I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, line 2, to delete "vocational education committee" and substitute "Payments and Entitlements Service".
Vol. 725 No. 3
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, line 2, to delete "vocational education committee" and substitute "Payments and Entitlements Service".
This amendment was discussed on Committee Stage. I indicated at that time that I did not propose to accept it. A Government amendment that was agreed on Committee Stage provides for an expanded definition of an "awarding authority" in section 2. This reflects the Government's position, which is that the existing awarding authorities — VECs and local authorities — will continue in existence for an interim period before a single grant-awarding authority is appointed in due course, as provided for in section 9. I am sure the Deputy will agree that the establishment of a single awarding authority for student grants is an historic step forward. It will ensure a greater consistency of approach, among other things, and provide for more timely processing of applications in the future.
I wish to press the amendment.
A recommital is necessary for amendment No. 2, in the name of the Minister, as it does not arise out of Committee Stage proceedings. This amendment is consequential on amendments Nos. 3, 5, 12 to 17, inclusive, and 20 to 22, inclusive. These amendments may, therefore, be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 6, line 5, to delete "section 3 of".
This is a technical amendment and provides that the term "civil partner" shall be constructed in line with all provisions of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. Amendment No. 3 provides for the insertion of a new definition of "cohabitant". This makes provision for the inclusion of same-sex cohabitants in the Bill. The current drafting provides for the treatment of a spouse, which includes opposite sex cohabitees and civil partner, but might give rise to inequality in treatment between different classes of cohabitants if same-sex cohabitants were not provided for.
Amendment No. 5 follows logically from amendment No. 3 in providing for the deletion of the definition of "spouse" in the interpretation section. Given the definition of "cohabitant" has now been provided for separately in amendment No. 3, it is no longer necessary to provide a separate definition of "spouse" as encompassing opposite sex cohabitants.
Amendments Nos. 12 to 17, inclusive, and 20 to 22, inclusive, provide for the inclusion, where "spouse" and "civil partner" currently appear, of a reference to "cohabitant" in accordance with section 172(1) of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 for the purpose of specifying criteria, including the treatment of income for determining grant eligibility and the seeking and furnishing of information in relation to a grant.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:
""cohabitant" shall be construed in accordance with section 172(1) of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010;".
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 6, line 35, to delete "Adoption Acts 1952 to 1998" and substitute "Adoption Act 2010".
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 7, to delete lines 9 and 10.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 7, line 18, to delete "section 14(8)” and substitute “section 14(7)”.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 12, line 3, to delete "immediately" and substitute the following: "following a notice period of not less than 30 days".
As indicated by the Minister of State on Committee Stage, it is not proposed to accept this amendment. This amendment will not be necessary as the provision that is causing concern for the Deputy, which is the immediate withdrawal of the grant, is moderated very considerably by the following subsection. Subsection (8) already provides that nothing in subsection (7) shall prevent a student who is in receipt of a grant from continuing to receive it until he or she has completed the relevant course.
I believe the other subsection addresses the concerns the Deputy raises.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 13, line 21, to delete "to following matters" and substitute "to the following matters".
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 18, line 32, after "State," to insert the following:
"and has been previously so ordinarily resident for such period if any as may be prescribed,".
The purpose of the amendment is to take account of the regular mobility among the student population. Somebody may be out of the country or gone to different parts of the jurisdiction, or Northern Ireland. The amendment seeks to allow some flexibility in that regard. It is self-evident so I shall not take up the time of the House. I should be interested in the Minister's response, at which point I will seek to engage, if possible.
As indicated on Committee Stage, I do not propose to accept this amendment as a residency requirement outlined in the legislation, and which was introduced in the student grant schemes in the 2010-11 academic year is set out definitively in section (14)(4)(a) and (14)(4)(b). I am advised that this should be specified in primary rather than secondary legislation.
The main purpose of the requirement, as outlined, is to ensure that persons applying for grants will have more established links with and integration in the State. However, it is envisaged that this change will, in many instances, provide greater flexibility for students who may be returning from abroad.
Amendment No. 10 is also in the name of Deputy Quinn and amendment No. 11 is an alternative to it. Therefore, amendments Nos. 10 and 11 may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 18, lines 33 to 44, to delete all words from and including "and" in line 33, down to and including "2006)—" in line 44, to delete page 19 and in page 20, to delete lines 1 to 12 and substitute the following:
"and is an Irish citizen, a non-national who is lawfully present in the State and is likely to remain lawfully in the State for the duration of the course in question, or such other person as may be prescribed by the Minister.".
