I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Bill provides me with an opportunity to present legislation which gives a statutory framework for the provision of youth work programmes and services. Youth work plays a very important role in the social and personal development of young people. It aims to assist all young people to realise their full potential and become active participants in a democratic society. Youth organisations and projects provide the means by which this development can take place. A central aspect of youth work is the young person's voluntary participation in the services provided by youth work organisations. Youth work also has a strong ethos of volunteerism, with many adults and young leaders giving of their time and efforts freely in the provision of services with and for young people. It is, perhaps, because youth work is based on the concept of volunteerism that it has reached out to so many people, young and old alike, in society. The many organisations which my Department supports by way of financial and other assistance support, in turn, the work of the volunteer. It is my intention that the Bill will further develop and enhance the very valuable work being done by the organisations, agencies, youth workers and volunteers in non-formal education.
Youth work is rightly deserving of its own identity and the second legislative opportunity the Bill offers. The Youth Work Act, 1997, was a step in the right direction in placing youth work on a statutory basis. It was, however, predicated on the establishment of education boards which were subsequently deemed inoperable by the Government. It was necessary, therefore, to revise the Act to take account of this. On revisiting the Act it became clear that there were many other aspects of its provisions which required improvement and modification in the light of the reaction to it. The Bill represents a fresh start in which we can address the needs of young people and youth work in a more detailed, systematic and comprehensive manner.
Ever since the report of the national youth policy committee in 1984 the issue of youth work legislation has been on the agenda. The long progress to this point has been with Governments of differing complexions and, sometimes, with opposing views of the structures which should be in place to facilitate good practice and the effective administration of the youth service. There has always been, however, common ground that the youth work service, mainly of a voluntary nature, should have a legislative basis on which to function and operate.
There was widespread consultation with interested parties prior to the drafting of the Bill. It became apparent at an early stage that rather than have voluminous amendments to the 1997 Act to provide for the replacement of education boards by vocational education committees, it would be more desirable to introduce a new Bill. In the short interval since its publication my officials and I have met interested parties to discuss their views and comments. I am glad to say that there has been a positive reaction and the publication of the Bill has been generally welcomed.
The principal purposes of the Bill are to define what youth work means in a clear and concise manner; to detail the policy, budget, research, monitoring and assessment functions of the Minister regarding youth work; to define the functions of vocational education committees regarding youth work, particularly the procedures for planning, prioritising, funding and reporting on the provision of youth work programmes and services; to establish a special youth work committee in each VEC area; to provide for the continuation of the national youth work advisory committee and to expand that voluntary committee to reflect to a greater degree the current composition of the youth work community; to formalise the allocation of grants for youth work; to establish voluntary youth councils to represent the needs and demands of the voluntary sector at local level, and to permit the appointment of a national assessor of youth work so as to ensure the best possible use of Government moneys in the provision of youth work programmes and services.
To those Members conscious of the Youth Work Act, 1997, many of the concepts included in the Bill will be familiar. The national youth work advisory committee will be retained and strengthened through enlargement. The structures initially intended for the administration of the national youth work budget have been adjusted to take account of the existing situation and the local youth work committees and voluntary youth councils have had their roles clarified and extended. I intend to appoint at least one national youth work assessor as a result of the legislation before us and expect that this development will greatly assist in the best use of the resources available for the promotion of youth work. Those organisations that provide youth work programmes and services will have the added protection of a formalised system of safeguards in regard to decisions of the VEC and of the Minister.
This is a development much anticipated in the sector. Of all the provisions of the Bill, however, perhaps the most important is the emphasis that is being placed on co-ordination amongst the agencies and organisations which undertake youth work. For too long, Departments and voluntary youth work organisations have worked somewhat independently of each other, each providing a youth service tailored to its own particular needs. It is expected that co-operation between all the bodies and organisations and youth work committees and the national youth work advisory committee will foster a spirit of co-operation and information sharing that will be of enormous benefit to the sector.
