Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 14 Nov 1990

Vol. 402 No. 6

Private Members' Business. - Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) (Amendment) Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Before the adjournment of the debate last night I had expressed my regret at the introduction of this Bill by Fine Gael. I did so because I felt it was a slur on the locally elected and other members of the vocational education committee and on vocational education committee teachers and members of staff. I rejected the slur and I want to reject it again tonight.

I should like to praise the dedication, enthusiasm and professionalism of all members of vocational education committee staff, particularly the teaching staff. They have done a very good job, often in very difficult circumstances, down the years, they have catered for a sector of Irish society who would have been left behind if we did not have the vocational education committee system. They have looked after sectors of the community who would not have got an education otherwise within our education system. For those reasons I reject any slur or innuendoes which might be cast on members of the vocational education committees by the introduction of this Bill.

As I stated last night, the Bill proposes to remove the right of an employer, that is, the vocational education committee, to appoint their own employees. What other similar organisation would hand over the right to select its own employees to an outside body? I do not know of any such organisation. I should like to ask why the vocational education committees should do this.

I sat here last night hoping to be enlightened by the contributions of Deputy Bruton and Deputy Deenihan and I listened carefully to the arguments. I must say I was not very enlightened by their arguments and they did not put forward any reasons which would convince me to agree with this Bill. The only reason given by Deputy Bruton last night, was, and I quote: "There is the possibility that people might think that there was political influence in the appointment of teachers". Is Deputy Bruton so naïve that he honestly believes any system could be put in place which would give rise to a situation where no one would believe there was the possibility that political influence might be used? I think it would be impossible to try to meet those criteria. It does not matter how independent a body may seem to be or is meant to be by this House or the Minister concerned; I do not know of any body which everyone will agree is non-political or will not be influenced politically one way or the other. Even though they may not be influenced politically that will not stop people believing political influence was exerted. The argument put forward by Deputy Bruton last night that he wanted to remove "the possibility that people might think that there was political influence in the appointment of teachers" cannot be sustained. He went on to say that 99.99 per cent of appointments made by the vocational education committees are excellent. He also said that this Bill is designed to tackle the 0.01 per cent of appointments which he alleges may be tainted.

To put the Bill in context, Deputy Bruton is asking this House to change a system of appointment which, at the current rate of recruitment, produces one so-called, to use his word, "tainted" decision in 10,000. He wants to overturn a system which has worked exceedingly well for the past 60 years. To put it further into context, at the current rate of recruitment, that means there is a possibility of one so-called "tainted" appointment over a period of 35 years. I should like Deputy Bruton or any other Deputy to name any other body, independent or otherwise, which could boast such a record — one possible "tainted" appointment in 35 years. Are Deputy Bruton and Deputy Deenihan seriously asking this House to remove such an effective and fair system of appointment and replace it with a Local Appointments Commission? That is what they asked us to do last night but I do not understand why.

He also said last night that members of the vocational education committee should not be the people to decide appointments to vocational education committee positions and that those who have experience of teaching should make the decisions. I know Deputy Bruton never served on any local authority or vocational education committee and he may not be aware that in many cases the members of the vocational education committee have experience of teaching or are serving teachers. Over and above that, the majority of the members of the vocational education committees are parents who have a wide range of experience of the educational system, whether primary, vocational or secondary. For instance, in the case of my local vocational education committee the members of the board include a professor, a vocational teacher, a secondary teacher and a primary teacher together with a variety of other people who are professionals in their own spheres— farmers, auctioneers and so on. There is quite a broad spectrum of society represented on the board of that vocational education committee and they, through their experience, are capable of making teacher appointments, or any other appointments, for the vocational education committee. The fact that we have such a broad spectrum of opinion on the vocational education committee ensures that the process is fair and independent and that the teachers appointed to the scheme are not just educationally qualified but are suitable to meet all the other needs of the pupils and the schools in the vocational education committee system.

The only other excuse for putting forward this Bill which I could discern in Deputy Bruton's or Deputy Deenihan's contributions was the need to introduce safeguards to the system and to establish an independent set of principles by which decisions could be made on appointments. There is probably some excuse for Deputy Bruton making a statement like that, but I am very surprised that Deputy Deenihan should say so because he has been a member of a local authority and a vocational education committee. The statement shows a complete lack of understanding of the system as it operates currently. The Minister referred to this last night.

There are safeguards and independent principles in relation to the appointment of teachers. The criteria and the principles that Deputy Bruton is seeking have been outlined in various circulars issued by the Department, especially Memo V.7 and Circular 16/79. These circulars and other directives from successive Ministers have made quite clear the criteria to be used. There are independent principles there at the moment. One is the basic principle that a person who is not suitably qualified cannot be appointed. Another is that the full vocational education committee must approve the appointment of a teacher and in turn ministerial approval is necessary. The selection board make a recommendation to the vocational education committee which they approve if they are satisfied and later the Minister formally approves. The decisions are made on the basis of independent principles outlined in circulars from the Department.

