian in effect although, no doubt, not sectarian in intent, has been modified to become something approaching an acceptable arrangement for community schools. We cannot as yet take up a final position on this until we know the terms of the trust deed.
Originally this proposal as set out in the Minister's statement of October, 1970, and sent to the Cardinal, envisaged a management of the school with four representatives of the religious orders and two representatives of the vocational schools regardless of the relative strength of schools in the area or in numbers of pupils. There was no provision for representation of the parents although this is something in which the Minister has professed himself to be interested and something which it may be said the Hierarchy supported in their statement a couple of years ago.
As a result of pressure this has been changed. The Minister agreed that two of the representatives of the religious orders should be appointed by the religious orders to represent the parents. Subsequently he claimbed down in respect of all the schools except Tallaght and Blanchardstown and agreed that the parents' representatives should be selected by the parents, in the case of Tallaght and Blanchardstown this provision being postponed for two years. Stage by stage at last we have forced from the Minister an acceptance of the right of parents to be represented on the school management in new schools being established if they purport to be community schools.
The original proposal involved a chairman who it was said might be the bishop of the diocese. That proposal has now disappeared. It did not reappear in the May proposals and has not reappeared since. The proposal apparently referred to the Roman Catholic bishop but, throughout these proposals, all the Minister's references to the Roman Catholic bishop of the diocese are offensively couched in the terms of the ordinary of the diocese or the bishop of the diocese, as if there were no other ordinary or no other bishop, so incapable is the Minister of having regard to the feelings of those of other religions, though I know he has no intent or desire in any way to discriminate against them.
The proposal for the trustees originally involved their appointment by the parties concerned which would have meant that they would simply be the representatives of the school authorities concerned. This was then changed to an arrangement under which instead of two of them being appointed by the religious orders and one by the vocational school authorities all three would be appointed by the bishop but he would appoint one representing the vocational school authorities on their nomination. The presumption being, although this was not stated, that the other two would be on the nomination of the religious order concerned or, indeed, the lay school concerned, presumably in areas like Killorglin where the school concerned is a lay school. Again, with prolonged pressure from this side of the House and the representations of a wide variety of Protestant organisations, authorities and individuals of eminence like the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Buchanan, we have finally prevailed on the Minister to eliminate this clearly sectarian provision as regards the ownership of the schools, expressed in most sectarian language referring to the ordinary of the diocese as if there were no other bishop of the diocese concerned but the Roman Catholic one. Now he is to do the appointing himself. Again, a major concession.
The other issue then introduced into the May proposals, the faith and morals clause, under which the selection committee established for the purpose of selecting the teachers under which its decisions would not in fact stand if the management committee decided against a teacher on the grounds not merely of his morals but of his faith, opened the way to discrimination on the grounds of religion. That has now been dropped altogether. I emphasise this and I hope that this will be taken up by the Press because the omission from Press reports of the Minister's reply to my interjected question the last day has left people, even Senator John Horgan, in doubt on this particular issue.
All these changes have significantly transformed the position. The work we have put in, and it has been hard work and involved quite a lot of questioning and quite a lot of shouting across the floor of this House, and a lot of speeches, has paid off. Eventually we have shamed this Government into abandoning a policy which, as originally enunciated, was extremely damaging in terms of our relationship with and possible future relationship with Northern Ireland and, indeed, one which was offensive to the religious minority here and which they in the letter which the Church of Ireland board of education addressed to the Minister last July made clear was one which they found unacceptable.
There remain, however, several outstanding issues. Only one of these is one which directly concerns the issue of sectarianism and this is the question of the trust deed. We do not know yet what the contents of the trust deed will be. I put it to the Minister, however, that for a trust deed to be acceptable for schools of this kind, bearing in mind that they will in practice in most parts of the country, if not all, be predominantly Roman Catholic in the personnel of the teachers and in the student population, and bearing in mind that in practice the management board will also tend to be over-whelmingly Roman Catholic, that two of the trustees will be appointed by the Minister on the nomination of the Roman Catholic religious orders, then given these facts, which are naturally a reflection of the balance between the Roman Catholic faith and other religions in this part of Ireland, it is very important that the Protestant minority should have the reassurance of knowing that the school will be so run as not to be in any way offensive to their faith and to ensure adequate safeguards for the religion of the children concerned.
