SCHOOL ATTENDANCE BILL, 1925.—SECOND STAGE.

I had hoped that Senator Brown would be here and that it would not have fallen on me to speak on this measure. Since this Bill passed through the Dáil much new evidence has come to our hands, which, I think, we should take into consideration. I have been reading the reports of the various inspectors. I think I will have the feeling of the Seanad with me when I say that we should not force the children into schools unless we have such assurance from the Government as will make us satisfied that these schools will be put into a fit condition to receive the children. I will read here the words of one of the inspectors: "There is a very considerable number of school buildings ill-adapted in the first case to serve as schools, and now in a bad state of repair, damp, uncomfortable, and often insanitary. A few are mere hovels, yet frequently overcrowded, a menace to the health of the children and teachers, an eyesore to the passers-by and a standing reflection on all responsible for their condition." That is an extract from the report by Mr. Tierney. He has reported on the general condition of the schools in his area. He is inspector for Mayo, part of Leinster, the whole of County Longford, and portions of Westmeath. You have practically in every inspector's report something of the same kind. A majority of the schools are not in this condition but evidently a very considerable minority of the schools are in this condition.

Speaking on this matter on the 11th June last the President said:

Before I leave this question of primary education, I should mention that there is one further matter— also an important matter in our quest for efficiency—with which the Minister for Education hopes to deal as soon as possible. This country has always suffered from the inadequacy of its school buildings. The disturbances of recent years have left us still more seriously in arrears in this important particular, and the operation of an effective School Attendance Act will increase still more the lack of proper accommodation for primary education. To meet this difficulty the Department of Education is having a thorough census made of the primary school-buildings of the Saorstát, and when this is complete, it may be necessary to ask you to make further provision in the Estimates to bring the primary school accommodation up to the level necessary for complete efficiency.

Now we have not had those further statistics as to the state of the schools. We do not know whether the Government will be able, whether it will get that necessary support to put all these schools right. But it should be our business to see that it gets that support. I should like also to suggest to the Seanad that the proper method of doing this is not under the Estimates. I hold that this should be done by a national loan. It is a non-recurrent expenditure, precisely the kind of expenditure that is usually met by a loan. One feels that if the vote is put on the Estimates that it will not be adequately and amply dealt with. I would like to do something further. I suggest to the Government that they should appoint a commission to consider the whole question of school buildings in the State. A great effort should be made to put these schools right, and that means that the attention of the country should be drawn to the matter. Furthermore, we should see that the right methods are taken and that the right form of school buildings is adopted. The Government has already a commission inquiring into the school curriculum, but they have not a commission set up for the purpose of inquiring into the school buildings. My suggestion is that it should be a point of honour to the Seanad not to ask the school children to enter those buildings until they are certain that these buildings are fit to receive the children.

To be able to do my duty as a Senator in relation to this question, I, myself, before this Government report was put into my hands, saw a number of the schools. I saw schools in Dublin and in the country. I was shocked by what I saw in the Dublin schools. I saw schools where the children were learning their lessons by artificial light at noon-day, because the windows were too small. I saw schools where two classes were being held side by side, because there was not room to give a separate class to each. That means wear and tear to the nerves of the children and to the temper of the teachers.

I also saw another thing to which I wish to draw the attention of the Government. Many of these schools are filthy. A minority of the children who come to them, I should say a substantial minority, are filthy. There are no adequate basins, sometimes no basins at all, in which the children could wash themselves. I have seen schools where the children are perfectly clean. I have seen one school in Dublin where the floors are washed once a week and brushed every day. Many of the country schools are never washed at all. I have seen a school lately in a South of Ireland town managed by the Sisters of Mercy, and it is a model to all schools. There the part of the house that is used frequently is washed once a week and brushed daily. The children are perfectly clean. What can be done there can be done elsewhere in Ireland. But you cannot have these things done unless the country is prepared to spend the money.

