Adjournment Debate. - Portlaoise Headmaster Vacancy.

On 15th November last I asked the Minister for Education when he proposed to fill the position of Headmaster at Portlaoise Vocational School, County Laois; and if he would make a statement on the failure of the vocational committee to fill this vacancy. The Minister, in his reply, said:

The question of the filling of the vacancy for a principal teacher in Portlaoise Vocational School has been the subject of correspondence between my Department and the County Laois Vocational Education Committee for some time. The committee have not yet submitted a proposal in the matter of which I can approve in accordance with established practice, procedure and regulations.

By way of supplementary I agreed, but asked if he was aware that the vocational education committee were in a direct challenging position to him. He replied:

I intend taking steps in the near future to remedy the situation once and for all.

I asked him if he could give me any idea of what steps he intended taking. I pointed out that the situation called for strong action because the committee had decided against implementing his directive. The Minister said:

Perhaps the Deputy might like to wait and see what happens.

I said we had been waiting for a long time.

It is because we have been waiting a long time that I sought permission this afternoon to raise this matter on the Adjournment. I want to take the opportunity of thanking you, a Cheann Comhairle, for providing that facility. I have a feeling that the Minister may also welcome this opportunity of making a comment on the matter. This problem has been with him and the parents and teachers of the Portlaoise vocational schools since June last year when the former headmaster retired. Following an advertisement, the former vocational committee, which was controlled by a political group made up of supporters of the Minister's party, set up a selection committee who made no recommendations to it. They, in turn, submitted recommendations for approval to the Minister. Their number one recommendation, Mr. Parsons, was not qualified for appointment to the position of headmaster under memo V7 of the Department.

It is not appropriate to mention names of people outside this House, unless it is vitally necessary for the subject matter.

I appreciate that this is the national Parliament and this discussion appears to be localised but I think it is of national importance. If the Minister allows himself to be dictated to and his authority flouted by the Portlaoise vocational education committee, this could have national repercussions. However, I will endeavour to avoid mentioning names but this will be difficult.

I would be grateful if the Deputy would do that. It is a convention of the House that we do not refer by name to persons outside the jurisdiction of the House.

Most of the local papers in my constituency are full of this and names have been bandied about to a great extent. I am sure the Minister will have read cuttings from these papers. However, I will avoid mentioning names in future.

The man recommended did not qualify for appointment under departmental regulations for appointment. Although I was not a member of the committee—nor was any member of my political party—I understand that an alternative was selected. It transpired that this successful candidate had not the necessary qualifications for the job. As a result, the Minister refused sanction and told the committee they would have to submit the name of another applicant who is qualified under the regulations. At the July vocational committee meeting there was a reply from the Department refusing to sanction their choice.

A new vocational education committee had been elected, on which a certain number of Fianna Fáil nominees had succeeded in being appointed. Since then we have had a rebellion against the Minister's decision by nine votes to five. The five people who consistently supported the Minister's view, as laid down by the regulations, have been four Fianna Fáil nominees and a nominee from a Labour county council. The reaction of this new committee to the Department's refusal was to appoint their successful applicant as a teacher in charge. This was not acceptable to the Minister and he conveyed that to the committee. Their reaction by a nine to five majority, was to appoint their selection as acting principal. He could not be appointed because, under the regulations, he needed five year's teaching experience but had only four. His appointment as acting principal arose because the Department had replied that there was no such position as teacher in charge.

At the September meeting the Department's reply to that decision said they could not sanction that proposal and called for the filling of the headmaster's position as per memo V7, paragraph 126. That letter went on to say that the candidate placed next by the selection board should, in the normal course, be appointed because he was qualified. However, the rebellious committee, by a majority of nine to five, reaffirmed its previous decision. The local paper commented that the Minister should now disband the committee or eat humble pie and let the committee have its way.

A leading councillor—not the chairman, Deputy Flanagan, who is the leader of the rebellious group, and I am pleased he is here to hear my comments—has already had a hand in creating a committee of agriculture which turned out to be illegal, in appointing co-options——

This is hardly relevant.