The Bill outlines in detail the functions of the Minister in the area of policy formulation, co-ordination, budget, research, monitoring and assessment. These are key areas in youth work policy and it is essential that the Minister has overall responsibility for them and for the development of national policy. The functions will include the development and co-ordination of youth work programmes and services, including co-ordination with education and other programmes. The Bill will also allow for the Minister to provide annual funding for youth work programmes and services. It will enable the Minister to carry out or commission research in respect of youth work. It will provide for monitoring, at least once a year, of youth work programmes and services in receipt of State funding. Furthermore, the Bill provides for the assessment, at least once every three years, of State funded youth work programmes and services funded by Vocational Education Committees.
A very important function of the Minister will be to appoint the national youth work advisory committee. The Bill will provide for due regard to be had to the treatment of males and females; to those aged between 10 and 21 and those who are socially or economically disadvantaged. It will enable the Minister to give directions to a VEC or youth work organisation if, after assessment of a programme or service, that is required. Furthermore, there is provision for the Minister to direct any two or more vocational education committees to act jointly in the provision of youth work. These are necessary and important tasks for the Minister to exercise as part of his overall responsibility for the development of youth work and youth work policy.
I gave much thought to the manner in which delivery of youth work programmes and services might be organised at local level. I am convinced that, given the nature of youth work and its deliv ery in Ireland, the most appropriate statutory vehicle at local level should be the vocational education committees. The vocational education committees have a strong tradition in youth work and are much involved in youth work provision; they are uniquely and ideally placed to respond to local needs in youth work provision. I regard the decision to entrust statutory responsibility for youth work to vocational education committees to be a realistic and forward looking decision of the Government. The Bill, therefore, provides for vocational education committees to ensure the provision, within their administrative areas, of youth work programmes and services in co-ordination with voluntary youth organisations. It will require vocational education committees to prepare a three year youth work development plan for their administrative area. The legislation will enable vocational education committees to grant, withdraw or reduce financial assistance to youth work organisations as the situation demands. The Bill will enable vocational education committees to arrange for the provision of youth work programmes or services where they are not being provided. One must be conscious of the fact that every community has needs different from its neighbours and flexibility must be given to vocational education committees to allow adaptation to the conditions prevailing in each VEC functional area. That is precisely what is being proposed under the Bill. The three year planning process will enable vocational education committees to develop local youth work services in a visionary, imaginative and progressive manner.
It has long been my desire to re-introduce the post of national youth work assessor. This Bill will take a step further along the road to accountable and efficient youth service. The assessor will have a central role in the proposed structures. Not only will he or she provide invaluable information on the state of the sector but will enable decision making on the basis of a full appreciation of the merits of the youth work organisation concerned. In this manner, the vocational education committees and I will be able to promote best practice and value for money among the various groups which will come under the scope of the Bill.
During the consultation process, the widespread desire for a review process for decisions made by the administrative bodies was patently apparent. With this in mind, the national youth work assessor will be charged with a range of duties designed to allay any fears within the voluntary youth work sector that unfair or unreasonable decisions might be taken with regard to their funding under this new scheme. The process whereby many of the decisions of the Minister or the vocational education committees will only become final when the organisation concerned has had an opportunity to restate its case to the assessor, must be seen as a major safeguard for the providers of youth work services and programmes. As such, it is a very welcome addition to the youth work landscape. It reflects, I believe, the consensual approach to catering for the needs of the sector, which is a hallmark of this legislation.
The national youth work advisory committee has, over the past three years, proved itself invaluable in the development of youth policies. A number of issues of vital importance to the youth of Ireland have been and are being examined by the committee. Since its inception following the 1997 Act it has been responsible for, and has been an invaluable source of, advice for the production of policy guidelines and direction in the youth work area. At my request, it has also been active in the commissioning of a five year national youth work development plan. I anticipate that the committee will be in a position to present me with this plan by March next year.
Through this Bill, it is intended to expand the duties of the committee and formally give a role in the administration of the youth sector to the voluntary bodies and those statutory agencies with an interest in the field. Following what we all hope will be the successful passage of this Bill, the committee will set about the mammoth task of producing advice on the implementation of almost every aspect of it. The committee will provide guidelines for the vocational education committees as to the constitution of local voluntary youth work organisations and the standards to which they must adhere. Perhaps most importantly, it will examine how we can achieve the greatest degree of co-ordination of services, both within and outside the sector, to provide the very best return on investment in the young people of Ireland.