This is attempting to try and cover the same area. There are people who have been in this country for a period, we have accepted them into our economy and I believe we need to accept them into our society. We are looking at countries that previously had a very tolerant position as regards inclusion and acceptance of immigrants, for example, the Netherlands and Denmark, with which I have some contact, and I believe I know enough about the Minister's predisposition in this regard as well. When there was a difficulty with such people who came as guest workers or added themselves to the workforce, if they had families with them often they or their children were subsequently thrown on the scrap heap because of popular resentment. All the reports in regard to immigration and tolerance are warning signs for Ireland to the effect that unless we accept people not just into the economy, but into our society, and treat them as equals, we are potentially fanning the flames of racial discrimination, and as we see in the Netherlands, run the risk of fomenting a right-wing lurch.
The amendment is an attempt to address that, while the numbers involved will be relatively small. However, I believe that those who have come here and made commitments in Ireland should be protected, in the same way that Irish people went to other countries and benefited from inclusion. I believe we should be doing this in Ireland and that is the motivation behind the amendment.
While I appreciate where the Deputy is coming from in this regard, the advice received from the Office of the Attorney General is to the effect that it is necessary for the avoidance of doubt to include detailed provisions with regard to the definition of a student, the prescribing of a student or class of a person as a family member, and the prescribing of a class of persons with permission to reside within the State.
I am also advised that detailed provisions in these matters are necessary to ensure that the Minister will have adequate guidance from the Oireachtas on these issues.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 19, lines 15 and 16, to delete "Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform" and substitute "Minister for Justice and Law Reform"
This is a technical amendment reflecting the correct title of the Department.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 19, line 30, to delete "spouse, civil partner or" and substitute "spouse, civil partner, cohabitant or,".
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 22, line 17, to delete "spouse or civil partner" and substitute "spouse, civil partner or cohabitant,".
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 22, line 20, to delete "spouse or civil partner" and substitute "spouse, civil partner or cohabitant,".
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 23, line 23, to delete "spouse or civil partner" and substitute "spouse, civil partner or cohabitant".
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 23, line 27, to delete "spouse or civil partner" and substitute "spouse, civil partner or cohabitant".
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 23, line 35, to delete "spouse" and substitute "spouse, civil partner or cohabitant".
Amendment Nos. 18 and 19 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 24, to delete lines 7 to 9.
As indicated on Committee Stage, it is not proposed to accept this amendment. This provision gives guidance on the issues that may be taken into account in drawing up a scheme of grants. It does not require that other awards be taken into account in means testing for a grant, for example, the back-to-education allowance is currently taken into account while institutional scholarships are not.
The detail of the treatment of other awards or funding will be dealt with in the scheme of grants to be drawn up in the regulations.
I accept the Minister's response.
I can understand the desire to provide maximum flexibility in drafting the scheme and not be tied by primary legislation, but I hoped the spirit of the amendment proposed by Deputy O'Dowd would be incorporated. It may not be done by the current Government but by whomever is next in Government. Let the record stand.
We will incorporate it.
I would hardly retort to that challenge. I accept what the Deputy says. There will be flexibility within the regulations to deal with these issues as they arise.
I thank the Minister.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 26, line 33, after "time" to insert the following:
"but shall not be precluded from applying from other wards or stipends".
I do not propose to accept this amendment. The legislation as it currently stands refers only to grants which are student grants within the meaning of the legislation. It does not preclude students from applying for other awards or stipends and the amendment is not, therefore, necessary. The Deputy's concerns are addressed.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 26, lines 36 and 37, to delete "spouse or civil partner," and substitute "spouse, civil partner or cohabitant,".
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 27, line 36, to delete "spouse, civil partner or" and substitute "spouse, civil partner, cohabitant or".
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 28, line 3, to delete "spouse, civil partner or" and substitute "spouse, civil partner, cohabitant or".
Amendments Nos. 23 to 30, inclusive, 32 and 33 are related and amendment No. 31 is an alternative to amendment No. 30. Therefore, amendments Nos. 23 to 33, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 29, to delete lines 14 to 23 and substitute the following:
"(2) Where an applicant is aggrieved by a determination of an awarding authority under section 18(6), then the applicant, not later than 30 days after receipt of the notice of the determination, may appeal to the appeals officer against that determination.
(3) Where a student is aggrieved by a notice under section 19(3) from an awarding authority requiring information, or a determination under section 19(6) of an awarding authority then the student, not later than 30 days after receipt of the notice of the determination, may appeal to the appeals officer against that notice or determination.”.