It should be a matter of honour to the State no matter how poor it may be, to spend that money. You must not, for instance, do what is almost always done—get this work done by the children. It must not be the business of the children to keep the school clean after they have done their day's work in the school. There must be properly appointed people to see that the school is clean and also to see that the children are clean and that they are sent to school clean. When the children are not clean they should be made wash themselves in a proper place provided in the school. If you do not do that you will not have a centre of civilisation in the schools and the children might as well remain at home. I think you cannot secure any of these things without more expense, and, of course, a more efficient system of inspection, than you have at present. The inspectors who come from the central authority will not be able to keep an eye on all these things. There is an obvions way out of the difficulty, a way which we cannot take, perhaps, but a way which the North of Ireland has taken, and that is to put the care of the school buildings in the hands of local committees.

One of the Government inspectors strongly urges that upon the Government. That is done practically all over Europe. It is done in Catholic Austria as it is done in Protestant Scandinavia. The committees differ from country to country. They are constituted in various ways, but I think these committees exist practically everywhere. I should like to add that the difficulty in appointing those committees does not come from one religion alone. It comes just as much, if I understand it, from the religion in which I was born as it comes from any other, but it is not to the credit of the State that no way can be found out of the difficulty. If we cannot have local inspection, which would mean inspection by inspectors who have local knowledge, then we must devise some equally efficient method.

There is one thing on which I feel strongly. As long as you carry on the present obsolete method of education in your schools you will have the usual strain between the master and the pupil. You will have the usual problem of children being punished by a master with a bad temper, and your only way to prevent that is when the so-called punishment books are regularly kept. Those are books in which the teacher is bound to record the punishment inflicted, and why it is inflicted. My experience is that those punishment books are not kept because there is not sufficiently adequate inspection. I do not say that the present inspectors are not most able men, but you want more numerous inspection or better local inspection to secure efficiency in those things. If the Government can convince me that it is able and willing to make these buildings suitable for the children, that is to say, to make them clean and sanitary—and many of them are not sanitary—to make the floor space sufficient and to make them reasonably cheerful, I am prepared to give my unimportant vote in favour of this Bill. If they do not, I cannot give it.

I am not asking anything extravagant. I think we ought to do whatever is done by other countries of the same wealth as this nation in order to ensure the welfare of our children. We should consider, for instance, that there are at present some arrangements, not I think always very wise, as to the feeding of school-children in the towns. There are none in the country, and judging by my own countryside, where I live during the summer months, it is needed. Children will start early in the morning. They will be the greater portion of the day in school and they will have no adequate meals. They come away hungry, and it seems, if not very necessary, at least very desirable that they should have food. Then, of course, many other countries, perhaps not richer than this, have found means of seeing that children are properly clothed and that they have proper books. These are all difficult but desirable things.

I have no desire to speak on the question of the curriculum. It is being considered by a Commission at this moment. I wish that the Government had introduced a comprehensive educational measure dealing with all the details before asking us to compel children, by law, to go into the schools. Whether it is good for the children or not depends not only on the building but on the nature of the system under which they are taught. I am sure for a child to spend all day in school with a stupid, ill-trained man under an ill-planned system, is less good for that child than that the child should be running through the fields and learning nothing. I should like to draw the attention of the Government to one nation which has reformed its educational system in the most suggestive and profound way; that is Italy. It has not produced a system unique to Italy. It has simply gathered together the results of experiments all over the world. They are now teaching a system of education adapted to an agricultural nation like this or Italy, a system of education that will not turn out clerks only, but will turn out efficient men and women who can manage to do all the work of the nation. This system has been tried in Ireland. There are some schools carrying it out. There is one large primary school managed by nuns in the South of Ireland which has adopted practically the entire Italian system and which is carrying it out with great effect, and has found that it is applicable, and that its teachers do not need special training to carry it out. The Italian Minister who adopted that policy was warned by everyone that it would not be possible to get this elaborate system carried out by partly educated people. It has been proved possible and of great benefit to the children.