In order to provide the best possible service the membership of the committee will be expanded from a maximum membership of 22 to 29. The reason for this increase is twofold, first, to allow for the increased work load the committee will face and, second, to ensure the widest possible representation of interested parties. The membership structure has been adjusted to allow for two representatives from the Irish Vocational Education Association, and a representative of the chief inspector of the Department of Education and Science. The former reflects the greatly increased role envisaged for the vocational education committees in the operation of the new structures and the latter marks the intention to ensure the highest level of co-ordination between the formal and non-formal education sectors. The enhanced participation of the statutory side is matched with a major advance in representation on the voluntary side. In a development that epitomises the spirit of co-operation between the State and the voluntary sector, the national representative body of voluntary youth work organisations will be guaranteed 50% of the representation on the committee. Similarly to youth work committees at local level, the public and voluntary sector partnership embodied in the national youth work advisory committee will facilitate greater co-operation and co-ordination of services for young people.
In order to give full effect to the legislation, it is proposed to enable vocational education committees to appoint specific sub-committees for youth work. These will be known as youth work committees. The composition of these committees will be inclusive of statutory and voluntary agencies in order to give the widest possible representation. Each committee will provide a most important advisory service to its VEC in matters relating to youth work. It is my wish that the youth work committee will act in a positive and enlightened fashion in shaping the manner of youth work policy in its respective VEC area. It will also reflect the needs of the community in youth work by virtue of its wide, representative nature. In short, it will have a most important role in the development of youth work policy in each VEC area.
As regards the provisions in the Bill for the creation of voluntary youth councils, it is essential in order to recognise the voluntary nature of youth work provision to give due recognition to those volunteers involved in youth work. It is essential to recognise the voluntary nature of youth work provision and to give due recognition to those volunteers involved in youth work. Accordingly, I propose that a minimum of 75% of the members should be volunteers and at least one fifth of the membership of the council should be young persons under 25 years of age.
The voluntary youth councils will nominate one half of the membership of local youth work committees. This situation clearly illustrates the high regard and respect I have for volunteers in youth work. This provision is further recognition in the most positive manner of the key role played by volunteers in the youth work movement.
I will now turn to the various categories of youth work organisations and their recognition in this legislation. The Youth Work Bill envisages four categories of youth work providing organisations, three of which require recognition by the Minister and one – local voluntary youth work organisations – by the local VEC. The first category of youth organisations is the national youth work representative organisation. In accordance with section 18 of the Bill, the principal role of this body will be to nominate 50% of the members of the national youth work advisory committee. Accordingly, it is felt that the importance of this body and its national role deserve emphasis and for this reason it should be prescribed by ministerial regulation for a period of three years at a time. It is only to be expected that the National Youth Council of Ireland will be prescribed as the national youth work representative organisation.
There are well in excess of 30 national youth work organisations funded by my Department. I expect these organisations to form the core of the second class of organisations, the approved national youth work organisations. These bodies operate nationally and include organisations which are known to everybody and, in many cases, could be said to be household names. Through national lottery funding, the Department of Education and Science gives grant-in-aid towards the administration budgets of these national organisations in the form of the youth service grant scheme. While they will interact with each VEC at local level, a coherent national youth work policy requires that they have a close relationship with the Department of Education and Science.
The voluntary sector through its membership of the national youth work advisory committee will have ample opportunity to help shape policy in regard to organisations in this category. The Minister will have the power to revoke "approved national" status for good cause. However, the national youth work organisations concerned will have the safeguard of the national youth work assessor to ensure that their positions cannot be questioned unreasonably.
Designated local youth work organisations are those which provide youth work services at community level. These services are often affiliated to members of the national youth work representative organisation. The intention of the Bill is that where these organisations receive grant-in-aid from their local VEC they will also receive their designated status from the VEC. The guidelines the vocational education committees will follow in determining whether an organisation is eligible for status as a designated voluntary youth work organisation will be issued by the Minister with the advice of the national youth work advisory committee. The designated local youth work organisations will form the electorates for the local voluntary youth councils and will be eligible to receive grant-in-aid through the vocational education committees in the form of measures such as the local youth club grant scheme, the disadvantaged youth grant scheme and the youth information network.