There are further safeguards in the composition of the boards themselves. The central appointments board consists of three members of the vocational education committee, who do not have to be of the same political persuasion and in many cases are not, an IVEA official and a Department official overseeing the whole procedure. The general appointments board consists of four vocational education committee members and a Department official. Almost always CEOs and principals of schools will sit on the interview boards in an advisory capacity. It is clear that there are safeguards and that the vocational education committees are operating under an independent set of principles. The Department monitor very closely every appointment made by a vocational education committee. In addition to the monitoring of the Department and of the full vocational education committee, the whole system is also monitored by the general public, precisely because it is democratic and open and the people making the decisions are answerable to the local community. Not only is the system fair but it is seen to be fair and there is very little criticism of it.

In the debate so far and in the debate last year there was some talk about controversial cases involving appointments by vocational education committees in the past two or three years. I am aware of only three controversial cases. The fact that we are aware of these cases shows the effectiveness of the system under which we operate. When was the last time anybody in this House heard a criticism of the appointment of a secondary teacher anywhere? There is no public scrutiny there. If a vocational education committee do something which is incorrect, if a person is appointed who should not be appointed, it comes out in public. It will be raised in public at a vocational education committee meeting and in the local and national press. All these things can come to light because of the open system under which vocational education committees operate.

I would say to Deputies Bruton and Deenihan and anybody else supporting the Bill that we have a very effective system. The most effective safeguard is the last one I mentioned, but the most important one is that the politicians on the vocational education committee have to face the electorate on a regular basis and the electorate are not slow in punishing mistakes and punishing people whom they feel have not acted in their best interests. Irish people are very conscious of the need for education and all concerned about the future of their children. Any member of a vocational education committee who messes about with the future of children will be given an effective answer. I have dwelt with this matter at some length because of the innuendo that there is a taint on appointments made by vocational education committees.

I have shown that the proposed Bill is unnecessary. The only two reasons given do not stand up to any kind of examination. There is no taint on vocational education committee appointments. Deputy Bruton, using his own figures, said that 99.99 per cent of them are excellent and he said there may be a taint on one in every ten thousand. The safeguards are in place and are more than adequate. This leads me to wonder why the Bill has been introduced. It is simply another attack on local democracy and the whole notion of subsidiarity in relation to Government, that is, decisions being made at the level nearest the people. During the debate last year, in which I spoke, Deputies opposite shed crocodile tears because of the postponement of local elections and said everybody wanted local democracy and local elections and Fianna Fáil were running away from the people.

This Bill exposes the hypocrisy of Fine Gael on this matter, demonstrating the real attitude of that party to real democracy at local level. I have always contended that what is needed is not this type of Bill — when one divorces local democracy and input from procedures — but rather a lot more rather than less. Why should Deputies opposite call for more power for local communities when they do not want any of these local bodies to have any power at all?

The proposed Bill is part of a general trend which is now fairly popular, that is to call for independent bodies for this, that and the other. It is very fashionable to call for such bodies to take over the functions of a national or local body. Such calls may have been made because politicians generally are going down in public esteem. It is my view that that is the fault of politicians themselves. The trend towards bodies that are not answerable to the public, not open to public scrutiny, should be resisted. Any such body should be amenable to local scrutiny.

Politicians should be in a position to ensure that their wishes — as outlined in legislation enacted here on behalf of the electorate — are complied with and fully implemented. There are too many decisions being taken nowadays by faceless bureaucrats not answerable to anybody and, when decisions are taken that do not suit the people generally, it is the politicians who get it in the neck. Therefore we should cop on to ourselves in this regard.

I oppose this Bill also because of its impracticality. I do not believe the Local Appointments Commission have any competence in the area of teacher recruitment. Neither do I think they have the requisite manpower. We are all aware of the delays occasioned in filling appointments under the Local Appointments Commission. Since the appointment of teachers must be made within a short period, I contend that this would not be practical. Speaking as a teacher I contend that education and teaching are very different from the other spheres of responsibility of the Local Appointments Commission. For example, it is relatively easy to specify objective guidelines and measurements in respect of local authority officers.

Apart from their qualifications, at present catered for in relation to teachers, other aspects would have to be taken into account in deciding who may be the best teacher to fill a given post. For example, one would have to take into account the local needs of any scheme, the specific needs of a school and perhaps extra curricular skills. I do not believe the Local Appointments Commission would be in a position to judge those local needs. Therefore, all they could go on would be any candidate's qualifications. It has been my experience as a teacher that, very often, those people who appear most highly qualified, most intelligent, do not always make the best teachers. I contend there are other matters that must be taken into account than mere qualifications. I do not believe the Local Appointments Commission would be capable of taking all these extraneous matters into account.

Deputy O'Shea referred to a TUI survey. He spoke at some length about the dissatisfaction on the part of teachers with the vocational education committee system. Of course dissatisfaction will be registered by way of any such survey; anybody who was unsuccessful in obtaining a job before an interview board will always register dissatisfaction. I venture to suggest — from my experience at second level — that if a similar survey were conducted in that sector, the dissatisfaction registered there would be even greater. There are no real interviews held at second level and, more importantly, responsible posts are allocated on the basis of seniority, not on ability, prospective input or anything else.