In order to give an intelligent vote —at one time I thought it would be a silent one—on this question I have kept two clear principles in my mind. One is that we ought to be able to give the child of the poor as good an education as we give to the child of the rich. Of course the rich man's child remains longer at school. I have consulted teachers and people accustomed to the latest methods of education, and they are all clear that there is no reason why the education of the children of the poor should not be as good, while it lasts, as the education of the children of the rich. I would like to suggest another principle, that the child itself must be the end in education. It is a curious thing how many times the education of Europe has drifted into error. For two or three centuries people thought that their various religious systems were more important than the child. In the modern world the tendency is to think of the nation; that it is more important than the child. In Japan, I understand, the child is sacrificed to patriotism. I have seen education unified in America, so that the child is sacrificed to that of unified Americanism, and the human mind is codified. We are bound to go through the same passion ourselves. There is a tendency to subordinate the child to the idea of the nation. I suggest that whether we teach either Irish history, Anglo-Irish literature or Gaelic, we should always see that the child is the object and not any of our special purposes.

I agree with what Senator Yeats has said and I can give some figures that he perhaps had not time to get. At present there is not school accommodation in the city of Dublin for one-fourth of the children that should be at school, and there is also no census of the number of children that should be at school. Senator Yeats has not spoken too strongly about the schools. I visited many schools in 1912 to examine children for another purpose. In one school in High Street the playground was the crypt of St. Audeon's Church. There are bye-laws existing defining the cubic space to be provided for each child but they have not been enforced. To compel children to attend these concentration houses—I know conditions are modified by the Bill—would be an inhuman thing to countenance. It is an unwise thing to send children to a school that is too small. It is not even a wise thing to send children to a school, the health of which is not certifiable on inspection. When an epidemic occurs in the city the schools are closed. The schools are a centre of danger to child life.

This city may be termed the city of beautiful children. Anyone who has marched in the national pageants we have on the occasions of public funerals will see the whole street lined by the most beautiful children that any country could produce. What happens these children between 12 and 16 years of age when there is a sudden falling off in the health of the city's youth? The blame cannot be altogether laid on the schools, but it may be laid down to the disregard for child life that there is in this city. That disregard will be augmented if we countenance huddling children together in premises that are at present totally unfit for them. No one has discussed hitherto the importance of the site of the school. The school ought to be in the most beautiful part of the town or the city. What are the facts? Our schools are situated in congested areas—slum areas—where there are more than 250 people to the acre. With modern transport every day growing and the extraordinary facilities for connecting outlying districts, it ought to be easy to provide covered 'buses for school children. It may be very expensive, but a great deal of expense will have to be gone to in education before we realise the dream that we have of our own importance.

Except the schools run by the religious bodies, I do not suppose there are in the city schools fit to send children to. There are one or two, perhaps, but I cannot be quite certain that they are not run by one or other of the religious bodies of the different denominations. Apart from the site of the school, the fact of sending children to schools that are ugly has its effect on the minds of the children and on their attitude towards education. Instead of being easily taught the general effect is to associate education in the child's mind with the misery of the slum.

I think the by-laws, now in abeyance, are not sufficient to make the schools suitable. The trend of the criticism that we see in the papers is vague criticism of public expenditure, forgetful altogether of the fact that the money is spent in this country, and that it is bringing in certain results. We will have to add to the Bill for education, I am afraid, a grant from the Central Fund, to make the schools worthy of the pupils. I would like to hear anyone mention a school that can be considered fit for modern education.

First of all, we want many more schools, and schools twice the size, to accommodate the children. We also want a census of the number of children that should be provided with education. It will then be time for the Minister to promise adequate housing for the children. When the children are compelled to go to school the next thing will be to compel them to undergo certain inspections, and that may mean that they will have to submit to certain operations. That is one matter that should be considered before anyone gives consent to compulsion of that kind. That would arise with the compulsion of the child's presence in the school, and would end easily in compulsion of the child to go under an operation. One must depend on the public sense before that will happen. I can see the seeds of compulsion if we insist in sending children to unsuitable buildings which have to be closed when any threat to the public health arises.

