Priority Questions.

Third Level Charges.

Brian Hayes


38 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science his views on the fact that funds generated from third level college registration fees are used to supplement core funding for higher level institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44461/09]

The student services charge is levied by third level institutions to defray the costs of examinations, registration and student services. The range of services may include such facilities as on-campus medical and counselling facilities for students, access and disability services, careers office services, student facilities, student clubs and societies. It should be noted all students who are eligible for means-tested grants have the charge paid on their behalf by the local authorities or vocational education committees.

As already announced, the Government indicated it was prepared to accept increases in the level of this charge for the academic year 2009-2010 to bring it to a limit of €1,500 in individual higher education institutions. In the previous academic year, the charge stood at €900. The increase in the charge for the 2009-2010 academic year enabled individual institutions to bring the amount contributed by students more into line with the real cost of providing student services in those institutions. This was agreed on the understanding that the revenue generated by the increase adopted by each institution would reflect their requirements in defraying the full cost of items that fall to be funded by the charge.

Where income from the charge did not previously meet the full cost of these services, this required an effective cross-subsidisation by institutions from their general block grant funding. The overall block grant allocations made to institutions for 2010 took account of the anticipated additional revenue available to institutions from an increase in the charge.

Systems of local accountability to students are in place across higher education institutions for the use of resources generated by the charge. The Higher Education Authority has issued a framework of good practice for the provision of student services to the publicly funded higher education institutions. It consists of guidelines to establish an appropriate system of consultation with students in the allocation of funding from the charge and in the determination of student services to be funded from this source with particular emphasis on principles of transparency and accountability.

The authority has written to all institutions on several occasions to ensure correct procedures are in place and to remind them of their function with the student services charge, in accordance with the framework of good practice. I have asked the authority to ensure all institutions are using the full income from the charge for the purpose for which it is intended.

If a college charges €1,500 for student services but only provides €500 for those services, would the Minister describe it as a scam? Would he advise those colleges to repay those students concerned who have been overcharged?

Last year by way of budgetary measures the Government examined this issue. It was the view expressed by all of the higher education institutions that the level of services for which they were paying for students was in excess of €1,500. The Higher Education Authority looked at the accounts of all third level institutions at the time and was satisfied that all institutions were providing services costing in excess of €1,500.

I would view in a poor light any institution providing fewer services than could be paid for with the money it attained from students.

From information we have from the accounts of two universities, University College Dublin and Trinity College, Dublin, we can take it that two thirds of what they charge students is diverted to supplementing their core grants. Does the Minister agree they should pay back the students concerned? Is it not the case the Minister is misleading students — or at worse defrauding them — because he allowed this charge increase by 60% last year? The Minister is presiding over a situation where effectively he has re-introduced fees by the back door.

Will he agree there is no accountability and transparency in this method? Will he also agree the documents put into the public domain by two universities and their students unions show that two thirds of what students are charged for actually supplements the core grant the Minister and the Government have already taken from the universities?

Go raibh maith agat. I call on the Minister.

Should those universities repay those students? That is a straight question and does not need a Second Stage speech. Can we have a straight answer to a straight question?

Will the Deputy please allow the Minister?

Generally, one would first establish the facts. I have asked the Higher Education Authority, in view of the report that appeared in a newspaper article arising from information supplied by the Union of Students in Ireland, to carry out a survey on all of the accounts presented by third level institutions. I did so to ensure whatever money is collected from students is being spent on the services due to students on foot of the registration fee.

Last year, the Higher Education Authority examined all the sets of accounts. The authority indicated to the Department of Education and Science that it was satisfied that all of the institutions were providing a service to this level. In view of the report issued by the Union of Students in Ireland, I felt it appropriate that I ask for an urgent review to be carried out. The Higher Education Authority will report back to me in the early part of the new year to ascertain the position concerning the charge.

We will now move on to Question No. 39.

It could be quite possible that the format of response from Trinity College Dublin, for instance, may not be put in strict accountancy order to show the €1,500 is dispensed on each student.

I ask the Minister and Deputies to have regard to the Chair. We will take Question No. 39.