There was also an allegation made here that the morale of teachers within the vocational education committee system is very low; it is not. I reject that totally. At present their morale is very high and, it is fair to say, is rising. The vocational education committees, led by the IVEA following on a period of perhaps having been on the defensive, are coming out fighting, seeking to fulfil their 1930 mandate. I might avail of this opportunity to compliment the Minister on her initiatives which have led to this resurgence of morale within the vocational education committee system. In particular, I might refer to the expansion of the VPTPs, the arrival of all-Irish second level schools, one of which is located in my constituency in Rathcarn. There are special programmes for travellers and the disadvantaged. There have been increases in the literacy allocation. Indeed, many vocational education committees are now running more adult education courses catering for a variety of people who were not afforded such opportunities heretofore.

In summary, I am opposing the Bill on the grounds that it is unnecessary, is totally impractical and constitutes an attack on local democracy, and indeed on the integrity of vocational education committee teaching staff.

We lost this Bill in the spring of 1989 when there was a minority Fianna Fáil Government when, I suppose, the Opposition parties were able to get through somewhat more than they can now. At that time the Second Stage of the Bill was agreed, all parties approving it. At the time the Government, Fianna Fáil Party, did not disapprove and allowed it to proceed to the next Stage. Unfortunately a general election took place and the Bill was not proceeded with. I spoke on the Bill at that time but I might repeat some of the things I said then. It is very important that it be understood that I stand fully behind the vocational education committees, the vocational education committee system, its independence and democratic nature. I made that point clearly on that occasion.

The 1930 Act is the only Education Act we have. It laid down a democratic and secular system of education. Indeed, it has been provided to date that it is bang up-to-date, that it is such a flexible system it can deal at all times with the most dramatic changes taking place in society and has done so particularly in the past ten or 15 years, proving that the necessary, progressive changes in curricular and teaching methods in vocational education committee schools can be effected way ahead of everything else. The system is unique in its democratic nature and close association with pupils, teachers, the overall system and needs of education, in projecting future needs and endeavouring to provide for such in the best possible manner.

I stand by the vocational education committee system particularly because of its non-selective nature which is not and has not been recognised by successive Governments. The vocational education committees do not have any selection process obtaining in their schools. They take all applicants so long as they have room for them — the good and the bad, the excellent and the difficult, those with problems and those with none. This means that their schools experience specific difficulties and problems not experienced by other second level schools. Such difficulties have not been recognised by the respective Departments nor by Deputies on the Government side. These people now defend the vocational education committee system but they had no defence to offer of it when it was subjected to so many cuts, to the enormous difficulty presented by an increase in pupil/teacher ratio to 20:1 at a time when they had so many needs not only in what are known as their technical schools in practical subjects and the need to have a much lower pupil/teacher ratio but also in terms of the difficult pupils they have in many areas. These may be pupils who have extraordinary problems at home and who need special treatment and much more remedial teaching etc. None of this was taken into account by the Deputies opposite. They did not fight against the cuts imposed over the past number of years on the vocational education committee system.

However, I defend the system. I find it excellent and its democratic nature is very important. Of course, democracy is not perfect, and there are imperfections in every system. I have been on the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee since 1979 and I know of no selection made by that body that was wrong. Of course, I do not know if they were all right either but I could not name any case that I could say that was totally out of order, a purely political selection. In 11 years on the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee, nobody has come to me from any interview to say that it was dreadful, that the best people were not elected and that this or that happened. It is not just Fianna Fáil defending their control of the VECs currently because for 20 years before that when they were not in control, the same system existed, and the teachers had the same objections 20 or 30 years ago. I am not putting anything at the door of any political group or political party. I am saying simply that teachers are not satisfied. You do not have to say it is stupid that they are not satisfied, they should be satisfied. They are not satisfied that all selections are made on merit. That is probably an increasing problem now because of the enormous difficulties teachers have, first in getting jobs and, later, in being promoted so they are watching every system.

The teachers always make the point that they are a professional body but nobody seems to recognise them as such. Medicine is a profession as is architecture. In local authorities all appointments are made by the Local Appointments Commission. That is at the root of the argument, not that there is corruption or that wrong appointments are made. Teachers are the only professional body who, on a local level, are not selected by the Local Appointments Commission.

The feeling has been expressed to me that when people are interviewed by boards in different vocational education committees they are aware of the political connotations of the board. They are people they know and they wonder how much the board know about them, whether they will have seen them at this or that meeting, or whether a letter to a newspaper, perhaps, will have annoyed them. In other words, interviewees will feel they are being assessed by people of a particular political persuasion. That makes them question whether that board could possibly make an honest decision. I am convinced that all boards I have been on made honest and straightforward decisions but that feeling of dissatisfaction is there among teachers. They are not sure whether merit alone was the deciding factor. In many cases they also feel that the interview boards are not competent or professional. Irrespective of whether an appointment made was correct, comments have been made to me that the interviewers on the board did not seem to know their job. They did not seem to know what they were looking for or what type of questions to ask, etc. There is that lack of confidence in the boards.