I agree almost entirely with the remarks made by the two Senators who have previously spoken in connection with this Bill. I want to say, however, that this Bill is not intended to deal with the questions raised by the previous speakers. This Bill is designed mainly for the purpose of enforcing the attendance of school children at school up to a certain age. The other questions that have been raised have certainly a direct bearing on the attendance of children at school, but this Bill deals mainly with the compulsory attendance of children up to the age of fourteen years. I think it will be generally admitted by anybody who has considered the question of school attendance in this country that it is absolutely essential that compulsory powers should be brought into operation to compel parents of children to do their duty by their children and to compel parents to see that the children at least get a smattering of education. It is a notorious fact that in this country during recent years some parents—I am sorry to say a large percentage— have been very negligent with regard to seeing that their children at least get a smattering of education.

The returns of attendance available, of the number of children who are actually on the rolls in the various schools, show that the average attendance was about 60 per cent. That was in regard to the actual number of children that was registered on the rolls. It is a notorious fact that in many districts quite a large number of children were not entered on the rolls, but the actual attendance of children of school-going age entered on the rolls was only about 60 per cent. That is a lamentable state of affairs. This Bill has for its object the remedying of that state of affairs, to see that that is ended immediately, that the children should be made to attend school, and that if those who have the custody of the children do not do their duty by the children, steps will be taken by the State to compel them to do so. I welcome this Bill. I have had some experience, being a member of a School Attendance Committee in the city, and I see the absolute necessity for powers to compel parent to do their duty by their children.

There is one thing I regret about the Bill. That is that the compulsory powers end at the age of fourteen. I think that is a mistake. I think the age limit should be extended beyond the age of fourteen. That may be due to the fact that in some industrial countries there is a good deal of employment for children when they leave school at the age of fourteen, but I think it will be admitted by anybody who pays any attention to this question that in this country there is not employment for young children to the same extent as there is in other large industrial centres. It is almost impossible in the cities, towns or country districts to find employment for children at the age of fourteen, and for that reason I regret that the age for compulsory attendance is not extended beyond fourteen. Between the ages of fourteen and sixteen most of the children in this country are to be seen running about the streets of our towns and cities in a semi-wild state. That is the period in life when it is necessary that most attention should be paid to their education, and I regret the age limit is not being extended beyond fourteen.

I think what Senator Yeats has said is true, that there is not sufficient school accommodation in the country at present to house the children, if we are going to insist on their attendance at school. It is true that in Dublin, if all children of school-going age were to attend school, there is not sufficient accommodation for them. That is a lamentable state of affairs, but it should not deter us from compelling parents to send their children to school. If there is not sufficient accommodation we ought to be able to afford to build more schools. However, the fact that there is not sufficient accommodation is no excuse for the parents to neglect to do their duty in this matter. With regard to the insanitary state of the schools, I think there is a good deal in the complaint made by Senator Yeats. That brings me to a statement made in the Dáil on the Second Reading by Deputy Good, with which I thoroughly agree. He said that he regretted that this question of education was being dealt with piece-meal, and that it was not being dealt with on a comprehensive scale. The question of meals for school children is dealt with under the Schools Meals Act, and the question of school accommodation is dealt with under the Supply Services, and so on.

I think it is a pity that a Committee should not be appointed to inquire into the whole system of education from the primary schools to the universities and to draft a scheme whereby children who are endowed with brains, even though their parents may not be in possession of much of the world's goods, would get the best education that can be given to them. I think in every progressive country no matter whether the father of the child happens to be lord or a labourer, if the child has sufficient brains and ability, the State should supply the wherewithal to develop those brains. I agree with Deputy Good that the whole question was not dealt with on a comprehensive scale. I can say, knowing what I do, about the position of affairs in Dublin, that children are not being properly looked after and that they are not even getting a smattering of education. I welcome this Bill as part of a general plan of education that we hope will be introduced at a later stage. I hope the House will pass the Bill because it is absolutely essential that these compulsory powers should be given to the Education Authorities.