Amendments Nos. 23 to 25, inclusive, and Nos. 27 to 29, inclusive, are purely drafting amendments. The need to address these drafting issues was raised on Committee Stage.
Do I move amendment No. 26 at this point?
No, the Deputy may discuss it now. I will call on the Deputy to formally move his amendment when we reach it.
Can I debate the net point now?
Amendment No. 26 seeks to delete "45 days" and substitute "30 days". Does the Minister accept the proposal?
I am retaining "45 days".
We suggest that the appeal period——
It was 90 days. It is proposed to keep it at 45 days. The Deputy asked that I reduce the 90 day timeframe in respect of appeals, which I will address later.
They are related but separate issues.
I suggest that under the Croke Park agreement it would be an act of anticipation by the Minister's officials to accept an increase in efficiency. As the provision stands, a person who appeals will have to wait 45 days, a month and half, to get a reply. My amendment proposes the timeframe in this regard should be one month, which is four weeks.
I remind the Minister that a former public representative from County Donegal, Niall Blaney, put into legislation a provision seldom ever followed. In 1963, when introducing the planning and development legislation he provided that an applicant for planning permission had to get a response from the local authority within two months. If the local authority in not granting permission failed to meet that timeline the applicant was granted the permission by default. It was one of the few administrative impositions ever introduced. How he got it through, I do not know. The Tánaiste will recall he was a powerful personality, for whom I had great regard, although not necessarily for his politics. As an administrative Minister he was in a league of his own.
I suggest, in terms of efficiency and productivity, that responding to an appeal within four weeks in this electronic age of communication is not unreasonable. With all due respect, we are speaking in this regard about people waiting to know if they will get a grant, which decision will determine whether they go to college. While it is not a matter of life and death, this will determine the life outcomes for some of the applicant students. A reduction in the timeframe will require civil servants to deal with the matter within four weeks, which is 30 days rather than the 45 days proposed. That is the net point.
If a response must be given within 30 days, it will be done. We are all driven by deadlines. This amendment seeks to move the deadline a little closer. Who benefits from this? The only ones who benefit from the 45 day timeframe are those in the public service whose jobs by and large are secure, who already have their qualifications and are already in employment. The only person who suffers is the applicant student and his or her parents or guardians. This is not revolutionary but it would change people's lives and the quality of them.
I accept what the Deputy is saying. We are introducing this legislation because we are not delivering to the citizen as well as we should.
I appreciate the Opposition's support in getting this legislation enacted as quickly as possible. I am persuaded to accept the Deputy's amendment. The issue that arises is the capacity to deal with matters within that timeframe in the transitional period up to establishment of the new authority. I am not happy that we are still processing applications. I am persuaded to accept the Deputy's proposal.
The Minister can indicate her acceptance of the amendment when we reach it.
I thank the Minister.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 29, line 24, to delete "subsection (2) and substitute “subsection (2) or (3)”.
This is a drafting amendment.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 29, lines 27 and 28, to delete all words from and including "that" in line 27 down to and including "extension" in line 28 and substitute the following:
"that the person has given reasonable cause to so extend".
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 29, line 30, to delete "45 days" and substitute "30 days".
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 29, to delete lines 38 to 43 and substitute the following:
"(6) When giving notice to an applicant or student under subsection (5) the appeals officer shall inform him or her of his or her right to appeal the determination to the Appeals Board and that, where applicable, only payments pursuant to a determination under subsection (4) may be made by the awarding authority concerned to the applicant or student pending the outcome of his or her appeal to the Appeals Board.”.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 30, to delete lines 9 to 11 and substitute the following:
"21.—(1) Where an applicant or student is aggrieved by a determination of an appeals officer under section 20(4), he or she may appeal to the Appeals Board against that determination.”.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 30, line 17, to delete "that the person has given reasonable cause for the extension" and substitute the following:
"that the person has given reasonable cause to so extend".
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 30, to delete lines 18 to 26 and substitute the following:
"(4) The Appeals Board—
(a) shall be independent in the performance of its functions under this Act,
(b) shall not be confined to the grounds on which the determination of the awarding authority or appeals officer concerned was based, but may decide the matter which is the subject of the appeal as if it were being decided for the first time,
(c) shall, as it considers appropriate, consider written or oral submissions made by the applicant or student concerned and consult with the awarding authority or appeals officer,
(d) shall make a determination within 60 days from the making of an appeal which may be a determination to—
(i) confirm the determination the subject of the appeal,
(ii) revoke the determination and replace it with such other determination as the Appeals Board considers appropriate, or
(iii) refer the matter concerned back to the awarding authority for reconsideration in accordance with such directions as the Appeals Board considers appropriate,
(e) shall notify in writing the applicant or student and the awarding authority and appeals officer concerned, of the determination and the reasons therefor.