I do not know what all interview boards are like but on the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee the principal of a school to which an appointment is being made is always there. He — or she — is not a member of the board but is there and can ask questions and so on. The Department's inspector is present and there is a certain professionalism, but the remainder of the board, the majority of the deciders on the board, are not professional interviewers. They are ordinary people. They can assess a person's character and so on rather than his or her ability to teach or the other qualifications the applicant may require for the job of teaching. For these reasons there has been among teachers for quite a long time a feeling that they should have independent professional interviewers on boards appointing them to jobs in the first place and promotions thereafter at second and third level.

I made it clear last year when speaking on this matter that the vocational education committees are not the only ones with interview boards who may be prejudiced or discriminatory or anything of that sort. If any discrimination is alleged against vocational education committee interview boards it is on the basis of political affiliation. I repeat I have not found that on the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee. In the other teaching areas, in the appointment of teachers to primary schools, for instance, the selection board for teachers would consist of the chairman of the board of management, most likely the parish priest, the principal of the school and an independent assessor appointed by the patron in consultation with the chairman of the board, in other words, appointed by the bishop in consultation with the parish priest. That is for an ordinary teaching appointment.

For a principalship there are three on the selection board, being the chairperson of the board of management and two assessors appointed by the patron in consultation with the chairman of the board of management. Two assessors appointed by the bishop in consultation with the parish priest appoint a principal. I do not think that system is independent or competent. It is not professional in any way. It is outrageous. This procedure is open to discriminatory appointments on the basis of perceived morality, ethics, possible attitudes to religion and, minority views on various issues. Consequently, all sorts of biases and prejudices could be brought into play when a selection is being made for teaching appointments. In March last year I pointed out that I had occasion to question the previous Minister for Education, Gemma Hussey, a few years ago on the Catholic Primary School Managers' Association guidelines for the selection of teachers in which they said that only practising Roman Catholics would be considered for new appointments as teachers. The Minister defended that. Even though the teachers were paid by the State it was a matter for the Catholic primary school managers to decide on the selection of the teachers. I thought that was totally wrong at the time. I still think it is totally wrong. For that reason I said last year that while I would be supporting the Bill on Second Stage, I hoped the Government would accept an amendment on Committee Stage allowing local appointments commissions to handle all teaching appointments, that I did not see why there was a greater need in the vocational education committee area than in other areas to have local appointments commissions. That is still my position. I will be proposing an amendment when the Bill reaches Committee Stage that all teaching appointments be made under a local appointments commission to ensure that there will be no prejudice or bias, political, religious or otherwise — and I believe such prejudice is widespread.

On 1 March 1989 at column 2091 of the Official Report the junior Minister, Deputy Fahey, in pointing out that the Government would be formulating legislation for the vocational education committee and the regional technical colleges and that the ideas in Deputy Bruton's Bill and some ideas put forward by people who spoke on it would be incorporated in it, said:

Very significant also in the Minister's drafting of the new legislation will be the viewpoint put forward by the Teachers' Union of Ireland in their support for and acceptance of the measures in general in this Bill. Once again let me say that the view of the TUI is very important in the considerations of the Minister. The Minister is careful at all times to consult with and listen to the advice of the TUI, as she does with the other unions.

In general I welcome this Bill and the provisions contained in it. The specifics and the details have to be considered further perhaps and I am glad to say that the Minister will be giving full consideration and will welcome an opportunity to have further discussions with the various spokespeople on the drafting of the legislation for the development and rationalisation of the Vocational Education sector.

That was just a year and six months ago. The same Bill is before us now and roughly the same things have been said in defence of the Bill, but a dramatic change has occurred in the Minister's attitude. I hope Deputy Fahey's attitude has not changed and that he will repeat what he said last year. The Minister, so far, seems to have changed her attitude completely on this Bill and now she finds the Bill totally unacceptable. I do not know what changed in the meantime except, of course, the type of Government. Now Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have a majority. At that time they were shaky, let us say. Therefore, were they simply saying what they said last year from a political viewpoint without any sincerity or thought for the educational point that was being made and the importance to the education system of what they said last year? Does that still stand? Is the Teachers' Union of Ireland as important this year as it was in 1989? Are we saying now in 1990 that the Teachers' Union of Ireland does not count, that we do not listen to their views anymore but make up our own minds and make our own decisions?

The junior Minister should now make clear what has changed since 1989 because it is as important to clarify this issue now as it was last year. I asked last year if the whole rationalisation programme that they had begun was scrapped. That apparently is now the position although they did not admit it in the spring of last year. What type of legislation have they coming up in the vocational education committee system when they talk about drafting legislation for the development and rationalisation of the vocational education sector? Is there anything in mind at the moment apart from the Colleges Bill for third level? Are there any new developments whatever coming up? Has the Minister any thoughts on the vocational sector? Is it intended, now that there is a bit of money in hand to, for instance, reduce the pupil/teacher ratio again to some practical level, to provide the administrative and caretaker staffs that are required in the vocational education committee system, to provide the funding that is necessary for that, because many schools are being run down and feel they are being put out of business?