I think the House should be thankful to Senator Yeats and Senator Gogarty for having raised the question of school buildings. I think it is a question that could not get too much ventilation no matter whether the opportunity is appropriate or not. Undoubtedly the Compulsory Education Bill and the schools have a distinct inter-relationship but I think the case that they made against enforcing compulsion was founded upon a wrong theory. In 1892 and 1893 an Education Act was to be enforced in this country or, I should say, was made available for enforcement in this country. It was accepted in many centres of the thirty-two counties. Amongst them was Belfast. At that time Belfast had grown to such dimensions that it had nothing like the accommodation for, perhaps, one-tenth of the children who were attending the schools, but somehow schools did spring up. Schools were actually built in Belfast by the teachers in some cases. We had, strange to say, the rather peculiar position of a teacher building his own school and appointing himself as manager of the school and being recognised by the Board of Education. I do not say that such a thing will happen under the conditions that will be brought about by the new Compulsory Education Bill, but I give what happened in Belfast, and it was this: that hundreds of schools, schools with playgrounds on the roofs and in the basements, where sunshine and air were admitted, sprang up rapidly, and continued to spring up in Belfast, which is the best equipped city in the British Isles, or at least will be when the present scheme is completed.

That is owing a good deal to the fact that compulsory education was put into force in no half-hearted way, but was put into force by committees who were in earnest and determined to do their work. I believe that the enactment of the compulsory education measure will be the spear-head by which suitable school buildings will be secured. It was stated in the course of discussion that there was no school building in Ireland suitable for primary education purposes. I question that very much. I think some of the schools erected in this city and throughout the country within the last twenty years compare favourably with any schools we find throughout the British Isles. I should not like that the question of schools and their condition, which I recognise is very bad, should be made an instrument by which to torpedo this measure. I think, on the contrary, that the Bill should be made an instrument by which we could secure good schools. With regard to forcing children into schools where the accommodation is insufficient, it should be absolutely out of the question to compel children to attend schools of that kind. There would be no case against the parents of those children if they refused to send them to schools where the accommodation is insufficient. I take it that the provisions in this measure would not be enforced against such parents, as it would be very unjust and unwise to do so. No judge or justice would for a moment think of inflicting even the most trifling punishment on parents for refusing to send their children into insanitary buildings. With reference to the medical inspection of schools, I am sure that the Medical Association will render the parents immune from any unjust treatment in this matter.

There is no doubt that the present system of maintaining the schools has failed. This question has agitated the minds of educationists in this country for years. I think it is the foundation of many of the difficulties with which the nation is confronted. The system of management of schools by managers has not been a success. Local committees are absolutely necessary to meet the new condition of affairs. When I speak of local committees let me be distinctly understood: the committees will be of such a character as to assist the present managers of schools in such matters as the provision of suitable buildings and playgrounds, and perhaps meals, for which a certain amount of provision is available already. An impression that has caused difficulties always as between managers and local bodies was that the local bodies would eventually interfere in the managers' right of appointment and dismissal of teachers. I believe so far as the position of the managers is concerned in their relation to the teachers that matter could be left absolutely untouched, and still effective committees could be set up in every county to deal with those matters. Without local committees you cannot have a local rate for education. That is pretty obvious, and I think the sooner the Government tackles this matter the sooner will they arrive at the ideal system of education for which we all hope.

Any attempt to postpone the enforcement of this measure would undoubtedly prejudice the chances of the people as regards the provision of better schools. You have a number of partially built schools through the country at present. In many schools we have two qualified teachers, where the second teacher has to subsist on what is practically half the salary he would have if the children were permitted to have the benefit of the instruction of those teachers. The cost of putting it into force will. I admit, be substantial, but from estimates I have had I think the amount will be considerably below what some people think. I have some experience of the working of the Act of 1893. It did useful and effective work, more perhaps by the moral influence exercised by a committee in a locality than by the actual enforcement of the powers that were vested in them. There are two grave flaws I think, in the present measure. First amongst those I put the clause that would have us consider a boy's education completed when he reaches 14 years of age. That is the period when a boy has a wider outlook, and he has to be catered for in a very particular way. At that period he is very little beyond the illiterate stage, but he is beginning to appreciate what learning means. At present boys are allowed to hang around looking for employment, and to become a general nuisance to everybody for two or three years until they are in a position, perhaps, to go on the unemployment dole.