The Fine Gael Party in their policy, which I announced on their behalf at the Ard-Fheis, made it clear that we would accept these schools only if there were adequate safeguards for the children of all religions, both Protestant and Catholic. We are not prepared to agree to any system of community schools which is so organised as to be unacceptable to the parents of children of any religion. I put it to the Minister, therefore, that on this side of the House we presume that the trust deed will contain provisions to cover this. We presume that the trust deed will contain a provision specifying that the school must be run in such a way as to safeguard the religion of the children in the school. I do not think this House would accept any proposed arrangement which did not contain that provision. It is a matter of serious concern to us. It does not matter what religious faith we profess, whether Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian or Methodist, our children's religious faith should be safeguarded in the schools.
The problem in these schools will tend, in the nature of these schools, to be one for the Protestant minority. In other schools it might indeed be in the other direction. If there are other comprehensive schools which are known colloquially as Protestant comprehensive schools, where the majority of the pupils attending will be Protestants, I would be concerned to ensure that the schools are run in such a way, and that the provisions under which they are operated, are such as to ensure the safeguarding of the faith of the minority of Roman Catholic children attending such schools. It does not matter which way round it is. We are all concerned with this particular point.
I ask the Minister, therefore, to ensure that a clause of the kind that exists, for example, in the terms of appointment of statutory members of the academic staff of University College, Dublin, is introduced into this trust deed and the trust deed is one which for the Protestant minority, the people mainly affected, will be acceptable and that it will ensure that there will be no question of the schools being run in such a way as to be offensive to the children of the Protestant minority. The Minister proclaimed in what appeared to me, listening to the radio, to be a very loud voice at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, as if it were a great victory, that Protestant children could go to these schools. I understood the position to be that any school which obtains aid from the State must be run in such a way that Protestant children or Catholic children are entitled to go to it. I understood that we cannot under our Constitution in any school, discriminate by refusing admission to children of any denomination. That being so, the Minister's triumphant statement to the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis seemed to me to have elements of pathos about it.
These schools are no different from any others in this respect. Of course, Protestant children must be entitled to go to them as they are entitled to go to any school just as Catholic children are entitled to go to any school aided by State funds, otherwise we would be supporting sectarian institutions. Our Constitution rightly forbids this. That is not the issue. The issue at stake is whether the school is run in such a way that it is acceptable to the children of the different religious faiths. These schools being stated to be community schools, the Minister having proclaimed throughout, despite the very odd features of them from the point of view of the Protestant minority, that that was the intention, and having now eliminated the particular objectionable features which were unacceptable to the Protestant minority—I think there is a statement from some of them today, welcoming this particular point— we now have to concern ourselves that the trust deed is so worded that there can be no question of the schools being run in a way as to be unacceptable to the children of any religious denomination.
This is important. Of course there will be provision in the schools for religious instruction and, indeed, one hopes, for religious observance by the children of the different faiths. That is necessary. The vast majority of the people want their children to be brought up in this kind of atmosphere with adequate religious instruction. Indeed, our vocational schools make adequate provisions for this. The community schools will, we presume from what the Minister has said, be modelled on the vocational schools in this respect. It is important that the trust deed should ensure this and that it should not be possible in any school for secular people running it who happen to be of one faith to transform it into a school objectionable in some way, by religious emblems or anything of that kind, to the religious minority.
I would ask the Minister to tell us what safeguards the trust deed will contain to ensure that the children of all faiths in these schools will find them acceptable and that we will not have the position where children come home from school and say something which to their parents indicates that they are being brought up in an atmosphere which to their parents is alien. This would be totally against our traditions in regard to the vocational schools system and is something which we would all be concerned to ensure would not happen. I ask the Minister, therefore, to give the final assurance necessary on that.
The other point about community schools which is unsatisfactory but which is not a point concerning any question of religious faith is the question of the absence of teacher representation. On this side of the House we are quite clear that in establishing new schools of this kind, community schools which are to be genuine community schools, the teachers must have a say in the running of the schools just as we believe workers must have a say in the running of any business of a substantial size, as is the case in countries like France and Germany. The same principle applies here. Rather astonishingly no such provision is made by the Minister. As a teacher himself one would have thought that he would have been anxious to make provision for teacher representation. Perhaps he is leaning over backwards lest he be accused of having a pro-teacher bias. God knows, nobody could accuse him of that when he totally excludes teachers from any role of any kind in the Management of the schools. I put it to him, therefore, that he should change his mind on this and make provision for additional teacher representation. However, if he does not do so, I still hope the schools will go ahead because it will merely require a change of Government for the change to be made to introduce the additional teacher representation. I do not want to put forward firm proposals for that now. I merely say an appropriate form of teacher representation, without committing this party and an appropriate form could be the presence on the management board of the principal of the school and a teacher selected by the teaching staff. You would have then a 2:2:2 relationship, which would seem reasonable.