I apologise, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

School Patronage.

Ruairí Quinn


39 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science the discussions he recently had with the Roman Catholic archbishops on the transferral of patronage in primary schools; the actions he is taking arising from this meeting; if the Catholic archbishops provided a list of schools they wish to hand over to other patrons; if he will convene a forum on patronage at primary level involving all the education partners to build a consensus as to the way the transfer of some Roman Catholic schools to other patrons will proceed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44349/09]

In recent talks between my Department and the bishops of the Catholic Church, there was a wide-ranging and constructive discussion about the different issues that may arise in planning for the future development of provision for primary education. The Catholic school patrons and my Department agreed it was essential to engage in planning for change.

However, given the complexity of the issues involved and the necessity to take the wishes of local communities into consideration, the bishops did not feel they were in a position to provide a list of schools at this time. To advance the matter, my Department agreed it would instead explore the range of issues involved by identifying specific geographical areas where a change of patronage might be relevant.

The geographic areas chosen would be in areas of low-to-moderate demographic growth where the existing number of schools would not need to be increased in the foreseeable future but where a change of patronage might be relevant to cater for diversity. In areas of rapid population growth requiring new schools, the choice of patron for a new school would continue, as at present, to have regard to the need for diversity.

In this context, departmental officials are carrying out an assessment to identify a number of locations where changes to patronage may be warranted, given changed demographic profiles in recent decades. Clearly, any implementation framework developed to facilitate the possible transfer of patronage would need to be planned and managed. It would be important in individual school cases for consultation to take place with all relevant stakeholders, parents, teachers and local communities. Any changes could only come about by agreement between the various stakeholders.

While I would not rule out the possibility of holding a further forum on school patronage in the future, considerable further thought must be given to the timing and format of such an event. The results of the assessment being undertaken by my Department will also provide useful information in this context.

I thank the Minister for the brevity of his reply. There must be a new question-answerer in the Department, which is welcome.

We are aware of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's insistence to be spot on time.

My interest in this matter, and that of the Labour Party, is not to disrupt the day job of schools or the delivery of quality education in the classroom. It is, however, to reflect the frustration felt by parents in many built-up areas that they can no longer get their children into schools of their choice of ethos. This is because of overcrowding and the schools, for the first time, having to ration places on the basis of baptismal certificates and household bills.

I welcome the Minister's reply but will he agree that with rapid growth in the population we do not have the time for the normal speedy response of the Department of Education and Science? Will he agree that a convention with all stakeholders would fast-track this necessary exercise? I welcome the Minister's commitment in principle, and the commitment evinced by the Catholic bishops, that in a built-up area like my own constituency, for example, they are open to provide for diversity where growth is solid but not excessive and at the same time meet the needs of children and their parents.

I thank Deputy Quinn for his vote of confidence in the departmental officials in terms of all the speedy responses he receives. Given previous pronouncements, I am sure they will welcome that.

They are slow learners but there is progress.

I find them outstanding, but that is another matter. In our discussions with the Catholic bishops, Archbishop Martin has indicated clearly that where there is not a demand for a Catholic ethos or patronage in a school, the church is willing to consider that option.

My officials met with the archbishop and Bishop O'Reilly last week or the previous week. At that meeting we thought they might outline exactly what schools they had in mind in terms of a change of patronage. They did not do that, but they indicated clearly that where we could identify areas where a change of patron might be deemed appropriate, they would consider them, but that it would only be done on the basis of discussion between the parents, teachers and general community. We undertook to look through the geographical system that we have in place to consider not developing areas because they will be catered for anyway, but other areas of slow growth to examine whether there is a need for change.

I welcome what the Minister has said. We will have more time elsewhere to explore the matter. In the light of the recent reports, specifically the Ryan report from earlier this year on religious congregations involved in primary and secondary education and its devastating conclusions, and now the mind numbing revelations from the Dublin archdiocese, as contained in the Murphy report, does the Minister personally feel it is appropriate for a Catholic archbishop with a track record of a diocese such as Dublin, or Cloyne which is closer to the Minister's constituency, to remain as patron of a primary school given his stewardship and management of deviant priests?