I think the nation would be doing a serious thing in neglecting its duty towards these boys and girls. In Germany and other countries the State considers it its duty to take charge of the children not alone up to the age of 16 but up to 18, 19 and 21 until they become a genuine asset to the State, and not become more expensive to the State than they were to their own parents. Uneducated persons are most expensive to the State. When I speak of education, I mean it not alone in the literal but in the technical sense, that is as regards educating a boy to enable him to make a living for himself. I think when the machinery of the Act comes to be set up by the Minister he would be well advised instead of scheduling the areas to which the 16 years' limit would apply to schedule the few areas to which it should not apply, or I would even go further and schedule all areas as areas to which it should apply and wait and see what would happen. I believe what would happen is, that in very few counties would the Minister find any body of public opinion which would oppose the enforcement of the Act up to the age of 16 years. I understand the Minister has that power in his hands, and I would suggest that he should use it to the fullest and wait for developments.

We are not slow in giving expression to our feeling in this country, and if there was opposition to the enforcing of the Bill in any county, or from any area, the Minister may be assured that he will hear it very readily and it will be a great guide for him. Now the other flaw I consider in the Bill is this question of exemptions. It has been suggested to me, indeed, from more quarters than one—I am not now speaking as the official representative of the teachers—that perhaps it would be better if in connection with these forty-eight school days, that is, the period within which pupils may remain absent for two periods of ten days each —the schools should be opened for a shorter time and that compulsion should be exercised in making all pupils attend for some hours each day less hours perhaps than the ordinary school day. I am throwing the suggestion out to the Minister for his consideration. It is only a matter for consideration as to how, for these forty-eight days, the pupils are to be kept in touch with the schools and with the sequence of work that will be taking place in the schools. These are the two points.

Again, I may come back to the fourteen years age-limit. I think it is deplorable that some efforts should not be made, even at this late hour, to link up the primary schools with the technical schools where technical education is available throughout the country. I know, from experience, that this would mean no extra cost to the State. Boys and girls in centres where technical education is at present available leave school at the age of fourteen and fifteen, in many cases perfectly well qualified to avail of the excellent training by itinerant teachers and others in those centres. At night, in the schools in the villages and towns throughout Ireland, we find very few in attendance. Hundreds of those boys are walking the streets while not half a dozen are in attendance at the technical classes. Their attendance would mean no extra expense for the State and no extra employment of teachers. The average is thirty pupils for each of these teachers. More frequently the average found in actual attendance is five or six or seven or eight. You have practically derelict schools where the teachers are paid the same salaries as if the schools were in full working order. The work in these partially attended schools is not so well carried out because the spirit of emulation does not exist. Applying compulsion to primary schools is one thing, but to technical schools is another thing; but I think where classes are available in localities throughout Ireland for technical education something should be done to induce pupils to come into these classes.

Then, with regard to the question of distance, I think that a child that is ten years of age will be quite able to walk the three mile distance without putting any great hardship upon it. I welcome this Bill, and I recognise that the Minister has done excellent work in bringing it before the House, and that, all the conditions being taken into account, economic, financial, and otherwise, the Bill will do a good deal if it secures that every child with the exceptions mentioned shall attend 180 days at school out of 200, which is the usual number. I think that is doing a great stroke of work for educational progress in the country.