I am simply saying, as I said last year, that I am supporting this Bill. It is absolutely essential and there is no point in Deputies opposite saying the morale of the teachers is very high when their union says the morale of teachers is low. It is nonsense to keep saying that morale is high and getting higher. How could morale be getting higher when there are so many teachers without jobs, when they are breaking their necks, so to speak, in huge classes that they cannot handle, when they have not got a school psychological service, remedial services etc? How can morale be high when they have not got an appointments system they can have faith in? All they want is to be able to have faith in the appointments system to know that if they lose the job the decision was made by an independent body which decided on merit. That might have happened under the present system but the candidate knew what their politics were and if turned down may have felt that the board had been politically biased when that may not have been the case at all. Nevertheless the opportunity for that thought is there under the system.

I will, therefore, be putting down an amendment for Committee Stage that a Local Appointments Commission be involved in the appointment of all teachers. There is no point in saying such a commission could not handle that task. Appointments to a commission can be made in such a way as to ensure they would be competent in that respect. We could have said that at the beginning. When the Local Appointments Commission was first thought of the argument that the Deputy opposite is making now was made then. The Local Appointments Commission was, however, put through because it was seen to be fair, to be independent and to be above board and above politics. That is all that is required now. We are not saying anybody is doing anything wrong. We are simply saying we should have a clear professional body which is independent, the same as other professionals in local authorities have. That is what the TUI are saying and I think they are correct in that.

I have listened with very great interest to what Deputy Mac Giolla had to say. I thought his contribution was quite a good one but I am slightly bemused at his attitude. In the first place he stated that he has a tremendous regard for the system that has been in place up to now and that he, in his long years of experience on a Vocational Education Committee and on selection boards, has never found any problem with the selections made. He said none has come to his notice, and I am sure if there were problems they would have come to his notice or indeed to the notice of his party. That also has been my experience as someone who has been a member of a Vocational Education Committee as long as Deputy Mac Giolla. Indeed, I sat on selection boards and never experienced difficulties or heard criticisms in relation to selections.

Deputy Mac Giolla accused the Minister, Deputy Fahey, of adopting a peculiar stance in 1989. He said the system was working well and was a good system but, on the other hand, he said he was supporting a Bill to change the system. There is no point in bringing in legislation to change a system that people say is working well. I cannot understand the Deputy's stance on that. It is also a nonsense for him to criticise Fianna Fáil's commitment to the vocational education committee system. Our support for that system is one of the hallmarks of our party in Government through the years.

The Deputy is running it down.

Fianna Fáil Governments have invested sizeable amounts of Exchequer funds in the Vocational Education Committee system and that is incontrovertible. The Minister mentioned a number of matters in her speech which are relevant to my area and I would like very briefly to deal with them. I will then come back to the issue that is before us in the Bill.

The first matter I would like to refer to is the Youthreach programme which is up and running in Dundalk. There are two very good community training centres in Dundalk, Ógra Dún Dealgan and the Tower workshop which is for travelling people. The Minister for Labour, Deputy Bertie Ahern, was in Dundalk recently and saw at first hand the great work that is going on in conjunction with the Department of Education and his own Department, organised by the local Vocational Education Committee. In the Ógra workshop, which is mainly for young unemployed people who have no education, the placement is excellent — in the region of 75 per cent — and I would like to compliment the organisers of that workshop. Under the aegis of the Department of Education a youth officer has been appointed to one of the disadvantaged areas in Dundalk and is working well. I compliment the Department, and particularly the Minister, Deputy Fahey, who has some involvement in this.

The other programme is the vocational training opportunity scheme, two of which were set up recently in Dundalk and Drogheda. I understand they are just up and running. Each one has a complement of 20 and they are working fairly well. The whole idea, obviously, is to allow people who are over 21 years and on the dole for a long time retrain. It is essential that society, and the State's structures, respond quickly to changing needs in the workplace, and that is one of the reasons this scheme will be very successful in the coming years. Hopefully, as the Minister has said, it will be expanded in the future. The VPT has been up and running in the Dundalk area for a number of years under the County Louth Vocational Education Committee and there are approximately 200 people involved this year. The upturn in the economy and the creation of about 30,000 jobs, will mean that the VPT will have much more relevance in the coming years.

The Minister also mentioned adult literacy. Most of us know this is international literacy year. In the County Louth Vocational Education Committee area tremendous work is being done by local volunteers, and Vocational Education Committee members, in regard to adult education. I compliment the NALA, the National Adult Literacy Association on the tremendous work they do in this area. They liaise with adult education committees around the country. Deputy Dempsey mentioned that there has been a sizeable increase in the budget for adult literacy in the last year and that is to be very much welcomed. The local Vocational Education Committee work in conjunction with the various community bodies as well as the resource centre for the unemployed in the whole area of adult education and this should be complimented.

