Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Free School Books.

14.

asked the Minister for Education if he will consider the provision of school books free of charge to all school children.

The existing scheme aims at helping necessitous students. I am anxious that it should be improved. No consideration has been given by me to the question of the provision of school books free of charge to all school children.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary not agree that this is because increased prices are becoming a greater burden, particularly on large families, on the conscientious parent and that particularly the final victim is nearly always the child? Surely this is a question of considerable urgency?

I agree with the Deputy but I do not see how the introduction of a free-for-all would necessarily reduce the hardship on people who at present cannot pay for them.

Is that not the same kind of answer given to people who asked that there should be a free school scheme introduced? The scheme is there for all people. Is it not illusory to suggest that one should be afraid of penalising the wealthy and in so doing penalise the poor and the large family? What is the virtue of doing that?

It is very unreasonable to indicate that if at present we cannot satisfy the needs of necessitous children we should be looking to provide books free of charge for people who can afford to pay for them.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary indicate the approximate cost of providing a free-for-all book scheme?

In so far as my answer indicated that I have not given any consideration to it, the Deputy will accept that I have not got a figure of the cost. I would remind the Deputy that in 1976 the Government in which his party participated examined the situation and considered whether they might phase out the existing scheme. I do not know if he is happy with that.

I presume it was in favour of a free-for-all scheme.

It was in favour of nothing.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary agree that some improvements are necessary in the general area in order to eliminate the discrimination that exists in view of the enormous and ever-increasing cost of books and the excessive profits being made by some people? Will he give sympathetic consideration to progressive moves in other countries, for instance in relation to what is called the "core" system, of providing at least the essential books? In other words, will some practical steps be taken to bring the present anomalies to an end?

I agree with the Deputy. My immediate concern will be the apportionment of equal opportunity in education by making available the requisite books to those who cannot afford them before I start considering making them available to people that can afford them.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary state if any moves will be made in the near future in this regard?

The Deputy can take it that I am taking issue with the Department of Finance with regard to the direction given to them by the then Minister for Finance who was a member of his party.

In view of the widespread dissatisfaction about the general administration of the current scheme and the fact that it is a source of discrimination and embarrassment to many families of lower income, would he be prepared to entertain representations for the full review of the scheme to make it more effective? Has he any observations on this matter?

I am always amenable to any recommendations for making education more readily available to children who cannot pay for that education or for the books. I will give sympathetic consideration to any submissions the Deputy may have on the matter.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary not agree that to say we have a free primary educational system is not true?

Nothing is free. Everything has to be paid for——

That is a cliché.

It is true.