(5) In considering and determining an appeal under this Act, the Appeals Board shall act in accordance with such procedures as may be determined from time to time by it with the consent of the Minister.
(6) A person (including an awarding authority) aggrieved by a determination of the Appeals Board, may appeal, with the leave of the Appeals Board, or where the Appeals Board refuses such leave, with the leave of the High Court, to the High Court against the determination on a specified point of law.".
The amendment deals with a number of issues relating to the appeals board and it was flagged by my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Haughey, on Committee Stage. It provides for the deletion of subsections (4) and (5) and their replacement with a new form of working in subsections (4), (5) and (6). The reworded subsections (4) and (5) provide greater clarity regarding the functions of the appeals board and the processing of appeals by the board. Subsection (6) provides, on a best practice basis, for the right of further appeal to the High Court on a point of law.
It was agreed on Committee Stage that further consideration would be given to the timeframe for consideration and determination of an appeal by the appeals board. On foot of this consideration, I propose to reduce the period in which the board may make a determination on a case from 90 to 60 days. I emphasise that 60 days will be the upper limit and it is envisaged that the majority of appeals will be considered in a much shorter timeframe. However, I am cognisant that some appeals, particularly at this level, will be complex and I want to ensure sufficient time is available to the board to determine such cases. Like the service level agreement at awarding authority level, the procedures to be set down for the appeals board will reflect this position.
Let us examine the experience of local authorities in regard to planning permissions because I am not trying to set impossible deadlines for a public service that is working and trying to meet all the requirements. Frequently, the Blaney rule has been circumvented legally by the planning authorities saying they do not have adequate information or they need additional information. If the letter of appeal comes in on day one and it is checked and found to be incomplete in terms of the documentation, it cannot be processed. A letter from the appeals board will then be sent to the appellant saying additional information is needed to clarify the basis of his or her appeal and the clocks will stop until the new information is submitted. The board is not locked into a timeframe of communication that is absolute. In the context of efficiency, productivity, the Croke Park agreement, e-government and so on, 30 days should be sufficient. The Bill proposes a 90-day timeframe and I am seeking one of 30 days. Could we do 45 days?
I have heard of auction politics but this takes the biscuit altogether. The issue is that the board will not sit all the time and getting the people together will be difficult. I do not anticipate a huge number of appeals because they will be complex.
There should not be.
I anticipate they will be legalistic when it comes to a determination on an appeal. However, I have reduced the timeframe from 90 to 60 days.
That is fair enough.
The service level agreements provide that 60 days will be the upper limit, but from an administrative point of view, they can be dealt with in a shorter time, if possible.
I will take that as a "Be happy with what you have got already, Deputy" reply.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 33, to delete lines 32 to 36.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 33, to delete lines 37 and 38.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 33, line 42, after "persons" to insert the following:
", and its members shall include such number of student representatives (including at least 2 student representatives nominated by the Union of Students in Ireland) as shall ensure that each sitting or division of the Appeals Board includes at least one student representative".
This is a belt and braces issue. The amendment provides for public and political recognition in statute of the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, which is an integral part of the educational infrastructure. It should have statutory rights in this regard. I do not suggest that the Minister would fail in the normal course to invite suggestions from the union to nominate representatives. There is precedent for the appointments of students to the boards of the universities prior to the Universities Act 1997. The amendment provides for a move from grace and favour to rights, from lord of the manor to a republic, where an organisation is statutorily entitled to nominate two representatives to the appeals board.
This will perform two functions, which will not take from the Minister's discretion. It will, first, recognise the way in which USI has behaved, and is behaving, responsibly as a partner in the education system. We are dealing with young adults who have the right to vote, to get married and to join the Defence Forces. They are not children and this should be recognised in law. They will not be the only members of the appeals board but they will probably be the most knowledgeable about the conditions endured by students applying for a grant. Older, though not necessarily wiser, heads will be on the board as well. This would be a reasonable recognition of people who are education partners. The Minister has met USI representatives formally and informally on a number of occasions and the amendment will only confirm in statute what she is already doing. In what way could this restrict or prevent a future Minister from exercising his or her duties?