I am sure that every member of this House is in favour of the principle of this Bill. I do not suppose there is any country in which compulsory attendance at school is more necessary than in this Free State. I do not think there is any country in which so many children under the age of fourteen make fewer than one hundred attendances in the year at school. The necessity for a Bill of this kind is all the greater at this time when, what I might call the burden, although a useful burden, of an additional language, is being put upon the shoulders of the children. That will mean all the more need for regular attendance at school and more effort than ever before. I think we are equally agreed that the only chance of real success for this Bill and the only justification for putting it into absolutely general operation, in this country, would be the provision of suitable buildings for those children who are compelled to come to school while getting their education. My only reason for intervening in this debate is this: I wish to call the attention of the Minister to a speech delivered by President Cosgrave in the Dáil on the 11th of June last year when the Estimates for the Department of Education were under discussion. President Cosgrave said:—

Before I leave this question of primary education, I should mention that there is one further matter— also an important factor in our quest for efficiency with which the Minister for Education hopes to deal as soon as possible. This country has always suffered from the inadequacy of its school buildings. The disturbances of recent years have left us still more seriously in arrears in this important particular and the operation of an effective school attendance Act will increase still more the lack of proper accommodation for primary education. To meet this difficulty the Department of Education is having a thorough census made of the primary school buildings of the Saorstát, and when this is complete it may be necessary to ask you to make further provision in the Estimates to bring the primary school accommodation up to the level necessary for complete efficiency.

Now, sir, that is a most satisfactory statement. It says that this serious question of school building has been engaging the attention of the Government, and I should be very glad to hear from the Minister that the Government are still of that opinion, and that as soon as they get that complete census, which I take it will not take them very long to get, of the schools in this country which are not fit for the education of the young they will carry out what is practically the undertaking by the President that these school buildings will be improved.

I do not think some of the discussion has been relevant to the Bill. If the Government take increased powers they will have increased responsibilities, and I agree with a great deal of what Senators said with regard to the schools. I know some of the schools in the country; they are not exactly dirty, but they are bare and uninteresting. I intend to vote for the Bill, although I regret the necessity for abstention. The main clause in this Bill deals with permitted abstention. I see the Minister is giving powers under this Bill until 1936. I do not quite see the necessity for ten years. It is an experiment, and I think five years, at the outside, would give him ample opportunity to judge how the scheme is working. It seems to me ten years is too long. I should like to ask the Minister does this Bill apply to the children of itinerants such as tinkers. Nobody seems to take any heed of these people. They are wandering all over the country and the children are running at large. No effort is made to turn them into good citizens. Other countries have had this problem of dealing with practically what are nomadic peoples. In America they have the gypsies and Indians. The Indians roam around. At the age of eleven or twelve they are bound to be sent to school for a certain number of years. I think it is time we should consider this class. Someone said to me, leave those alone, they are so picturesque. Anyone who sees the conditions under which they live, will not agree with that. Nurses have to go on the roadside to attend them in child-birth. The children that remain, and whom we see, are only the more robust; the others die. I should like to ask the Minister do those people come under this Bill. I do not know how many there are in Ireland or whether they are included in the Census.

Having been in close touch with what I always looked upon as a most useful experiment and having attended the annual meeting of that body only a few days ago, perhaps I may say I can give the most useful object lesson that could be obtained in Ireland. I refer to what is called the Mary Weir Charity. The genesis of that charity is interesting. She was a little girl of poor parents, who had come to one of the schools in the district I refer to; whether it was wet or dry, snow or frost, she came. She had to subsist from morning till evening, probably as you see most of the poor children subsisting, on a dirty crust. This girl afterwards went into the service of an English gentleman. By faithful and long service in his employment she won his regard to such an extent that on his death-bed he left all he had to her. You hear of bequests by ladies of noble birth. This is a story of the bequest of a lady, not of noble birth, but of noble character. When she died she gave a large portion of her wealth to endow the charity which may well form a lesson to any Minister for Education in any part of the world. There are four parishes on the borders of Meath and Westmeath. They are Killalen, Kilmeelin, Kilshiar and Ballylough.