I would merely put this to the Minister that I presume that the trust deed will not contain any provisions of any kind to limit in any way changes in the structure of the management system. If it were the Minister's intention to provide a trust deed of such a kind as to limit in some way legally the power of any Government to make changes here and to introduce teacher representation, then that trust deed would be totally unacceptable to us on this side of the House. We are prepared to wait until a Government which has more concern for the rights of teachers come into office in this country, which will not be long. We are not prepared to permit any Government to frustrate us in our efforts to secure teacher representation. I presume that in this respect the trust deed will leave the matter open and because we do not know that until the Minister says it, because we do not know whether the trust deed will make adequate provision for safeguards for the religious faith of children attending these schools, we must, therefore, reserve our position on the community schools, while welcoming all the changes made and accepting that in other respects the minimum necessary to make these schools acceptable from the point of view of the community as a whole has, in fact, now been achieved.
I want to come back to one other point before moving on to fresh pastures and that is this question of small schools. I mention this because the Minister has given a reply in this House—in fact, several replies—on this question and I want to turn to it for a moment. I made the case in this House the last day and I saw the Minister nodding frequently throughout my remarks, perhaps, the only part of my remarks that he so greeted—I made a case for schools being organised in such a way as to provide an adequate choice of subjects and I have, I think, argued that the article by Father Nolan, C.S Sp., suggesting the contrary, was, in fact, deficient in logic at the various points where he purported to make the argument against having a wide range of subjects. I am convinced on that point. Other speakers in the debate may not agree with me on this but I should be grateful to them when they come to speak, as I understand is likely to be the case, if they would address themselves to the article and to my reply to the article and show where, if at any point it is the case, I am wrong in my logic or where Fr. Nolan is right in his logic, rather than making general statements that variety is not necessary, or anything of that kind. I think my argument here was a closely reasoned one. It deserves careful attention. I would hope that nobody would make general speeches without getting down to arguing the case point by point on a specific basis.
Having said that, the point I want to make clear—I did mention it before but I want to make quite clear that the Minister understands it because I do not have the impression that he does from things that have been said since —is that while in general the indications that one would get from the criteria which I and he agree on is that schools must in general be of a certain size and I do not accept and the Minister has made no case whatever for their being of a very large size but of a certain size, that in the context of this country, with low density of population, with the problem of low density especially in parts of the west of Ireland and the long distances between schools already, that schools should be closed in those areas merely on these grounds. The right answer, which the Minister has consistently refused to adopt, showing here as elsewhere the unwillingness of the Fianna Fáil Government to show any genuine concern for these areas—the right answer is to make special provision for additional teachers in the few schools in question to provide the range of subjects. We must accept that where the density of population is low and where we are concerned to keep communities alive, it will be necessary to make special provision in these cases and to have a better than average pupil/teacher ratio so that a small school may provide a range of subjects.
The Minister's rule of thumb bureaucratic answer is that given the ratio of pupils to teachers which he has ruled on as being nationally necessary regardless of the interests of any particular part of the country or the special problems of any particular part of the country, a school with less than X number of pupils cannot, of course, survive and letters are sent to tell them to close down. That, to us, is totally unacceptable. The general principle we agree with: there must be an adequate range of subjects; and if in an area there are a number of schools together and the rationalisation of them will give a wider range of subjects, instead of four schools all teaching a narrow range, merge them into two and that will give a wider range of subjects in both. If that, in fact, is the situation, then we will accept the logic of that and we accept, even if this is locally unpopular, that something of the kind needs to be done for the children's benefit.