Deputy Bruton's Bill which is before the House is an indication of the malaise that has been in Fine Gael over the past number of years. Deputy Bruton was given some advice by the Taoiseach this morning and if I was to give him some more advice in relation to the Bill it is that he should not endeavour to attack local democracy, because that is really what his Bill is all about. It is indicative of the snide implications made in regard to local representatives. I wonder if the suggestion in the Bill has the complete support of the Fine Gael organisation. I doubt very much if that is the case. I doubt if those Fine Gael members who are on Vocational Education Committees agree with what is suggested in the Bill. I would like to hear comments from some Fine Gael people on that matter. I have spoken to a number of them in my area and they do not support the Bill.

The people who sit on Vocational Education Committees have wide experience. Many of them are politicians and others are teachers. Indeed, many of the politicians are teachers, as is the case in the Vocational Education Committee in my area, and they have great faith in the system that is in place.

The Deputy needs faith.

They are probably primary teachers.

No, vocational teachers.

The selection boards are democratic.

Appointing themselves.

The Deputy should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Many of the people on selection boards are parents who have much better experience of the system than those on the Local Appointments Commission who are not necessarily civil servants but faceless people who are not answerable to anybody.

Bureaucratic centralism.

That is one of the major flaws in what is being proposed. In my own area — I am not sure if this is laid down in legislation — membership of the selection boards is reviewed every year. That ensures, and obviously has ensured down the years, that there is no problem in relation to selections. To give the responsibility to the Local Appointments Commission would increase bureaucracy and lead to selections not being made on time and consequent instability in the schools. A school would not be able to respond to the need for an extra teacher at short notice and that is one of the flaws I see in the proposed system. The Local Appointments Commission, while they do good work in other areas, may not work as quickly or as well as the local selection boards under the Vocational Education Committees.

The Fine Gael Party have an ideological problem with decentralisation. In 1980 we tried to decentralise offices to the regions but the programme was stopped in 1982 when the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party came to power. For instance, an office was to be decentralised to Dundalk and it would have been in place years ago if the Government had allowed the decentralisation programme to go forward. We returned to power in 1987 and we reactivated the decentralisation programme. We are in the process of——

The Deputy's party have had three years to do it.

This Bill is just another ideological hang-up about decentralisation to the regions. Do the Members on the far side of the House agree with what is being done here? Do their local councillors, from whom we heard a lot over the last couple of days agree with what is proposed in the Bill? From listening to radio programmes it is obvious that the vast majority in Fine Gael at local level wanted Deputy Dukes to stay as leader but his parliamentary colleagues seemed to be at variance with that——

The Deputy should mind his own leader.

Their day is coming.

Acting Chairman

Your remarks are irrelevant, Deputy Ahern, and I ask you to stick to the Bill.

He is being provocative.

I am referring to decentralisation——

What has decentralisation to do with it?

The Bill is a slight on the integrity of local representatives.

Hear, hear.

It may be clouded in flowery language but they are saying that they do not trust local politicians. Deputy Mac Giolla said his experience showed there is no problem and yet he said that it had to be seen to be done. That is nonsense.

It is like justice, it must be seen to be done.

It is a figment of Deputy Mac Giolla's imagination.

Last night, Deputy Bruton confirmed what we are now saying. He agreed with Deputy Mac Giolla that 99.99 per cent of the selections made by VEC boards are excellent. He said that 0.001 per cent of the selections are not correct but that has been said about the Local Appointments Commission in relation to the appointment of gardaí. This is just playing to the gallery, trying to put one over on the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke; it is Deputy Bruton just trying to make a name for himself. He may do that over the next week or so although I am not sure. This is an attack on local democracy and it should go out loud and clear from this Chamber that Fine Gael are trying to attack local democracy. The day that selection boards are taken from the Vocational Education Committees will be a very sad one for local democracy and for the whole idea of decentralisation.

Hear, hear.

Putting it into the hands of the Local Appointments Commission would be disastrous for the whole system as it would lead to bureaucratic problems and schools not reacting to problems. I am surprised at the attitude of Deputy Mac Giolla and his party to this. However, as I said, the main thing is that this is an attack by the Fine Gael Party on the democratic process in the regions.

The Bill before us is called the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) (Amendment) Bill. Basically, there are two methods by which local authority personnel are appointed. One is by the appointments committee and the other is by the Local Appointments Commission. The appointments committee is a sub-committee of the county councils and the Local Appointments Commission is an independently set up body. They have both done quite good work over the years and there is no point in criticising them. Some years ago more people were appointed under the appointments committee than is the case at present.

In the agricultural advisory service I remember travelling round as an aspiring adviser to various county councillors seeking their vote at future meetings. At that time, the person who got the job was not selected by interview but by votes.

The best man still got the job.

Is the Deputy saying that is why I did not get it?

I thought canvassing disqualified.

It did not at that time although, if I had thought of it, I could have given it as an excuse. It was not the most gratifying three days' work I ever did and it became even less gratifying when, on one occasion, I was leaving a councillor's house and I saw the familiar form of a colleague of mine waiting at the gate to see the man I had just left, presumably on the same errand. I do not know which of us spun the better yarn that evening, perhaps my friend was of a similar persuasion politically as the councillor I had visited but I was still doing the rounds when the next job came up.