I am trying to give the House an idea of the type of man with whom we are dealing. I am showing the type of man who is rebelling against the Minister. He said the committee is facing serious inroads into its authority, that it should stand firm behind its decisions and reject the Minister's recommendation. He is more conscious of the authority of the vocational education committee than of the authority of the Minister of State dealing with education. The same councillor went on to attack the Department of Education for its discourtesy in saying that they could not do what they wanted to do and reiterated that the vocational education committee in Laois was the boss as far as this was concerned. In November there was a headline in the local paper "Vocational Education Committee continues to defy Minister". It went on to say that despite a threat from the Minister that unless the matter was satisfactorily resolved he would have seriously to consider invoking the relevant powers conferred on him by the Vocational Education Acts. The Chairman of the vocational education committee, Deputy O. J. Flanagan—he is in the House— quoted from letters he had had from the Minister on October 4th and, again, on October 23rd. He indicated that the Minister had requested a special meeting to go ahead and authorise what he was recommending. Deputy Flanagan indicated at the meeting that he had replied to the Minister that there was no need for a special meeting in view of the fact that they had no intention of implementing the Minister's requirements or directives. The other councillor, the leading big wig in Fine Gael to whom I have already referred, presented a long-winded justifying letter and it was circulated to the committee. As a result the Minister instructed one of his officials or the Secretary of his Department to write back and this letter came before the December meeting as the final proposition by the Minister. This was after I had raised this matter in the House. The letter said that unless the committee at its next meeting, which he anticipated would be held on Monday, December 9th, adopted a proposal of which the Minister could approve the Minister would be left with no alternative but, without further correspondence with the committee in the matter, to set in train the procedures which could lead to the committee being dissolved in accordance with the provisions of the Vocational Education Acts.

What was the reaction of the Laois Vocational Education Committee chaired by Deputy Flanagan? That the committee instruct their legal adviser to initiate legal proceedings in the High Court regarding the appointment of the proposed headmaster. Nine out of 14 of the committee stood on their dignity and would not be dictated to by the Minister who, in this case, was endeavouring to carry out the regulations as laid down by him and by his predecessors.

The report of the January meeting was a very small report in my local paper which said that the committee were still awaiting the legal adviser's report. There was nothing on the agenda.

A meeting of the vocational education committee was held in Rathdowney today. The chairman was not there but his mouthpiece acted as chairman.

May I intervene to say that I was the recipient of a whip from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach to be in this House and my duty was to respond to that whip and be here? Therefore, I could not possibly attend the meeting in Rathdowney today.

The Deputy has more respect for his Whip than he has for his Minister.

Order, please.

I am not castigating Deputy Flanagan for being here. It is only right that he should be.

And if I sought a pairing the Deputy would not give it to me.

I certainly would not. The Deputy seeks election to represent the people here and this is where he is supposed to be while the Dáil is sitting.

And this is where I am.

And the people are very happy with him too.

Let us get back to the subject matter of the question.

A few thousand fewer than previously.

He is well ahead of the Deputy.

At today's meeting one of the five just men endeavoured to raise this matter and was told that he was out of order.

It wassub judice.

He indicated to today's meeting that he could not possibly continue to be an active member of a committee which was acting totally against regulations. He withdrew from the meeting and said he would not return to a meeting of the committee until this was resolved. His example was followed by three other members of the committee. I was unaware when I asked to raise this matter on the Adjournment that this had occurred. The acting chairman indicated that he was instructing the CEO not to notify the four members who left the meeting today of any further meetings of the vocational education committee and that he would be moving as soon as possible for their replacement on the committee.

That brings up an interesting point because the previous vocational education committee, which was made up completely of Fine Gael people, were not in agreement with each other in relation to the original appointment of the gentleman the Laois VEC want to see appointed despite the regulations. Three former councillors and a Fine Gael man who was a candidate for the council at the last election had all opposed the decision to appoint this non-qualified man during the term of the old committee. One is tempted to ask where are they now to back the other people who are opposing this. They are not on the committee. Those four people, although they were all qualified for reappointment, were all removed from that committee in the reshuffle and one of them is another Deputy of the House, Deputy McDonald. He was removed because he did not agree with the rebellion against the Minister and against the regulations. There are many people in rebellion against the Minister under various headings. The Minister said today at Question Time that it is not unusual for him to be worried about a number of things.

I said I had many burdens to carry.