Where a secondary school exists in an area where there is no other secondary school anywhere in the region within ten, 20, even 30 miles of the place concerned, I do not accept in those circumstances that such school should be closed because the Minister is unprepared to make any concession about an above average teacher/pupil ratio in that area. We have cases of this kind. There has been mention already today of Ballycastle. That is a special case because there is a vocational school in the area. But, what about the case of Cloghane in the Dingle Peninsula, a school in which the number of pupils has risen very rapidly since its foundation, a school in which there originally were 38 pupils? There are now either 32 or 34 in the first year. Give it five years to grow, for that number of pupils to move up and assuming no further increase in the entry at first year stage, that merely that level of entry is maintained, that school would be a school of 150 pupils within four years. That being the kind of size of school that has hitherto been acceptable, and given that the area is a remote one and that the nearest secondary school is, in fact, a very long distance away, either in Dingle, to which no school bus can get, apparently, over the Connor Pass, because it is not permitted to travel on that road, which is blocked at certain periods of the year, or Tralee, which is something like 30 miles away, in those circumstances, there can be no case for closing such a school. It shows a total disregard for the realities of a country with a low density of population and with very severe rural problems, for the Minister by a rule of thumb to close down such a school. Here is a school that has been highly successful. The numbers in it have increased two and a half times in ten years. It is clear that they will almost double again within four years at the present rate of entry in the first year. The answer here must be to give them a special allowance of extra teachers and that, in fact, is the course of action which this party would adopt in Government.
I call on the Minister here and now, if his Government mean anything of what they say, at election times primarily and at other times occasionally, on the subject of the west of Ireland. let him show some sincerity in the matter. We will back him where, in fact, there are a number of schools together because there is no distance problem involved and where rationalisation will give better results in terms of range of subjects. But, in these particular areas the answer is more teachers. The Minister will have to face up to that. There is a proposal to close down 13 or 14 schools. While in some cases there may be good reasons, in other cases the proposal is unacceptable.
May I say that his attitude in this House a few minutes ago, when he refused to say where the schools are, is typical of the attitude of the Minister and his Department? This House is entitled to know what schools they are. He has no right to refuse to disclose this. The idea that he will write off to the schools in question but will not tell the Members of this Parliament what schools they are is something totally unacceptable. The Minister and his Department here show themselves to be willing to flout Parliament. They have no regard for this House. This House has rights. We have a right to know what those schools are. The names of those schools should be published. It is a matter of public interest that 14 schools, some of them in remote areas, are being closed down, in some instances at least, in circumstances which do not stand up to scrutiny. I ask the Minister to do his duty by this House and tell us where these schools are. We have come across a few of them because reports have come back to us and complaints have come back in particular cases, but it is an absurd position that, as the spokesman for education in the principal Opposition party, I do not know what the names of these schools are and the Minister refuses to tell me. I do not know any democratic parliament in Europe where that kind of thing would be tolerated. I suspect that even on the other side of the Iron Curtain a Deputy in Parliament would get a reasonably polite reply to a question of that kind, but not, apparently, in this country with its Fianna Fáil Government.
This is one of a number of instances of where the Minister and his Department act ruthlessly, retrospectively, in a manner which is unacceptable in any democratic system, in any system where there is any justice. We had examples of that earlier in the case of home economics. I am speaking now on the question of teacher appointments.
On about 12th May last, the Department issued a circular to schools calling on them not to make any additional appointments—they were the words used—without consulting the Department. This was the result of a decision in the Department overnight— without consultation, because consultation on matters of this kind is regarded as being beneath the dignity of the Department, to change the pupil-teacher ratio in secondary schools from 1 to 15 to 1 to 20. First of all, that decision should have been the result of consultation. In any normal democratic country it would have followed consultation.
Secondly, a decision to make overnight a change of that character, involving one-third of the ratio, is one which is unacceptable. It is too sudden. Any change of that kind must be made gradually. No doubt the Minister and the Department had neglected to review the position, and the raising of the ratio, for which a case can be made except in the particular case of those small schools where special provisions must be made, should have been done gradually. Not only was it done suddenly and overnight but despite the Minister's statements in this House that nothing of the kind would happen, it was done retrospectively.
Again and again I had to approach the Minister—other cases have come up since—in cases of schools which had appointed teachers prior to May and which were told by the Department that those appointments could not stand, that if the schools wanted to employ these teachers they could pay them themselves, and the schools in most cases had no source of revenue other than public funds, they had no means of paying supernumerary teachers of that kind since they went into the free education scheme. The Minister, having trapped these schools into the scheme—not this Minister but his second last predecessor—is turning around now and telling them they will have to cancel appointments of teachers.