This would mean a great deal to USI because there has been a fluctuation in the affiliation of individual college unions to the organisation. The history of the organisation has been up and down in that respect. USI has moved from the street into the boardroom in many respects. It is a partner at third level and when the Hunt report is finally published, much more co-operation will be needed. USI has a representative on the Hunt committee. I only ask the Minister to provide in statute for what she is doing in practice. It may be a relatively minor issue as far as she is concerned and it will not cause a revolution on Marlborough Street because it would take much more than that, but it would send a signal to USI and individual student unions that the body is a serious statutorily recognised partner in education endeavour.
I appreciate the Deputy's argument but this is an expert board as opposed to a representative board.
USI members are more expert than anyone else.
They are experts at being students.
And they are experts at trying to survive on half of nothing.
I appreciate that but we are dealing with the eligibility criteria to access grant aid. The central tenet of the establishment of the appeals board is it should comprise experts. The specific inclusion of students in a representative capacity would be likely to lead to a conflict of interest where objective examination of the facts is required. Nothing in the current provision would preclude the appointment by the Minister of such a person on the basis of expertise rather than on a representative basis. I am, therefore, not in a position to accept the amendment.
Is there any room for compromise on this? I accept the point that there cannot be an advocate on the appeals board for somebody who comes before it. The board has a different role, to make a decision based on facts as opposed to life experiences. Is there a way in which they can even be consulted with regard to the appointments? Would that be reasonable? I have no problem with students being on the board but I see the challenge that could arise. Could the students be consulted and asked to nominate people? It would give them a voice inasmuch as they would be consulted on the process and they could nominate a person who would meet the criteria. The question of whether the person is one of them or not is a different issue that would have to be decided. However, that might be helpful.
I appreciate the Members' motivation but the USI and the student bodies have been very much involved, during my tenure and those of my predecessors, in policy frameworks and decisions and in putting forward their perspective. This legislation, for example, was very important to them. However, the issue in this case is that this is not a representative group or body. This board would be composed of people of repute and of the highest calibre who would probably have specific talents, for example, in law or accounting, and my concern is that there would be a conflict of interest if a student representative was on it. I am not persuaded to accept the amendment.
What about being consulted?
However, it does not preclude one from appointing a student.
I understand that. I accept the Minister's point but could the students write to the Minister and submit names? It is important to recognise their importance in the process. Ultimately, it is about them because these are the people it will affect. They should be consulted on it.
The title of the Bill is not the experts support Bill. Can we get a little real and adventurous? It is the Student Support Bill. These are people who have the right to vote, get married and be on a jury. They are not children. This is 2010, not 1810 or 1910, for God's sake. These are people who have bank accounts and in some cases are in cohabiting relationships and are parents. They are full citizens of this Republic. Consider the person the Minister appointed for the Hunt report. I can tell her, with hand on heart, there was absolute confidentiality about the content of that report, although the dogs on the street now appear to know it. Not a syllable of the report was released by the representative from that union in his personal capacity.
These are people who can be trusted. The Minister should be brave and put their names in this legislation. Nominations suggest that they are there in a representative capacity, but I can offer a compromise. If somebody is nominated by the USI, they are there in a representative capacity and I can see how that could be a problem.
That is the problem.
We could provide that the Minister will appoint the board and that two of them will be members of USI. However, the Minister would select the people from USI rather than the union nominating them. Alternatively, the Bill could provide that two of the board members must be students from a representative organisation.
These people are dealing with confidential matters in their role on college boards. In Belfield one will see posters throughout the college advising students to seek help from the union if they have a problem. They are dealing with confidential matters such as crisis pregnancies and a host of other issues that require confidentiality. With regard to the idea that they will prostitute themselves, throw away rational judgment and say, "I know this person who is appealing so I will ensure they get what they are not entitled to", there is no evidence to suggest they behave in that way. The student movement has come in from the street and wants to be responsible. I ask the Minister to recognise that in statute law.
I am not saying that the student body in this country would not be sufficiently competent. That should not be taken to be my response. This appeal board will probably only meet on an odd occasion. It will be a small board composed of experts. Most of those experts would have been students at one time; otherwise they would not be experts as they would generally require a third level education.
My student experience from 1964 to 1969 bears no relation to what these guys are going through now. Does that make me an expert?
The Deputy is a fair expert at present but in 1964 there was not even word of a union. Things move on, even in this House.