I appreciate that the Minister has a problem in this regard. He has a committee on which people of his own political persuasion are rebelling against his directives and it is not easy to take the appropriate action. The annoying feature is that the people who are rebelling are conscious of the fact that if he takes the ultimate action and disbands the committee—as far as I can see he has no option but to do this because they have told him in no uncertain manner to go to blazes and when his final directive came in December there was this decision to seek legal advice— I am told, though I am not sure of this, that a vocational education committee cannot take legal action on any matter without the Minister's approval.

He will have to pay for it.

It will be a disgrace if we have a committee rebelling against regulations taking an action for which the ratepayers will have to pay a stack of money in order to resolve a wrangle between themselves. It would be wrong to say it is a case of thieves falling out. That is not the case but this has gone on too long.

Five years.

I should like to get back to where the Minister said to me:

The Deputy might like to wait and see what happens.

I have waited since the 10th November for action by the Minister. I am conscious that he is anxious to do the proper thing but he is being thwarted. I know an approach was made by representatives of the people in favour of the man who is not qualified asking him to withdraw voluntarily and make the job easy for them but I understand that has not happened. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say by way of reply.

Mr. R. Burke

The Deputy has given a fairly accurate version of what has happened. I should also like to put on the record, so that everybody concerned may know precisely what has happened, what are the facts in the case. An advertisement was published in the public press in April, 1974, and in it the County Laois VEC invited:

Applications from suitably qualified candidates for the position of principal of Portlaoise Vocational School.

It was also stated in the advertisement:

Qualifications and conditions of appointment as set out in paragraph 12 (b) and Appendix C (ii) Memo. V.7 of the Department of Education.

Memorandum V.7 is a document issued by my Department which governs the appointment, qualifications and scales of salary of permanent full-time teachers under vocational education committees. The memorandum also covers appointments in the case of whole-time teachers permanently established to posts of responsibility in such schools, including posts as principal and vice-principal.

The advertisement specified that the qualifications and conditions of appointment, as I said, for the post would be those set out in the paragraphs I have mentioned. Paragraph 12 (b) of the memorandum in operation at the time of the advertisement read as follows:

The person appointed to any post as principal should be a fully qualified teacher with a capacity for organising. The choice of teacher will depend on the requirements of the centre, but should be such that he can be employed at the centre for the appropriate number of teaching hours. In the case of a school with a points rating over 449, the person appointed should have not less than five years whole-time teaching experience preferably in the vocational education service. In the case of a school with points rating up to 449, the period of whole-time teaching experience should be not less than three years.

The points rating of Portlaoise Vocational School exceeded 449 at the time and still does and pursuant to the above terms of paragraph 12 (b) of Memorandum V.7 the requirements that a person appointed to the post should have not less than five years whole-time teaching experience in the vocational education service was applicable in the case.

According to information supplied to my Department, the County Laois VEC received nine applications for the post in response to their advertisement. In accordance with normal practice the candidates were called for interview by a central selection board on 17th May, 1974. In accordance with established practice, the central selection board consisted of seven members, four nominated by the County Laois VEC and including their chairman, one representative of the Irish Vocational Education Association and two officers of my Department.

The selection board reduced the candidates for that post to a first and second choice. The order in which these two candidates were placed by the four nominees of the VEC on the selection board was not acceptable to the other three members of the board, namely, the representative of the Irish Vocational Education Association and my two nominees, because the candidate placed first by the VEC nominees did not have the minimum of five years whole-time teaching experience required by the terms of paragraph 12 (b) of Memorandum V.7, whereas the candidate placed second by the VEC nominees complied with this and the other requirements for the post. In the event, the report of the meeting of the selection board on 17th May, 1974 was signed only by the four nominees of the VEC and also by the committee's chief executive officer as secretary to the selection board but not by the other three members of the board.

The first choice candidate of the members of the VEC on the selection board is a permanent whole-time teacher of English and History and has been in the whole-time employment of County Laois VEC since September, 1971. He was previously employed on a temporary basis as a teacher in Terenure College, Dublin from September, 1970 to June, 1971. He has not, therefore, the minimum of five years whole-time teaching experience required by the terms of paragraph 12 (b) of Memorandum V.7.

The second choice candidate of the members of the VEC on the selection board is a permanent whole-time teacher of Science who has been in the whole-time employment of County Laois VEC since October, 1963. He, therefore, complies with the requirement of five years whole-time teaching experience prescribed in paragraph 12 (b) of Memorandum V.7.

