First of all, I should like to thank the House for the positive manner in which the Deputies on both sides approached this Supplementary Estimate. Unfortunately, in the few minutes left I shall not be able to answer the points made by the various Deputies, but I shall try to communicate my answers to them informally.
I must, however, in the brief time allotted to me take up the question raised by Deputy Lalor about a subcontractor in his constituency. Tenders of subcontractors must, in accordance with normal practice and procedure, be opened publicly. This was done for electrical subcontractors on 9th October last. The next step is for the architect to check out the lowest tender, and if he is satisfied as to his prices, reliability and so on, to recommend acceptance of the lowest tender. Should the architect not be satisfied for one good reason or another—the inability to fulfill the contract satisfactorily, unreliability based on previous experience, failure to meet deadlines—then the architect will recommend that the lowest tender be not accepted and will proceed to examine the second lowest tender. This is the normal tendering procedure and is in process of being carried out at present. No definite recommendation about the acceptance of the lowest or of any tender has yet been received from the architect. The matter is, therefore, sub judice, at the moment. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the following. In any case where the lowest tender is not being accepted, the Department must submit the case to the Government Contracts Committee for formal approval. That is a safeguard with which I am in full accord.
If I might briefly refer to the point raised by Deputy Callanan before I go on to any other matters, I indicated to the Deputy that I wished to have the opportunity of stressing that the introduction of the new scheme of capitation grants for primary schools would not affect the fundamental position whereby the local parish community had a basic responsibility for the cost of maintenance and upkeep of national schools. The change which has been brought about by the introduction of the capitation grant system is that the new method of financing, as well as being much more flexible, makes a substantially greater subvention from the State for the upkeep of the schools. Previously, the grants from the State comprised heating and cleaning grants, equipment grants, as well as painting grants. The local community had the responsibility to provide the balance of the cost for the running of the school. That responsibility of the local community has not changed A guarantee is given, however, that where the community contributes the equivalent of at least £1.50 per pupil, the Department will contribute the equivalent of £6 per pupil.
So as to avoid any further misunderstanding, may I again repeat that the system of local responsibility for the upkeep of national schools has not been changed by the introduction of the new scheme, that the local parish community has not been relieved of their responsibility in that regard, that any attempt to place responsibility for the local contribution for maintenance on the boards of management specifically is not in accord with proper procedures. I reiterate that the authorities who were heretofore responsible for the local contribution are still responsible. I would ask anybody who knows of any departure from previous practice in this regard to let my Department know immediately. Of course, it would be entirely reprehensible if anybody would attempt to levy £1.50 per pupil on the parents of children attending school, and again I say it would be unconstitutional if this were attempted.
Deputy Wilson made reference to the item "Savings on other subheads" appearing on the different Votes. It would not be feasible for me to go into details, but I may say that, in general, it is a technical device to enable adjustments—particularly in relation to the capital provision—to be made as between the different Votes to match actual expenditure with the original Estimates. The Deputy will appreciate that in relation to a school building programme there may be appreciable variations in the rate of progress as between different projects in hand at the same time, particularly so in this year when the summer weather was such that a lot of work which normally would have taken longer, in fact, was completed very quickly.
I noted the observations of Deputy Wilson concerning the provision in D.4, Audio-Visual Teaching Aids. A marginal excess may, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, be accepted on an open subhead where a grant-in-aid is not involved, subject to the amount being met from savings on other subheads of the Vote. The question of appropriate action in relation to particular items of expenditure under subhead D.4 in 1975 will be further considered in accordance with this general arrangement when the Vote has been augmented by the Supplementary Estimate.
Deputy Wilson made reference to the NCEA. On 19th February, 1972, the Government authorised the Minister for Education to arrange for the setting up of an ad hoc NCEA to operate for a period of three years or until such earlier date as the council could be statutorily established. It was inappropriate to establish the council on a statutory basis while decisions on the reorganisation of higher education were pending. On 14th February, 1975, the Government extended the period of operation of the ad hoc council with its then chairman and members, pending reconstitution.
The ad hoc council is, therefore, operating pending its reconstitution with ten from NIHE, Limerick, ten from NIHE, Dublin, and ten to be nominated by the Government on the recommendation of the Minister for Education plus a chairman to be nominated by the Government on the recommendation of the Minister. The ad hoc council had been carrying on its work and has been holding conferrings in various institutions throughout the country, for example, in what was formerly known as the NCPE, Limerick, now known as Thomond, in the RTC, Sligo and so on.
I should have liked to reply to the other points made by the Deputies. I thank them for their approach to this Estimate. I am glad they see my point that I want to get it this evening, and I offer them the possibility of a £10 token Estimate debate if it can be arranged between the Whips at a later point.