It is important that we recognise the difference that exists between church and State, but as a Government we also recognise that the law will take its course for any bishop or archbishop who colluded in any way or who was responsible in any way for ensuring that the truth did not manifest itself. The Garda will investigate and those people will be brought before the courts.

In terms of patronage, it is important that we understand exactly what happens. In many instances bishops are patrons of schools. They appoint two nominees and there are two parents' nominees. The principal teacher of the school is on the board of management and there are two further nominees. It would not be tolerated that the outstanding people across the country who are acting as members of boards of management would in any way be involved with the archbishops or anyone who broke the law. The current management of schools is working exceptionally well. The patron is in place in terms of ethos but has nothing to do with the overall management of schools. That is the responsibility of the board of management.

Would the Minister not accept that the patron has more powers than the ones he has just described, including the appointment of the chairperson of the board of management, and that patrons have a daily role in the management of schools and the selection and appointment of the principal? Those bishops who have been named in the Murphy report, who are now bishops in their own right in one of the 26 dioceses around the country, are patrons of schools and they have been deemed to have acted inappropriately.

The Deputy is going beyond the scope of the question.

Is it not now time for the republican party, of which the Minister is a member, to reassess its relationship to this form of management which does not fit the contours of the 21st century?

The Government and the Department are examining patronage in general. We are involved in a wide-ranging review. A steering group has been set up. In addition, a group has been set up to consider new, developing areas, new patronage for schools and international experience in this area.

There have been dramatic changes in school patronage. The Department is purchasing many sites now and the boards of management of those new schools that are set up are independent and separate from the Catholic Church. Where school patrons have broken the law, we depend on the Garda to investigate to ensure that such persons are brought through the courts and that the appropriate punishment is administered.

Grant Payments.

Brian Hayes


40 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the discussions between his Department and the voluntary Protestant secondary schools regarding cutbacks announced in budget 2009. [44462/09]

I have had meetings with a number of groups on this issue. The most recent such meeting was on 21 October when I met with the Committee on Management for Protestant Schools. I extended an invitation to that committee to join a working group with my officials to identify particular measures to support the schools and to consider options that might deal with their needs. Regrettably, the committee declined that invitation. On 18 November, senior officials from my Department met with some of the bishops to consider how the issues could be progressed. An arrangement is now in place to provide particular information that can assist my officials in their work on identifying measures aimed at sustaining schools in the Protestant sector.

What has been sought at the meetings with me is a simple reversal of the budget measures, determined solely on a denominational criterion. As I have explained previously in this House, that is not legally possible. The Constitution, in Article 44°, permits State aid to denominational schools, but only on the basis of no discrimination between schools under different religious management.

I am concerned at some of the claims that have been made on why legal advice was sought on the matter. I welcome this opportunity to clarify the position in respect of the legal advices. Work was under way in a more general context to identify legal advice on a range of issues. However, this specific issue arose when, following an oral parliamentary question from Deputy Quinn on 18 October 2007 on the block grant and Article 44° of the Constitution, the Secretary General of my Department asked for an assessment of all legal advices and legal opinion on the difference in funding arrangements for Catholic and Protestant fee-charging schools. That work identified a number of advices from 1983 onwards.

The legal advice was brought to my attention during the preparation of savings options for consideration by the Government prior to budget 2008. The issue was raised between the Attorney General and me in the context of the budget in October 2008. It is clear that the provenance of the legal advices did not relate to the outcome of a High Court hearing, as has been claimed. The High Court hearing concerned did not take place until June 2008. My Department acted correctly in both ensuring that the lawfulness of the funding arrangements for fee-charging schools was considered and in identifying its relevance in terms of decisions taken collectively by the Government in budget 2008.

The words of Mandy Rice-Davies come to mind. She famously said "Well, he would, wouldn't he?" The same applies to the Minister and his Department. We have been through this previously. Angry words have been expressed on all sides of this House. I am only concerned with one thing, namely, sorting out this issue and resolving it.

