My party supports the principle of gender quotas and the recommendations by the Second Commission on the Status of Women on gender quotas on State boards and bodies. When these Bills were before the House in 1992 I supported the principle of gender quotas and argued very strongly that they be specified in the legislation rather than giving a vague, generalised commitment, which subsequently caused the difficulties referred to by the Minister that gave rise to the present legislation.
I will support the general thrust of the Bill in so far as it seeks to establish that there will be a minimum of 40 per cent of either gender on the governing bodies of regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. I am very surprised that, given the Minister's stated commitment to the principle of gender representation and the Government's stated commitment to the principle of enabling women to participate fully in the social and economic life of the country, the Bill is confined solely to regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. Discrimination against women is widespread and a major problem in the education system. With the decline in the number of convent schools and the number of sisters who held principalships and senior positions in convent schools, with the advent of lay principalships and appointments, representation of women at a senior level in the education system has declined.
At third level — throughout the education system — there is an appalling under-representation of women both in the governing bodies of universities and at senior staff level. The latest figures I have for universities — I concede these may vary — indicate that in UCD only three of the 34 members of the governing body are women; in UCC three of the 27 members are women; in UCG two of the 26 members are women; in Trinity College three of the 14 members are women and in the University of Limerick three of the 16 members are women. In each third level institution the president or chairperson of the board and the chief executive or principal, with one exception, is male. In each vocational education committee the chief executive officer is a man.
The Conference of Religious of Ireland in a recent report document the extent to which women are under-represented in the education system. At primary level, for example, while women account for 76 per cent of the total number of teachers they account for only 48 per cent of principalships. At second level the figures are worse; while women account for approximately 50 per cent of the total number of teachers they account for only 11 per cent of principalships in community schools and 4 per cent in the vocational education committees. At third level women account for only 2 per cent of university professors and 14 per cent approximately of the total number of teaching staff. In the Department of Education fewer than one-fifth of the number of senior positions are held by women.
Under this legislation where two people are elected or appointed, for example, by the academic staff or students to the governing body, one must be a man and one a woman. In general I agree with this. When the Minister assumed office she appointed a senior adviser and a programme manager, both of whom were men. The principle of gender balance encompasses far more in the education system than the appointment of members to the governing bodies of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology.
Given that its stated intention is to address gender imbalance in the education system this Bill does not go far enough. If the Minister was serious about tackling the appalling inequalities and discrimination against women in the education system she should have introduced legislation which dealt with this in its totality covering the question of the appointment of principals in schools and the appointment of members to the governing bodies of institutions other than the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. I am told repeatedly that when women present themselves for interview for the post of principal or vice principal they are asked questions about their family commitments and very often about their personal lives. This would not happen in the case of a male applicant. In the education system, therefore, there is strong discrimination against women and this should be addressed. In a field of activity in which women have taken an active interest during the years and are highly represented, the teaching profession, the question of the number of women in senior positions — this also applies to the teacher unions — will have to be addressed. In this regard the Bill does not go far enough.
The Bill, however, goes too far in giving the Minister increased powers over the vocational education committees, the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. While its stated intention is to tackle discrimination against women the real purpose of this Bill is to dig the Minister out of the hole in which she finds herself because of conflict with the vocational education committees. Section 2 (2) places two requirements on vocational education committees. Paragraph (a) places a requirement on a vocational education committee to ensure that in making its recommendation not fewer than seven recommended for appointment to the governing body are women and not fewer than seven are men. Paragraph (b) states that a vocational education committee shall make such recommendations subject to such directives as may be issued by the Minister from time to time. On Committee Stage I will explore this matter in greater detail.
We have to be mindful of the history of the legislation relating to the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. I recall that when the legislation was first introduced to establish the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology as autonomous institutions with their own governing bodies there was a massive row between the then Minister for Education and the vocational education committees on the question of whether the vocational education committees would have any role in the appointment of the members of the governing bodies. The legislation, as originally drafted, provided for the Minister to appoint the members of the governing bodies of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. In discussions between the members of the IVEA who held Fianna Fáil party cards and the then Minister a compromise was cobbled together to allow the vocational education committees to make recommendations in the appointment of members of the governing bodies. Section 2 (2) (b) of this Bill will bring us back to the original position; in other words, the Minister will appoint the members of the governing bodies. The Minister will have free rein to issue whatever directives she wants to the vocational education committees about the recommendations they will make.
The question of student representation is addressed in the Bill. The Minister addresses the duality of student elections as provided for in the original regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology legislation. The original legislation provided for student union elections at one stage of the year and another set of elections to elect two members to the governing body. As often happens the same people need not be elected giving rise to problems of accountability. I attempted to address this problem by way of amendment and I pointed out that students could elect to the students union John X and Mary Y as president and vice-president respectively and then the governing body would make arrangements for the election of two student members of the governing body and two entirely different people might be elected giving rise to a conflict. That problem has been recognised but the solution proposed in the Bill is the most bizarre I have seen in a long time — it is certainly the first time that an electoral problem has been solved by abolishing the election, and this is what the legislation is providing for.