The Minister may, from time to time, need to expend funds on organisations not directly involved in the provision of youth work or which are not voluntary organisations but which can provide a service required for the effective delivery of youth work services. For the purposes of the Bill these will be known as authorised organisations. Bodies to be included in this category may be consultancy service providers or non-national youth work providers who are needed to provide services outside the scope of the local vocational education committees.
The youth work functions of the Minister and the vocational education committees require that particular regard be had to the youth work requirements of those who are socially or economically disadvantaged. The concept of social inclusion is extremely important in the sphere of non-formal education and development of young people. Voluntary involvement in youth work programmes and services provides a real alternative to the formal route for many disadvantaged young people. It can help bring these young people back into the formal education sector with renewed enthusiasm and self-confidence.
Schemes funded by the youth affairs section of my Department to assist disadvantaged young people include grants for special projects to assist disadvantaged youth and the young people's facilities and services fund. There is also provision in the new local youth club grant scheme for particular regard to be had to the requirements of disadvantaged young people.
The provisions of the Bill have sought to uphold the Government's commitment to ensuring an equal opportunities ethos in the provisions of policy and legislation. The Minister's functions include a requirement to have regard to the treatment of young male and female persons in relation to access to youth work and to the number of male and female young persons likely to participate in the youth work programmes and services. These requirements are also applicable to the functions of the vocational education committees.
Current information available to my Department indicates that there is equal participation of young males and females in organisations receiving funding from my Department. While the Bill aims to ensure that regard is had to the treatment and involvement of both genders, it does not, and should not, aim to fix gender quotas. While many of the long established youth organisations in this State are single sex organisations, they continue to work closely with other groups and organisations in developing their young members' overall youth work involvement. Committees both at national and local level – the national youth work advisory committee, the youth work committees of the vocational education committees and the voluntary youth councils – are required to have regard to appropriate gender balance.
The important role of information in today's society is also recognised by the provisions of the Bill. Information is of paramount importance to those who are making decisions on further education, possible career paths and other life decisions. The Minister and the vocational education committees must endeavour to ensure that in carrying out their functions regard is had to the information needs of young people.
My Department currently provides resources for the development of a network of youth information centres which provide young people with easy access to information on rights, opportunities, benefits, health, welfare and other matters. This service also has relevance to those seeking advice and assistance in regard to travel and to the issue of mobility within Europe. These youth information centres, by providing information to young people on a wide range of subjects of interest to them, help them to develop their abilities and to overcome their problems more effectively.
In assisting them through the effective dissemination of information to identify their own resources, make their own decisions and take their own actions, they promote personal autonomy and resourcefulness and encourage their active participation in society. Through the youth information grant scheme the Department of Education and Science is able to provide practical assistance to vocational education committees and other bodies to provide this vital service. This Bill, in acknowledging the information needs of young people, pays tribute to the excellent work of all those involved with the youth information centre movement in every part of the country.
I emphasise again the degree of co-ordination and co-operation between statutory and voluntary interests envisaged in this Bill. The composition of the national youth work advisory committee and youth work committees clearly underlines this position and is one of the main strengths of the legislation. This will become more apparent when the legislation is in operation.
The Youth Work Bill, 2000, has been criticised for having a long gestation period. Perhaps this is so but we can argue plausibly that the wait has been worthwhile. Time has been taken to allow for full and mature consideration of what is needed to consolidate the youth work sector and to prepare a framework that should last for many years. There has been a comprehensive process of consultation which has built on the findings prepared in advance of the Youth Work Act, 1997. The result is a Bill that addresses the wishes and needs of the voluntary sector in a detailed manner as well as catering for the needs of those charged with the implementation of the new structures.
Above all, the Bill defines youth work in a fashion that is simple yet complete. Emphasis is placed on the voluntary nature of the service and that youth work's goal should be the personal and social development of young people. I am satisfied that the Youth Work Bill provides a logical and coherent framework for the delivery of youth work programmes and services at national, regional and local level for the new millennium. I commend the Bill to the House.