However, I have a concern about this. Over the years I have had the opportunity to appoint a number of independent appeals boards. The absolute integrity of such boards is based on the fact that members of the board would not in any way benefit or otherwise from a decision that might be made by the board. That is the issue that would arise. I am not comfortable with accepting the amendment. I appreciate what the Deputy said and accept there is a maturity in the student body in this country. The student movement has produced many good politicians.
What about Deputy Pat Rabbitte?
He was one of them. A number of us were political and student activists and a few who preceded us did very well. The student body in this country has been most mature and very involved in policy formation and frameworks. I admire what the students are doing. That is their job; they must prepare for the future. However, I am uncomfortable about accepting this amendment.
Will the Deputy consider withdrawing the amendment?
The Minister has been gracious in this process. I will reluctantly do so. Timidity has triumphed over adventure.
Recommittal is necessary in respect of amendment No. 35 as it does not arise from Committee Stage proceedings.
Amendment No. 36 is related so amendments Nos. 35 and 36 may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 33, line 46, to delete "education or administration of schemes of payments" and substitute the following:
"education, administration of schemes of payments or fair procedures".
This amendment is designed to include a knowledge of fair procedures among the criteria for those eligible to be appointed to the appeals board. Amendment No. 36 provides for the insertion of three new subsections which provide for the standard exclusion from membership of the appeals board.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 34, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
"(13) A member of the Appeals Board shall cease to be qualified for membership of the Appeals Board and shall cease to be such member if he or she—
(a) is adjudicated bankrupt,
(b) makes a composition or arrangement with creditors, or
(c) is sentenced by a court of competent jurisdiction to a term of imprisonment.
(14) Where a member of the Appeals Board is—
(a) nominated as a member of Seanad Éireann,
(b) elected as a member of either House of the Oireachtas or to be a representative in the European Parliament, or
(c) regarded pursuant to Part XIII of the Second Schedule to the European Parliament Elections Act 1997 as having been elected to that Parliament,
he or she shall thereupon cease to be a member of the Appeals Board.
(15) A person who is for the time being entitled under the Standing Orders of either House of the Oireachtas to sit therein or who is a representative in the European Parliament shall, while he or she is so entitled or such a representative, be disqualified from being appointed as a member of the Appeals Board.".
I thank my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Haughey, for the work he has done on this legislation. I also thank my colleagues in the House. People have been waiting for this legislation for a considerable period but I believe it will provide something very valuable for our citizens. That is clearly what we must achieve in this country.
I wish to thank the stakeholders, including the students, who were closely involved in discussions with me, my predecessor and the Department's officials in formulating the new way in which we can deliver grant aid to our young people. This will provide a modern, transparent and coherent system for the organisation and operation of student grants, which is the improvement in services that people want to see in this country. I thank my Department for its work in bringing this legislation forward. Even though it gets criticised on occasion for being slow in the context of educational reform, this is very good legislation which will be invaluable for the future.
I am glad that this Bill has been passed and it will make a massive difference to the thousands of students whose applications will be processed more effectively. It will do away with the unacceptable delays in some local authorities or VECs where staff issues arise and where there is not the manpower to do the work in the manner that they would wish it to be done.
The Union of Students in Ireland has also been very helpful in providing us with arguments and ideas to improve the legislation.
I thank the Minister for being accommodating. I would have liked to have got more, but one has to be grateful on this side of the House for whatever one gets. I would hope, in the preparation of the operating manual for how this practice will be developed, that there will be cognisance of this debate. The Minister was reluctant to put into statutory law something that she exercised in practice, in that she appointed a person who had USI experience onto the board of the Hunt report. Until we can get it on a statutory basis, I hope that students who are part of the educational partnership would have a role to play.
I do not for one second accept the Minister's argument that a student who might have a personal interest in knowing a particular applicant would participate in an appeal adjudication process. Any sensible adult who studied for a BA, MA or a doctorate and who is in the education system will self-evidently see that there would be a conflict of interest and would absent himself or herself from participating in such an appeal. They are doing it every day of the week in the college union where there is a conflict of interest in respect of knowing the particular person. To think that they are not doing so means that some people are not aware of the real world.
This legislation is a great improvement on the existing situation. The way in which the Minister or her successor make appointments will add to where we are going. The Seanad is sitting tomorrow. Is there any chance the Bill will go before that House then?
So it will go before that House in the new year. If and when it is enacted, when would the Minister hope to have it up and running? Will the students who are applying to start college next September avail of this new regime or not?
I asked the Leader of the Seanad if he could facilitate us with this Bill in the beginning of the next term. I have been advised that the single scheme will be available for September 2011.
The Bill will now be sent to the Seanad.