I wish to make a proposal to the Minister for his consideration. Whatever about his position on the auxiliary grants that, in effect, he took from the 21 Protestant fee-paying schools in last year's budget, would he consider an increase in the block grant, which as the Minister is aware, is administered by the SEC, which, in effect, is ring-fenced to poorer Protestant children who attend those schools? As I noted recently in a reply the Minister made to a question of mine, that would not present any constitutional difficulty. In lieu of the reductions the Minister has made to a range of grants to those schools in last year's budget, would he consider an increase to the block grant in the context of the Estimates?

I wish to reach an accommodation as well. I have met seven different groups from the Protestant denomination. On all occasions I have made it clear that if there are difficulties, I wish to resolve them and to do that in consultation with them. I was very disappointed when we met them two weeks ago. I suggested establishing a working group but they refused point blank to do it. All they wanted was a reversal of something I could not reverse. It would be unconstitutional.

I welcome the fact, however, that Archbishop Neill and Bishop Coulton met the Department's Secretary General and other officials last week. Great progress was made at that meeting. It has now been agreed that they will provide information to the Department outlining where there are difficulties for Protestant schools. When that is done, we will examine and evaluate the information and make a decision on it. At all times since this commenced, I have asked the Protestant community and its schools and bishops to provide information to me that shows clearly where there is real difficulty. I accept there are some difficulties for rural Protestant schools. If that can be outlined clearly, I am prepared to take action.

The Minister is not ruling out the possibility of an increase in the block grant. This is the means through which the State currently allows children from poorer Protestant backgrounds to go to these schools on a geographical basis. As the Minister is aware, many counties in the Twenty-Six Counties do not have post-primary ethos-led education for those children. Perhaps the Minister will give a fuller explanation to the House of the potential for the proposal I am making, that we consider an increase in the block grant administered by the SEC as a means of making up the difference for the amount taken from these schools as a result of the Minister's budgetary measures last year. Will the Minister comment on my proposal?

The block grant to Protestant fee-paying schools is approximately €650 per pupil. The block grant to a normal school is €345 per pupil. There is a privileged position already.

There are reasons for that.

I am far more interested in having a targeted intervention for Protestant schools in rural areas that have been badly affected and need more support than they receive at present. I would like that information to be provided before giving any consideration to increasing the block grant. An increase in the block grant would create a bigger difference between the normal non-fee paying schools which most children in the country attend and Protestant fee-paying schools. I do not believe Protestants themselves wish to see that happen. I would prefer to target where there is an actual need, particularly in the case of rural Protestant schools, rather than blandly tell the House today that I will look at that.

Is it the Minister's intention to bring forward proposals to resolve this issue in the context of the forthcoming budget or by the end of the year, or is the Minister waiting to hear from some elements of the Protestant community before this issue is resolved? We all have a responsibility to resolve the mess that has been created. I will not outline the history of it but it was created for all kinds of reasons. I ask the Minister to resolve this issue sooner rather than later.

I have accommodated the archbishop and the bishop by meeting them. They have appointed a liaison person to work with officials in the Department and have agreed to submit additional information that will outline clearly where there are difficulties. As soon as that is provided, we will work with them to bring about a resolution.

Primary School Provision.

John O'Mahony


41 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Education and Science the 40 areas designated by his Department for additional primary school provision in the coming years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44463/09]

I am arranging to circulate the list referred to by the Deputy for the information of the House. The forward planning section of my Department carried out an initial demographic analysis utilising the current enrolments in schools, and applied growth scenarios to those figures for each region based on information such as the CSO regional population projections 2011-26 to establish probable enrolments into the future. This information formed the basis of a priority list of areas requiring further investigation.

To complete this further analysis, the forward planning section of my Department utilises the latest in geographical information system, GIS, technology to assist in planning school requirements in the future. The GIS contains information on all schools in the country, at primary and post-primary level, geo-coded to their location. The information is then linked to the relevant demographic information for those areas — typically the demographic information will be from the Central Statistic's Office census data, the general register of births, the Department of Social and Family Affairs, An Post's geo-directory and information supplied by local authorities through development plans.