In the Vocational Education Committee at present teachers are appointed by the appointments committee, yet the Chief Executive Officers are appointed by the Local Appointments Commission. One would think that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Traditionally, many teachers have a liking for politics and it would not be the most pleasant sight for a young teacher going in for an interview to be confronted by three politicians of the opposite persuasion. Of course, it might be just as unnerving to see three people of his own political persuasion there because, either way, the finger of suspicion could be pointed at the teacher — if he got the job — and at the politicians on the board if he did not get it. I am not saying that those interviewers would be unfair but the suspicion would be there and it would not be good for anyone. The Minister for Education spent some years in the profession and no doubt it equipped her to handle her onerous job.

It is natural that there are misfits in many jobs but, although a person may be a misfit in one job, it does not necessarily mean that would be the case in another field. It is the duty of an interview board to size up the applicant and if it is realised that the person is unsuited for the position for which he or she has applied it would be doing a tremendous disservice to appoint him or her. Can the interview board be criticised for not realising that if they do not have any expertise in interviewing? That is the situation with the appointments committee. On the other hand, the Local Appointments Commission have the necessary skills for interviewing. They have developed techniques and an ability to analyse the capabilities of an applicant. If we relied more on the Local Appointments Commission we would have fewer misfits in many walks of life.

Hear, hear.

Perhaps it is just as well that the Local Appointments Commission have nothing to do with the appointment of politicians.

In an ESRI report recently published, one of the main reasons for community colleges not being accepted was the method by which teachers in the Vocational Education Committees were appointed and the method by which promotions were made. If people in a job, in this case teachers, do not trust the methods of appointment and promotions it is not good or their morale. They will lack confidence in themselves and in the system leading to a lack of interest in the job. That will be reflected in poorer teaching standards and the people who will suffer will be the up and coming generation.

The only criteria for any appointment should be suitability for the job. The appointments committee which is a sub-committee of the county council are not in a position to judge fairly the capabilities of an interviewee. Since the Local Appointments Commission is ideally equipped with trained personnel that is the body which should have responsibility appointing teachers. Accordingly, I will support the motion this evening.

Deputy Bruton in introducing this Bill indicated to the House that he was quite satisfied in the vast majority of cases, almost to the point where only a negligible number of wrong decisions have been made. Far be it from me to indicate to Members opposite the qualities which should be sought in a future Leader of Fine Gael, but we are allowed a little mischief when we get the chance. It has been suggested that Deputy Bruton is an original thinker.

What has this to do with the Bill?

If Fine Gael want to look at how original he is let them look at this Bill. There has been an admission that there is nothing wrong in the vast majority of cases and that the system is good but Deputy Bruton suggests we should change the system. That is very original. On that basis alone the Deputy should unanimously be adopted as Leader of Fine Gael — if that is the test of originality being looked for in a prospective alternative Taoiseach. I wish Deputy Dukes' successor well and commiserate with Deputy Dukes on the position in which he found himself.

Deputy Mac Giolla whose contributions are usually logical outlined how farseeing the 1930 Vocational Education Act is and said it allows for democratic control. The great thing about Vocational Education Committee schools is that they are not selective in the pupils they take. I was a student in a Vocational Education Committee school. To suggest, that we should change the system because someone might have a grievance if he did not get a job, is quite incredible. Deputy Mac Giolla, a very watchful, diligent, local representative in the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee over the last 11 years cannot point to one instance he knows of where there was any malfeasance in relation to any applicant for any job. On the basis that we are all members of the human race and subject to even a tinge of fallibility, to which perhaps the new Leader of Fine Gael might not admit, that is a very good system.

How does it work in Offaly?

In Offaly it works impeccably and that came from the Fine Gael Member of the appointments commission, a person the Deputy would know well, Mrs. Hanafy.

At the Vocational Education Committee meeting which discussed the public pronouncements made by Deputy Bruton — the forerunner to this legislation — some of the foremost critics of any suggestion which would taint local representatives came from the members of the Fine Gael Party on the County Offaly Vocational Education Committee. As a Member of Offaly Vocational Education Committee I had no hand, act or part in any appointment. I have not canvassed on behalf of anyone for any appointment. I have total confidence in those who are there to make those appointments. I am satisfied as to the competence and integrity of everyone of those public representatives in County Offaly to make the proper decision because they are all committed to the Vocational Education Committee system.

On the basis that Deputy Bruton, Deputy Mac Giolla nor any other Member has evidence of malfeasance, I would ask them to stop undermining the system which they claim to be seeking to redress of taint, when there is no evidence except in 0.001 per cent of cases. Let us get our act together. If we believe in democratic control, if we believe we are competent as local representatives to make decisions in conjunction with a Department of Education official, in the attendance of the chief executive officer of the local Vocational Education Committee, and if we are suggesting that that system is as open and democratic a system as one could get and in line with the philosophy of the 1930 Act and vocational education in terms of local autonomy and accountability, I fail to see how any number of faceless and well intentioned bureaucrats under the local Appointments Commission can make a better decision. In inferring they would make a better decision one would have to question the integrity, competence and ability of the local vocational education committee to do the same job. In the absence of any such evidence, the logical conclusion is that the Vocational Education Committees can do this job just as well, if not better, than any other group one wishes to put up against them. Those are the facts.

