I wish to state genuinely my appreciation to my colleagues from Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats who have attended this evening for taking part in the debate and, indeed, my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, who proposed the Bill. It is gratifying to know that people feel similarly across the Opposition benches about an issue of equality and of education. I very much appreciate the Minister's attendance. There has been a practice sometimes of Ministers of State coming in for such business. The Minister is present and I very much appreciate that. It would have been illuminating, possibly, to hear other Government voices and their views on the Bill, but that is how it is.
Part of the reason we have such an objection to this part of the Act is because of who is asking for it. It is being asked for by a particular vested interest group, the fee-paying second level sector. They are the ones who asked for it, and they got it. It goes against any sense of justice I have that a particularly powerful vested interest gets what it wants when it comes to Irish education in the form of an admissions Bill.
That is wrong. It was stated eloquently earlier that one might imagine a disadvantaged child who has all these things to overcome, whose parents are early school leavers and who battles his or her way through the DEIS system. The Minister mentioned DEIS and I just want to remind her that her cut in pupil-teacher ratio does not transfer automatically to all DEIS schools. I hope she rectifies that between now and next September.
Children have oral, language and dietary issues children, there are also the drugs issues that are sometimes in their communities, the housing issues and the way society looks down upon the way they speak. Some children and the way they speak are depicted in the media as if they are either untrustworthy or stupid. Children know and feel this and are aware of it from an early age. They battle their way through primary school and all those obstructions between them and maximizing their potential, a lack of resources, etc. They finally make their way to secondary school and a scenario can legally exist whereby a principal can say to the parents of that child that he or she is terribly sorry but the school has 25% of its intake set aside for the parents and grandparents of past pupils. What kind of message is that to send to that family? It is a pretty powerful message that it does not really matter what a person tries to do.
There will always be a State-sanctioned legal reason to put a person back in his or her box. The Minister can say that we do not know how often it is being invoked and that it may be too difficult to take it out. If we have learned anything from the past number of months, however, it is that it actually is not that difficult. I know from my time in government, and it was brief enough, that if it is important enough and the people it affects are powerful enough, it can be done immediately.
The Minister is not criticising the ethics of or intention behind Bill. I appreciate that. I appreciate her bona fides when it comes to education but can we agree this should never have been inserted in the first place. We are just trying to take out something that should not have been there. That is all. They came, they asked and they got their way. That is all, except they should not have got their way.
As I said before, in a republic or in any sort of admissions Bill or legislation that tries to enhance the opportunities of children, it should not matter where or if a person's parents went to school. There is a list of minority groups set down in the existing legislation against which a school is not allowed to discriminate. There are, however, a disproportionate number of Traveller children whose parents did not attend secondary school. Of course, there are a disproportionate number of migrant children whose parents did not attend secondary school in the State, never mind those from disadvantaged backgrounds whose parents or grandparents may not have attended secondary school. There are three groups, off the top of my head, who need education more than anybody else because they have no other route out of poverty. Boys and girls who attend private schools will be fine. They will make their way and they will be grand. For the children to whom I refer, education is their one chance - it is the great liberator. The Minister knows that. Yet, children must compete for places in oversubscribed schools with those whose parents or grandparents attended such schools. The Minister knows and I know that is wrong.
This Bill will not change the world; that is not the intention behind it. What it tries to do, however, is call out over-influence in these Houses by a group of people who get what they want. They come to these Houses, ask for something and get it. They expect to get it. As Deputy Gannon quite rightly said, if Pavee Point, the National Women's Council of Ireland, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland or another interest group that tries to advocate for the rights of those who do not have the same power walked in and asked for something like the admissions Bill, would they get it as readily and as quickly? Could they walk into the into the corridors of power and get a section into a Bill as readily and as easily and then have somebody like the Minister stand up and defend it? That was the interesting thing about the Minister's contribution. She did not actually defend it, she just stated that it would be too difficult or too onerous to take it out immediately. That is her defence. There is, therefore, no defence for the relevant section. The Minister does not have a defence for the section.
This is what we are talking about here. There is a wider issue in Irish society that relates to influence and power: who has it and who does not; who uses it and who wields it; and who gets it and who gets things done because they can. It is not just about politics, it is about businesses. As Deputy Ó Laoghaire stated, these are all facets of Irish life. The people to whom I refer know each other. They play golf together. They talk about the old days in school together and ensure that they enshrine in legislation that this can continue from one generation to the next. We are suggesting that we must focus our attention on the children and families that do not have this kind of power. That needs to be the cornerstone of our belief system in the Republic. It is offensive to me that such a monied, influential and powerful education lobby gets its way. The existing legislation was passed by the Dáil and the Seanad. We put down the amendment at the time that was supported in the Seanad by Sinn Féin and other Opposition groups - not the Minister's party, I must say - in order that this would not be enacted in the first place. We outlined to the then Minister the reasons we were against it. We hold him why it was wrong. Our argument was dismissed and the legislation was enacted.
As others have stated, politics does not have to be this way. It does not have to be about us versus Government and having a row and scoring points off each other. It does not have to be about bringing in other issues and trying to pretend to the public we have all the answers and that the Minister is making nothing but mistakes, because that is not true. It is just not accurate. Government works hard and has decent people within it trying to achieve things for the people. I absolutely accept that and people in opposition are similar when legislation that is well-intentioned is brought forward by the Social Democrats, Sinn Féin or the Labour Party. As one accepts, not every item of legislation from Opposition is well-intended. Obviously, sometimes there is game playing and grandstanding. That happens a lot. We accept that. The Minister has accepted, however, that is not the case here. She must accept that when it comes to Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats or other groups in this Chamber, it is often not the case. She has accepted this evening that it is not the case. In light of that, would it be possible, between now and next Wednesday, to come to a position whereby the Minister will take a different approach to the Bill, namely, that the relevant section of the Act can be deleted because we are starting afresh and because, in post-Covid Ireland, we will have a different mindset about how our public institutions and schools can be run?