When I spoke yesterday I detailed the radical transformation in the landscape of the vocational education sector of our educational system. The system in question goes back to 1930, when the first Act was introduced to consolidate legislation from 1899 regarding technical education. It was extended countrywide in 38 vocational education committees around the country.
In the 1990s, that was reduced and consolidated into 33 vocational education committees which were directly related to each county, including borough councils and county councils. What we now propose, based on a decision made by the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government, is to consolidate this infrastructure into 16 bodies. I changed the configuration of those bodies. For example, County Tipperary was going to be divided into two different configurations - one with Waterford and one with Limerick. In the reforms announced by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, yesterday, he consolidated the two county councils in Tipperary into one. That logic is followed in what the Bill proposes to do in regard to vocational education.
I acknowledge the presence of the spokespersons for Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin and would like to say that, for other reasons, I will not be able to stay to listen to their contributions. They should not take it as disrespect. We will be able to follow up on this on Committee Stage.
When the debate adjourned yesterday, I was in the process of describing what the various sections of the Bill propose to do and I had got to the point where I was about to describe what sections 42 and 43 will do. They will provide for the establishment of committees of boards and require each board to establish a finance committee and an audit committee. Sections 44 to 50, inclusive, provide for financial and planning matters, including the setting of a board's annual budget, the preparation of annual service plans, deposit and borrowing of money, fees, accounts and internal audit matters.
Part 8 provides for the repeal and transition of certain provisions. Section 60 removes the bar on VEC officeholders having access to the Employment Appeals Tribunal under unfair dismissals legislation. This is an important industrial relations reform because that body of industrial relations legislation was introduced long after the VECs were first established. The original VECs had, in effect, contained their own internal dispute resolution mechanisms. A person who had a grievance had to follow a different path from a person in regular employment who could avail of the well-established machinery for conflict and industrial resolutions, such as the rights commissioners and the Employment Appeals Tribunal. We are now mainstreaming people working in the VEC sector, soon to be the ETB sector. If they have an industrial relations problem, they can avail of the existing State-wide industrial relations machinery rather than go down a narrow path of their own. Consequently, it is also linked to the removal of the sworn inquiry system. Inquiries in process at the time of the Bill's commencement will, however, continue under the existing provisions.
The intention of this legislation, which we will be able to debate extensively on Committee Stage, is to give a new kind of regional infrastructure of education delivery in 16 bodies which will be closer to the community, elected representatives and community interests. Those 16 bodies will have critical mass in terms of the skills they will have. We will get into this on Committee Stage, but I would like to see as our education system evolves that the education and training boards will be able, as desired by the other sectors of the education system, to supply support services to the primary and secondary school infrastructure and not just to their own secondary infrastructure and community national schools, of which there are five, although soon to be six.
For example, the summer works programme, which primary schools had in the past, required principals, although sometimes managers, to administer and manage, in their own time and their families' holiday time, small works schemes during the months of July and August, all of which were separate contracts. It would be possible and desirable that a summer works scheme could be done for an entire education and training board area. For example, it could be a combination of Waterford city and Waterford county and a summer works programme could be done at the request of the primary school management system and delivered through the management of personnel in the ETB. We have good and positive evidence that we are getting great co-operation. For example, Louth VEC is acting on our behalf as the Department of Education and Skills in managing building projects and giving us additional resources above and beyond what we have in the building unit in Tullamore.
A number of amendments will be tabled on Committee Stage and I apologise again to the House for not having them contained in the Bill as it is. I repeat what I said yesterday that I will make those amendments available as soon as I can and in good time, in particular to the spokespersons of the two parties who are present and of the Technical Group, and provide a separate direct briefing on the implications of what is proposed in the amendments should they request it.
This system will take time to bed down. It belongs to all of us. it is not a partisan project being run by one side of the House. I want to co-operate as much as possible with everyone involved. Many Members have been members of county councils and, in some cases, members of vocational education committees. That experience and expertise varies quite a lot throughout the country. Being a member of a VEC in a large urban area is very different from what one might experience in an area with an extended large rural population. All of that expertise should be brought to Committee Stage and expressed in a constructive way.
I would like to quote a well-known Irish educationalist. In looking at vocational education in Ireland, Professor John Coolahan in his seminal book, Irish Education: History and Structure, refers to two landmark dates. The first was the establishment of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1899, to which I referred earlier, and the second was the Vocational Education Act 1930. I put it to the House that we are embarked on a similar exercise in constructing a third landmark piece of legislation in this area. I commend the Bill to the House.