The requirement for additional primary provision in years 2010, 2011 and 2012 is likely to be greatest in more than 40 locations across the country based on significant changes to the demographics of those areas. A thorough analysis of all of these areas is in progress by the forward planning section of my Department. Information in regard to these areas has already been circulated to all existing school patrons, who have been invited to bring forward proposals for the expansion of existing schools or to put themselves forward as patron for any new primary school, should it be required. Any proposed building projects arising from the detailed studies carried out on those priority areas will be considered in the context of my Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme for 2010 and subsequent years.

Priority List of Areas

To determine the areas where new school buildings will be required for September 2010 Forward Planning Section has examined the 42 areas (details provided) in terms of existing school capacity and projected junior infant intake (using data from Social Welfare and the GRO in terms of Child Benefit recipients and birth figures) and in this context it has been decided that it would be prudent to plan for new schools in the following areas for September 2010:

Balbriggan, Dublin Fingal

Swords, Dublin Fingal

Doughiska, County Galway

Naas, County Kildare

Portlaoise, County Laois

Drogheda, County Louth

Navan, County Meath

Ratoath, County Meath

Enniscorthy, County Wexford









Cork City



Midleton/ Carrigtwohill




Areas within Dublin 7 region

Areas within Dublin 15 region

Areas within Dublin 24 region




Areas within Finglas/Ballymun region


Areas within Dublin 1 region /Marino/ Clontarf region

Mulhuddart region

Newcastle/ Rathcoole

Rush & Lusk

Sandymount/ Ringsend




Galway City





Prosperous/ Clane







Limerick City















Does the Minister have the list of 40 areas?

I have arranged for it to be circulated to Members.

I understand it is in circulation and I have seen it. The list does not include priority areas in Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, Kerry, Longford, Leitrim, Offaly or Waterford. Is the Minister aware that there is a perception that this is a priority list for the east of the country, as well as for his own area, County Cork? There are approximately four priority areas in the west, which include Ennis in County Clare, Galway and Letterkenny. Does the omission of counties from the list of priority areas mean there are no developing areas in those counties?

My constituency is not in the list in case the Deputy is wondering if there are developing areas in that part of Cork. I have always tried to maintain a balance in funding for schools throughout the country, and I will continue to maintain that balance. Last year, I put funding in place for a summer works scheme that enhanced 2,700 schools. They were not left out at all. The statistics for previous years show a fair spread of funding between developing areas and the rest of the country. I will continue to maintain that balance. There will be a further summer works scheme next year, with water conservation as part of the scheme. I have provided €30 million this year for minor works in schools throughout the country. Overall, 3,000 schools will have benefitted from that grant aid over the past 12 months.

All of that has been taken on board. What I am really concerned about is the schools in non-priority areas that have waited from five to 20 years for development. The Minister met a delegation last week from my constituency. The Department has paid €74,000 this year for prefabs for the delegation's school, and has paid that for the past 15 years. The Minister must understand the position of these schools. They see that estimates or tenders are 30% less than previously, while they discovered a month ago that half the Department's allocation for school buildings has not been spent. The Minister says it will be spent by the end of the year; we will wait and see if that is so. Now these schools are being excluded from the priority areas. The Minister must give these non-priority areas some hope today.

Those areas have not been forgotten. There is the summer works scheme and the devolved grant scheme. I can provide the Deputy with the percentages.

A summer works scheme does not build a school.

The two major projects in the Deputy's area of County Mayo that I announced early this year have commenced. One is nearly completed, so the Deputy cannot claim that Mayo has been left out of the frame. It has done well.

I will maintain a balance between developing, rural and urban areas. The Government is committed to ensuring sufficient funding for a schools programme. Last year saw the greatest amount of money ever spent and the greatest outturn. For once and for all, I want to put something to bed, namely, money that is left over is committed to projects to be completed in 2010. If one announces a project in 2009, it might take 12-18 months to be completed and paid for. There can be a carry-over into the following year of 10%, representing €84 million this year due to my budget.