It is not good that politicians at national level should try to deprive local politicians of an opportunity to display their competence and ability. We should remember that they represent the local people. There has been much talk about the Constitution in recent weeks in relation to other matters. Under the Constitution parents are the primary educators of our children. Why then do we think that the local representatives of the people are incapable of appointing people to educate their children under the non-selective system operated by the vocational education sector? We should not bring forward legislation in this House — this was the line of thinking of Deputy Mac Giolla — to satisfy the figment of someone's imagination or, in the case of Deputy Bruton, who perhaps was making a trial run at pandering to minority interests, the 0.001 per cent. He is going to have to pander to a few more minority interests within the Fine Gael Party next week. In the absence of any evidence he proceeded to ask this House to change a system not on the basis that he had any evidence that it was not working efficiently but on the basis that he is an original thinker.

Having regard to how far we have come in vocational education we should not accept the idea that politicians are incapable of making decisions to the benefit of the people we are supposed to be serving. It seems that at the first sign of trouble we appoint a commission or get a bureaucrat or civil servant to sort it out. The attitude seems to be that even though he may never have heard of where one comes from he will know anyway as he has been trained in an ivory tower to look after such problems. I stand over everything I say but as politicians we are asking the Irish people to accept that there is a problem, even though there is no evidence which suggests this, and to let the Local Appointments Commission to look after it. I think that is an outrageous suggestion. From the other side of their mouths these people will talk about giving more responsibility to the people and allowing more decision making at local level — the enterprise society. We cannot have it every way and if that whiter than white attitude is brought to its logical conclusion some very eminent careers will be dispelled for very spurious reasons.

It is about time politicians at all levels stood up to say that they represent the people and that the people will get rid of them if they do not want them on the committee or on a local body. If there is evidence of wrong doing in any city or county VEC this can be rectified. A motion could be put down to remove members from the committee. It is as simple as that. There is no evidence that any problem exists, it only seems to exist in someone's imagination. If a wrong decision is made it is up to the committee to sort it out. If there is a case of blatant wrongdoing I have no doubt that the officials of the Department of Education will let the Minister know fairly quickly. I would expect them to do this but this has not happened as the evidence shows that the proper procedures are being adopted.

Having said that it is important to bear in mind, having regard to the demographic changes taking place by the end of the year 2002, that there will be 30 per cent reduction in pupils in the post-primary sector. We have to examine the structures to ensure that that sector will continue to be responsive to the needs of the day. The Irish Vocational Education Association have brought forward a discussion document in which they state that that sector is prepared to change and evolve in partnership with the other sectors in education, primary, post-primary and third level, within the regions. However, the other sectors will have to move before the vocational education committees can be asked to give up their autonomy and the powers they operate both lawfully and correctly.

Recently I spoke to a retired teacher who was one of the pioneers of vocational education in the counties of Offaly and Westmeath. He told me that they had to canvass and go looking for students for the vocational education system. They targeted, in particular, farmers' sons and daughters and others who, through economic necessity, had to leave primary school at an early age and who did not have the choice of continuing in any form of education. The vocational education system has come a long way since those days. The idea then was that the local representatives and vocational education committees would decide on the way they would proceed. People were answerable to the vocational education committees, local representatives, local officials of the vocational education committees and the other interests represented on the vocational education committee. That is as it should be. It is wrong to try to make any changes in the areas of selection, policy making or building priorities as this flies in the face of the achievements of the vocational education system under the present mode of operation. It is particularly galling to seek change when no evidence has been put forward to show that such change is necessary and argue that the power to make decisions should be given to a centralised, faceless and unaccountable set up.

The Irish Vocational Educational Association in their discussion document — this should be for discussion only at this stage — submit that local education authorities should be set up on a county basis to deal not only with primary, post-primary and tertiary education but also informal education such as adult education, outdoor pursuits, itinerant training workshops, community workshops, Youthreach, the various opportunity schemes, the vocational training and preparation programme and night classes. All these are provided by the vocational education system which has evolved in such a way as to ensure that education is provided to a section of our community to whom it otherwise would not be available. Members of this House are attempting to have the power to make decisions taken from that set up and given to those who are unaccountable. The attitude seems to be that yes, they can run their VECs, seek to have schools built and offer night classes but that they do not have the competence to decide who teaches in their schools. Where is the logic and the democracy in that? We should remember that the numbers are increasing in many vocational education committees, including my own, and that people are sending their children to those schools because of the high quality teachers who have been appointed under the present structures. That represents a vote of confidence in the County Offaly Vocational Education Committee as it does in other vocational education committees and it should not be interfered with.

Debate adjourned.