In this House when I put this to him last year he denied it. He said it was not true. When I spoke to him subsequently he reaffirmed that position. The simple fact is that again and again I pointed out to him that this was the effect. I brought his attention to three cases of schools where this had happened, where the teachers had been appointed and the appointments had to be cancelled. I think the Minister should be honest in cases like this. If he is to make retrospective cancellations, if he is to say to schools that they must cancel appointments already made, he should admit that in the House. It is not good enough to come in here and try to convince people other than those who have specific knowledge like myself that he is not doing anything of the kind. Any denial by the Minister of this is not an honest denial. Convents appointed people, in some instances a short while before, in others as far back as the previous January, people had planned their lives accordingly and then the convents were forced to send out letters to them saying: "This appointment must be cancelled. The Minister has decided without warning that he will not pay an incremental salary although you are a teacher whom we were entitled to take on under the rules then prevailing. This has been retrospectively changed."
It was intolerable this should have been done and it was intolerable the Minister did not come clean about it and that he did not admit that it had been done. In some cases this has created serious problems for the schools concerned, for schools that have been teaching a particular subject and now find themselves in a position that they cannot teach it. The Minister is on the one hand preaching that schools must have a wider range of subjects and on the other hand he is retrospectively forcing them to cancel appointments of teachers who would enable the schools to widen the range of subjects. That is inconsistent and the Minister's attitude to this is less than honest.
It is intolerable to find the Minister again and again trying to bring in something retrospectively in respect of pupils already engaged on courses. I do not know if this has ever happened before. Certainly I do not recall its having happened. There is a basic principle in education that when a pupil enters on a course that pupil is entitled to complete that course on the terms in which he or she entered it. Yet, in the case of home economics pupils whom I mentioned earlier, the Minister has again acted arbitrarily. He tried to present the picture here that the convents concerned, the schools concerned, had had adequate notice. The position is that they were told in 1970 there might be a change. In January, 1971, through Circular V.57, they were told that for the examination in 1972 and subsequent to that it would be a condition that a certain standard in the leaving certificate, with whatever number of grades are thought to be proper, would apply. In case anybody suggests that I am not translating it properly, I will read the original:
Is iad na cáilíochtaí oideachais atá riachtanach: (1) An Ardteistiméireacht le grád C (nó grád níos airde) in dhá ábhar i bpáipéar ardleibhéal.
An Ardteistiméireacht le honoracha in dha ábhar.
There is another condition about the necessity to have particular subjects. If it was the Minister's intention at that time that of course it would apply to two subjects, as he seemed to suggest in this House, why did he not say so? Why in 1970 and again in 1971 did he use this vague phraseology that everybody knew it had to be two subjects? The fact is we did not know. The fact is it was undecided until after the students had started on this year's course. I quoted at Question Time a letter I received from the principal of one of these colleges. In it she said:
Last November, several months after these courses had started, after these pupils had started on these courses, the Department of Education asked me to forward suggestions for revised entry qualifications. I submitted observations in writing but emphasised that no change could come into operation before 1972. I heard nothing further until last Saturday, February 5th, when I received the new regulations for those competing on April 18th, 1972. To my astonishment I discovered that the entry qualifications were radically changed, thus disqualifying many students from this year's competitive entrance examination.
That was disgraceful behaviour on the part of the Department. It was disgraceful that having indicated their intentions to introduce some system involving a certain date unspecified, they did not say anything about grades, just said something about whatever grades are thought to be necessary. They did not say how many subjects. Having given advanced warning of their intention, they failed to come back to the schools before September last to give any indication of what was intended, thereby leaving the schools to assume that for the second year running the matter was being postponed.
No educationist would ever dream that the Department intended to let pupils start a course and months later to dare to tell them they were not entitled to be doing it, that they would be wasting their time because they would not be able to get the opportunity at the end of it to which success in that course would entitle them. After that, the Department, it would appear from the letter I have received, got in touch with the principal of at least one of these colleges and asked the principal concerned to forward suggestions for revised entry qualifications. When I raised it in the House, the Minister suggested that was not true. This is not the first time he has thrown accusations across the House that the heads of schools, including, as in this instance, heads of religious orders, are not telling the truth. As between a nun in charge of a home economics school and the Minister and his Department, I know where my preference lies until I have solid evidence to the contrary as to who is telling the truth.
The Minister now makes the firm statement, it seems to me highly improbable, that this nun would send me a lying letter telling me of an imaginary request from the Department, an imaginary reply from her pointing out that no change could come into operation before 1972, or that she would suppress the fact that the Department had come back to her and had told her that two honours were required. I am not prepared to believe that the nun in question, as the Minister suggested in the House, lied in what she said or did not say. I believe——