I have been trying to raise this matter on the Adjournment for some time. I have raised a variety of questions with the Minister for Education and Science on the wider Act and on one university in particular, Dublin City University, which I believe is in breach of the Act. However, the Labour Court recently decided that the adjudication of whether it was in breach of the Act and the matter of a union with which it had a difficulty is not a matter not that court.
In response to my questions the Minister for Education and Science always returned to the Universities Act 1997 stating that the Act confers autonomous statutory responsibilities on universities in the day to day management of their affairs and that the conduct of staff relations is a matter for each university in accordance with section 25 of the Act. No doubt the Minister of State will repeat that to me tonight, and he is welcome to do that. However, I believe there is a discrepancy in the Act which might suggest that it needs amending. It is important to highlight that there has been a serious dispute involving one member of staff in DCU who was dealt with by management in a manner not agreed with by SIPTU under the 1997 Act. This person was basically told by a rights commissioner that the university had no case. The Labour Court also upheld his appeal, yet DCU is still prevaricating to the extent that the individual concerned is in severe financial straits.
There is a side story to this issue, which involves allegations of bribery by members of staff who encouraged students to give up the lecture on science and society this lecturer was giving in DCU. I met a student who stands over these claims. However, despite trying to raise this matter in a number of ways, to date there has been no joy in regard to it. I will leave it to other jurisdictions to decide what is the position in relation to the alleged bribery, but it is on record and DCU management is aware of it, yet nothing has been done to deal with the allegation.
This raises a wider issue. The lecturer concerned was dismissed without agreements and procedures being made with SIPTU. Section 25(6) of the Act states, "A university may suspend or dismiss any employee but only in accordance with procedures, and subject to any conditions, specified in a statute made following consultation through normal industrial relations structures operating in the university with recognised staff associations or trade unions." SIPTU contends such procedures have not been followed and normal consultation have not taken place with the university in question. It is for possibly another jurisdiction to decide that. However, I want to know who decides the procedures? Should a university decide to take it upon itself to interpret or police the Act, does that not make the university its own policeman? If that is the case, is there not a weakness in the Universities Act 1997, in that, should a union or an individual have a grievance or a contention that the Act was not adhered to, is it not up to the Minister to adjudicate in that case, or is it a matter for the courts?
Will the Minister of State for an opinion on this matter? Perhaps he could give one in writing at a later stage following consultation with legal advisers. DCU seem to be the bad boy in this case. At some future date UCD, Maynooth and other universities could allegedly act in breach of the Act, but who is to say whether they are acting in breach of it. I ask the Minister that question. Who adjudicates whether a university is in breach of the Act? It is no good asking a university, through the Higher Education Authority, whether it is in breach of the Act because its representatives will reply that the university is in not breach of it. That is not good enough. Somebody else must adjudicate when there is a contention over whether the Act is being followed, and that is the information I hope to get from the Minister of State tonight.