I am prepared to do something that might be of importance for Deputies. My officials will be available to make a presentation to the Deputies present regarding all of these matters. They have already done so for others and I would be happy to provide them again.

We have had that.

Schools Building Projects.

Ulick Burke


42 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason for the delay in the construction of a new primary school (details supplied) in County Galway in view of the fact that a site has been acquired and there is overcrowding and poor physical conditions throughout the school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44464/09]

The project at the school to which the Deputy refers has a complicated history from its inception as a small extension and refurbishment of the existing school through several revisions of the brief to its current brief, which is to provide a new eight-classroom school on a greenfield site. The fact that my Department has purchased a new greenfield site for the school demonstrates our commitment to the project. I accept that the project has been in architectural planning for a considerable period. However, the Deputy will appreciate that, with more than 200 other major projects progressing through architectural planning, it is not possible to move all projects to construction at the same time or even in the same year.

All applications for large-scale capital funding are assessed against published prioritisation criteria that were introduced in 2004 following consultation with the education partners. Under the criteria, each project is assigned a band rating that reflects the type of works required and the urgency attaching to them. There are four band ratings, with band one being the highest and band four the lowest. Projects are progressed in accordance with the band rating assigned to them and when funding allows. This project has a band rating of 2.2, which is consistent with its current brief.

The project is currently at an advanced stage of architectural planning. The stage 2(a) submission, which is the developed sketch design stage, was approved in July 2008. However, due to the competing demands on my Department's capital budget, it was not possible to authorise the project to progress further at that time.

The proposed building project at the school will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme for 2010. While I will take account of the issues raised by the Deputy, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the delivery of the project at this time.

The Minister of State has conveniently ignored the fact that this project has been in the planning and design stage for 14 years. The Department has spent €150,000 on its design and planning. It has spent a further €500,000 on the site's purchase despite it not being the preferred site, which would have cost less than half of that. Will the Minister of State explain why a more expensive site was chosen?

In 2007, 60 builders were asked to tender for this project.

Sixty builders tendered for the project following a public advertisement in 2007 and were short-listed.

The board of management and the principal were called to Tullamore and told that the school project had been suspended. That word was used. Why was it suspended after going to tender and incurring such an expense? It is being placed in the GRD scheme and, having lost its place, moved from band one to band two, where 350 schools are ahead of it. There is no justification for this. Why was it done to a school with 117 pupils, including a large number of special needs pupils? The principal's office is in the staff toilet. No school in the country, not even in the pressure areas of Dublin, Meath and so on, must endure such conditions.

In 2000, the board of management identified a site that was deemed suitable for the proposed new school building. The Department gave the board approval to acquire the site on the basis that the Minister would purchase it from the school's management subsequently. The vendor agreed in writing in a letter to the board of management to the sale of the site in 2003. In February 2005, however, the vendor wrote to the board to advise it that, as property prices had risen significantly since the site's valuation in 2000, she would request that the price be increased in line with that.

On 7 April 2005, the Department wrote to the board and asked whether the former could enter into negotiations with the vendor directly. This was agreed. In line with what was then normal practice, the OPW identified two other sites as well as the one eventually acquired, as it was the cheapest option. The deal on the site was formally closed by the OPW in 2007. The Department is committed to this project, as demonstrated by its purchase of the site in question.

Will the Minister of State clarify why the school has lost its position? Despite having been put out to tender, its rating has been lowered and it must compete with 350 other projects for finances and resources within the Department. Why was there a change from a six-classroom school, which satisfied the board of management, principal and parents? Was a stalling tactic used and the carrot of eight classrooms held out despite the original tender being for six classrooms?

The Department did not use stalling tactics. It is not the Department's policy. Projects are assessed each year in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. The project in question will be considered in this context in 2010.

The school's rating is 2.2, but band ratings are considered on an ongoing basis and can change over the years. The Department is committed to this project, which is at stage 2(a).

Having been in band 1.

As the Deputy will be aware, it must go through a number of subsequent stages, including stages 2(b), 3, 4 and 5, the last being the handing over of works.

And that is not stalling.

These projects are considered in the context of the resources that are available to the Minister annually.