These Bills provide that two students, one of whom will be a man and the other a woman, shall be chosen in accordance with regulations made by the governing body. That does not provide for an election but provides that any governing body — I note the Minister is shaking her head — can make regulations resulting in the selection of students on any basis. I know that the level of conflict between students unions and governing bodies is not very great but a governing body might find itself in conflict with the student union and the regulations it might devise might reflect that conflict.
I read a report in this morning's newspaper that the difficulties with the students union presidency in University College Galway have been resolved but for quite some time there was a problem as to whether the first person elected or the second person elected was the legitimate president of the students union. The president of the students union in Letterkenny Regional College found himself in conflict with the chairman of the governing body. The situation became so out of control that the Minister was required to investigate it but the problem has not yet been resolved. I understand that the person who conducted the inquiry into the matter has reported to the Minister and I would like to know the outcome.
There is no governing body in that college but, apparently, the chairman of the original governing body, a party to the original problem, is still functioning as a sole member of the governing body. This situation has arisen because of a conflict between the students union representatives and the governing body. It is not inconceivable that problems could arise between a students union and a governing body which could give rise to regulations being introduced for the selection of student representatives which might not necessarily reflect the democratic wishes or the students autonomous right to have their own representatives. Why can provision not be made for the students union to nominate one male and one female representatives to the governing body? I will table an amendment on Committee Stage to deal with this.
I received correspondence on the issue of staff representation. Staff are concerned that the provision the Minister is making for the staff to elect one man and one woman is denying them their autonomous right to elect whomever they wish. No doubt we will go into this later. A letter I received from a teacher in one of the colleges states:
In issuing the election notice for the current governing body, the governing body stated it was acting on the direction of the Minister in limiting the choice of the electorate. This matter is being challenged in court. A full hearing of the case is due later this month. In introducing her Bill the Minister is attempting to pre-empt any decision of the court.
This raises an issue which the Chair may wish to address. I have always been concerned at the way the Chair interprets the sub judice rule and if I were to attempt to raise questions on matters which are before the court I think the Chair would rule me out of order. If this correspondent is correct then an issue arises as to whether the Minister, in introducing this legislation, is seeking to circumvent a decision of the courts on matters which are currently before them. In particular, I draw the Chair's attention to section 5 which deals with governing bodies. Under subsection (4) of that section the Minister proposes to give retrospective effect to the appointment of the governing bodies. It states:
This section shall be deemed to have come into effect on the 1st day of January, 1994.
I would like to hear the views of the Chair as to whether the Minister is in order in putting before the House legislation which it has been claimed is seeking to circumvent matters which are before the court. It would appear that the Minister is seeking to give retrospective effect to matters which have yet to be decided by the courts.
The Bills have to be put in context. This is the first education legislation which the Minister has brought before the House. I am always glad to see education legislation before the House but I am somewhat surprised that these are the first Bills the Minister has introduced. We have been waiting for quite some time for the substantive education Bill which has been promised time and again not only by this Minister but by her two predecessors. The Green Paper on Education was published early in 1992 and we were told that the educational interests would be consulted within six months with the White Paper being published early in 1993. I accept there was a general election, with the appointment of a new Government and a new Minister and, understandably, a period had to be allowed for the new regime to put its stamp on what was taking place.
I was very pleased at the Minister's initiative in establishing the Education Convention in Dublin Castle with very wide ranging consultation with educational interests on the future of education. I am at a loss to understand what has been happening for the past 12 months because it is over 12 months since the Education Convention met. At that time it appeared there was a converging of views in the education field as to the future of Irish education. I attended several seminars organised by various interest groups where the various educational interests appeared to be moving towards a position where it was possible to work out a new partnership relationship between the various interests in education, the owners and patrons of schools, teachers, parents, the Department of Education and the Government, representing the taxpayers. It is regrettable that initiative seems to have been lost and in the past 12 months the White Paper has not been published — apparently it is to be published some time towards the end of the year. We seem to have moved further away from agreement on education than was possible 12 months ago. It seems also that the Minister has approached some of the more sensitive issues in a confrontational way which has not lent itself to reaching agreement with the education interests and the boat has been missed.
Approximately 12 months ago, at the time of the education convention, the Minister missed an historic opportunity to reach agreement with the various interests in education. That is very regrettable because we are now locked into a sterile conflict about control and ownership of education when the vast majority of people, including those who work in and consume the education service, are more concerned about the questions of cost and quality.
We have had what can only be described as a number of very exceptional decisions by the Minister for Education. There was an announcement on the abolition of university fees for which apparently there was no Government approval and which the Minister has not yet clarified. An expert group on student grants was appointed. Half the outcome of their deliberations was announced and last November the Minister promised she would publish the report of the de Buitléar group, but it has not been published. It was leaked in the public press from which it appears the de Buitléar group has made certain recommendations on equalling the opportunities of children of PAYE workers to the opportunities of farmers and self employed people.
When the Minister is replying to the debate I invite her to state when she intends to publish the report and what she intends to do about its recommendations.
On curriculum reform, for example, a considerable amount of work has been done by the NCCA. The curriculum committees recommended changes in curricula for the leaving certificate and within the past month the Minister announced that despite the work done by the curriculum committees and the fact that they were under orders to produce early reports, she has decided to postpone——