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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 Mar 1984

Vol. 349 No. 1

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Drogheda VEC Colleges.


asked the Minister for Education if, in view of the fact that the colleges under the control of the Town of Drogheda Vocational Education Committee, County Louth, are seriously understaffed to the detriment of the education of students attending these colleges, she will immediately grant the request of the VEC to meet with them to discuss this grave matter, with a view to increasing the number of teachers in these colleges.

I arranged for officials of my Department to meet a deputation from Town of Drogheda Vocational Education Committee in December last. The teaching staff allocation already authorised for the Committee in respect of the 1983-84 session has been reviewed in the light of the discussion which took place and a decision on the matter has been conveyed to the committee.

Is the Minister aware that the allocation of one extra teacher to these colleges is totally inadequate? Further, is she aware that the granting of one extra teacher to colleges under the control of the Town of Drogheda Vocational Education Committee will not increase the number of full-time teachers actually teaching in the colleges as they have already got one teacher over the very limited quota permitted by the Minister?

I am quite happy to explain to the Deputy that the teaching allocation which the Town of Drogheda Vocational Education Committee have is perfectly adequate for their needs.

Is the Minister aware that in circumstances where there is a rapidly increasing school-going population, as is the case in St. Oliver's and St. Laurence's, her decision in respect of the pupil-teacher ratio is having drastic consequences? Is she aware that the teacher allocation on full-time day courses shows a reduction of approximately ten teachers on the number that should normally be allocated? Does she agree that a school cannot operate properly with such a shortage of teachers and that as a result of her decision the education of the pupils in the colleges will be affected adversely?

I do not accept that the educational provision for the students has been affected adversely. As I pointed out in my reply on 11 May last, the initial allocation for 1983-84 represented a reduction of three teachers in the number allocated for the 1982-83 academic year. I can only assume that the committee are basing their calculations on different figures. The position would therefore be a notional one. I am stating the actual decrease so that to talk about a reduction of ten teachers is not practical.

The facts, as the Minister is well aware, are that St. Oliver's and St. Lawrence's should have approximately ten more teachers than they have at present. The Minister has granted one extra teacher, which, as I pointed out, will not change the number of teachers at present on the staff of these schools. Is the Minister aware that there are over 1,300 students attending these colleges, that there is only one remedial teacher for that number of students and that that teacher can only devote part of his teaching time each week to helping disadvantaged children? In the circumstances, how can anybody associated with these colleges take seriously the Minister's expressed concern for disadvantaged students? Is the Minister aware that subject choices in the colleges have had to be very severely restricted because of her attitude in relation to pupil-teacher ratio?

The existing pupil-teacher ratio is a Fianna Fáil decision, as the Deputy is aware. I am not aware that the allocation of teachers to the Drogheda Vocational Education Committee or to any other VEC is having the results the Deputy alleges.

The Minister is well aware that she made the decision and not Fianna Fáil. Is she aware that her predecessor, Deputy Gerard Brady, recognised the special position of these colleges with their increasing schoolgoing population and granted a special increase of 3.5 whole-time teacher equivalent? There is no question about it but that the Minister's decision to grant only one full-time teacher equivalent shows scant consideration for the educational welfare of the students attending these colleges. I would like to raise another matter in relation to this question.

I hope it arises out of the question on the Order Paper.

It arises in the sense that I am looking for a ruling on it.

Nobody knows better than Deputy Faulkner that the Chair is not in the business of giving instant or impromptu decisions.

I am not asking for that. As the Ceann Comhairle has granted me the honour of quoting me on quite a number of occasions in respect of order in the House perhaps he will listen to me on this occasion and I will ask him to give a ruling later on. The position is that the school year began in September 1983 and for quite some time before the commencement of the school year the Drogheda Vocational Education Committee sent a number of requests to the Minister asking for an improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio.

The Deputy must ask his question.

I am coming to the question.

The Deputy is taking a long time about it.

I also wrote to the Minister on the matter. The response of the Minister was unsatisfactory and I put a question down on the Order Paper. This question is many months on the Order Paper. As the Minister has stated a deputation was received by her officials about two months ago and there was no result as far as the pupil-teacher ratio was concerned. When the time to answer my question was imminent the Minister decided to grant one extra teacher to the colleges and, as I pointed out, that will simply maintain the status quo. A few days before my question was answered in the House the Minister wrote to Deputies in my constituency informing them of her decision. In her letter to me she gave as the reason for writing to me rather than replying to my question, that it was necessary to inform the VEC as quickly as possible of her decision. In view of the fact that we are now seven months into the 1983-84 school year, that the Minister's decision makes no change in the actual number of teachers in the school and that my question was on the Order Paper for months, I suggest to the Chair that the action of the Minister in writing to Deputies in circumstances outlined by me displays an attitude which is not conducive to the upholding of the status and dignity of this House. I ask you to consider the points made and to give me a ruling on it.

I am ruling now that it does not arise here. I am also ruling that as far as I am concerned the fact that I was a little bit extra courteous to Deputy Faulkner has not established any precedent here because it is completely out of order.

In what way can it be raised?

I do not know but the Deputy will have to find some other way or raising the matter. There is the Committee on Procedure and Privileges or perhaps he could send a request to me to raise it at some other time and this request would be considered.

The Minister treated me with scant courtesy in respect of this matter.

May I answer that?

If the Minister wants to answer it, seeing that I allowed some latitude to Deputy Faulkner, I feel that, in fairness, I should extend the same latitude to the Minister.

Since the Drogheda VEC were so anxious to have a meeting with the Department in view of the uncertainty surrounding when questions might be arrived at in the House, I felt it was better to inform the Deputies and the Drogheda Vocational Educational Committee of a decision which had been reached rather than have them wait an indefinite time for their answer.

That was three months after the Committee met the officials and just before my question was answered in the House.

May I ask——

I am calling Question No. 18.

This concerns a very serious principle which affects all Deputies. I want to ask the Minister a question to establish what the practice is in her Department.

I will not hear the question. The matter we are now getting into head and heels arose because the Chair allowed Deputy Faulkner to ventilate something which he thought was peculiar to the question he had on the Order Paper. The Chair, having heard Deputy Faulkner, made it perfectly clear that he thought it was not in order and that it was not to be taken as a precedent. I will not allow the matter to be extended into a general discussion here. I am sorry Deputy, I will not hear you.

The Chair did not hear the question yet.

The Deputy gave an indication that he was going to follow the principle——

Would you allow me to explain the difficulty?

If the Deputy puts down a question it will be dealt with.

Can I ask the Minister a question?

The Deputy can ask a question provided it is not travelling the same ground as Deputy Faulkner.

Has the Minister any objection to giving information to a Deputy about a matter about which there is already a question on the Order Paper? Does she see any difficulty in writing information to a Deputy because the question is on the Order Paper or does she feel inhibited from giving a reply to a Deputy until such time as the Order Paper question has been answered? Could she state what the practice is?

That is a totally separate question which should be put down in the ordinary way.

Another Minister has adopted the practice of refusing to answer questions in letters written by Deputies on the grounds that a question about the same matter is on the Order Paper and the Deputy will not be given the information until the question on the Order Paper is answered. Does the Minister adopt a different practice?

If Deputy Molloy wants a matter like that clarified he should put down a question.

That is a device the Minister for the Gaeltacht used in relation to the answer to a question by a Fianna Fáil Deputy.