On 20th May, 1974 the chief executive officer of the committee wrote to the Department indicating that, notwithstanding the views expressed by the IVEA representative and my nominees at the meeting of the selection board on 17th May, 1974 the VEC members on the board had selected as their first choice the candidate who did not fulfil the requirement in respect of teaching experience. The CEO requested an indication of the Department's view in the matter in time for the meeting of the VEC on 9th June, 1974 at which the selection would be considered.

The Department replied to the CEO on 30th May, 1974 stating that the first choice candidate was ineligible for appointment as principal of Portlaoise Vocational School. The meeting of the VEC, at which the appointment was considered, was held on 12th June, 1974 and the report of their selection board, signed only, as I have said, by the four nominees of the VEC on the board was before the meeting, as was the Department's letter of 30th May, 1974. Two proposals as follows were proposed and seconded for consideration by the Committee:

The First: "That the report of the selection board be adopted and the Committee now approve of the appointment of (the selection board's named first choice) as principal of Portlaoise Vocational School from 1st September, 1974."

The Second (an amendment): That (the selection board's named second choice) be appointed to the post of principal, Portlaoise Vocational School as from 1st September, 1974.

The amendment was put and defeated on a show of hands by eight votes to four. The original motion was carried by the same majority. The chairman, accordingly, declared the first choice candidate appointed to the post as principal, Portlaoise Vocational School with effect from 1st September, 1974 "subject to sanction of the Minister for Education". My Department informed the VEC by letter dated 5th July, 1974 that it was not open to the Department to sanction the first choice candidate's appointment for the reason set out in their letter of 30th May, 1974, to which I have already referred.

In the minutes of the committee's meeting on 8th July, 1974 it was stated that the committee would not accept the fact that the first choice candidate was ineligible in accordance with the terms of Memorandum V.7. A motion at the meeting that the first choice candidate be appointed as principal teacher in charge was carried by nine votes to two, and an amendment that the second choice candidate be appointed teacher in charge was defeated by the same vote.

The next letter from the Department to the VEC in the matter was dated 29th August, 1974. This letter made it clear that there was not included amongst posts of responsibility in vocational schools a post carrying the title of principal teacher in charge and again pointed out that the first choice candidate was not eligible for appointment as principal of Portlaoise Vocational School.

The next proposal which my Department received from the VEC following the committee's meeting on 9th September, 1974—a proposal carried by nine votes to five—was that the first choice candidate be appointed as acting principal without remuneration as from 10th September, 1974. An amendment that the second choice candidate be appointed to the post of principal as advertised was defeated by the same majority.

The committee were informed in writing on 18th September, 1974 that this new proposal could not be sanctioned by the Department. The Department stressed in the same letter that it was essential in the interests of the pupils concerned that the vacant post of principal of Portlaoise Vocational School should be filled immediately in accordance with the provisions of Memorandum V.7 particularly paragraph 12 (b) thereof. It was stated, too, that the Department considered that as the first choice candidate was not eligible for the post, the candidate placed next in order of choice should be appointed since he was fully qualified and eligible for the post.

No further progress has been made in the matter despite further correspondence between my Department and the committee. The central point at issue, which was conveyed by my Department to the VEC in a letter dated 5th December, 1974, is that notwithstanding the availability of the candidate who fulfills the requirements for the post of principal in accordance with the Committee's own advertisement and in accordance with the relevant terms of the Department's Memorandum V.7, the VEC have persisted in proposing that the post be filled in some form or another by a candidate who does not comply with the requirement applicable to Portlaoise Vocational School that the person appointed should have not less than five years whole-time teaching experience. It has been stated unequivocally to the committee in that letter that while there is a candidate available who satisfies the conditions for appointment as principal in accordance with normal procedures, I, as Minister for Education, will not sanction the filling of the post on any other basis.

The present position, as I understand it, and I am not informed as to the events of today, which were brought to my attention by the Deputy this evening, is that the County Laois Vocational Education Committee are seeking legal advice as to the propriety of their own actions in the whole matter. I expect to be informed of the outcome of their inquiries without delay. When this information is conveyed to me I will then be in a position to make a determination in the matter.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 12th February, 1975.