I was appointed as Chairman to the Committee and I do not think I missed for the last fifteen or more years a single meeting. We visited those schools and a more horrible condition of things has hardly been described by any of the speakers here. The bequest was sufficient to put those schools in decent order and to build, where necessary, not only sanitary accommodation, but to provide heating, lighting and luncheons for the children on any day they attended school. There was also sufficient money to provide boots and shoes for the very poor, although boots were sometimes more dangerous than wet feet. To arrive with boots wet through, and to sit in a cold room with them on, tends more, than any other condition I can imagine, to ill-health. I was going to tell you the result, and perhaps if the Minister for Education would like to get full particulars, I can give him the address of the Secretary. The attendance has improved to such an extent that there is no parish, I think, in the whole diocese that can compare with this group of parishes to which I refer. The health of the children has been good; their appearance is extremely good, and there is no playing truant in those parishes. They all like to come to school. They are not only fed, but they are able to do lessons in a room comfortably heated. It did not cost much for each school, and I thought by this time any Minister for Education would have gone to see those schools and the experiment which. I maintain, ought to be imitated in all schools. All I can say is, that it has completely convinced me that a small outlay in the feeding of the children— cocoa and bread is all they have—and a proper attention to the accommodation of the school, would work wonders amongst the juvenile population of the Saorstát.

I have no doubt that this Bill will be regarded by the Seanad as non-controversial and I will say very little on it. But I cannot allow to go uncontroverted certain statements made by Senators Yeats and Gogarty. They were to this effect: they regarded the present expenditure on education as inadequate and suggested large and substantial future expenditure for school buildings. I should myself regard the present figure of the education Estimates as the limit, and I would ask the Minister to see whether within that figure he could provide the services required in connection with schools and school buildings.

I want to deal first with the main contention here which to a certain extent does not belong to the Bill proper but is, perhaps, incidental to it, that is the matter raised by Senators Gogarty and Yeats who spoke most strongly on the subject referred to afterwards by most of the other speakers and then by the last speaker, if only to disagree with the views urged. Now it is quite obvious if I may put it so mildly, that there was a certain amount of exaggeration in the speeches of Senators Gogarty and Yeats. I think Senator Gogarty suggested that there was not a single school in Dublin suitable for its purpose as a school building. If that is so, we are up against a problem that will stagger Senator Sir John Keane even more than the real reading of the Bill. Last year we spent in North Dublin £14,000 in the building of schools. That was in the Drumcondra area. Altogether there are five thousand schools in the country, and if we have to postpone anything in the nature of compulsory attendance in schools until we can bring all these schools up to the standard required by Senators Gogarty and Yeats we would undoubtedly be putting the matter of the attendance of children at schools on the very long finger.

I refer to the actual criticism of the schools, and I try to give what is our point of view now as it was our point of view last June. There is no change so far as the Government are concerned. We recognise the seriousness of the problem. But it is one matter to recognise the seriousness of a problem, and another to fail to recognise the seriousness of the particular problem with which this Bill deals. To suggest that we ought not go on with that portion of the scheme until we are ready to make an advance all along the line as regards school buildings is not a practical suggestion. I think that in many of the schools, according to these Senators, we would require a new set of teachers before we can send the children to the school to the present class of masters. That would mean that we would, as far as school attendance is concerned, leave the matter as it is for years until all these other matters are settled and permit the present unsatisfactory condition of things to continue for years.

I would remind the Senator who spoke about the unsatisfactory accommodation that there is at present a Compulsory Attendance Act in force. Reject this Bill, and that Act is still there. It will be administered in Dublin by the same people who administer it at present—that is, so far as the City of Dublin is concerned. That ought not be forgotten. Therefore, unless you repeal the existing Act, you could not, so far as Dublin and many other of the larger cities in the country are concerned, achieve the aim which Senators Yeats and Gogarty have put before the Senate. As Senator Farren has said, the attendance at school is decidedly bad in this country. Seventy per cent. of the pupils on the rolls is the average, and, as has been pointed out, this is probably 60 per cent. of the children in the country between the ages of six and fourteen. That, undoubtedly, is extremely unsatisfactory. Some children never go to school, or else they go to school so irregularly that their attendance there possibly is not much good, and is certainly very disturbing to the rest of the children. It is impossible for the teachers effectively to carry on their schools unless they can be reasonably certain of good regular attendance of those children who actually do attend the school. It is in order to cope with those very obvious defects that this Bill has been introduced.

There is at present, so far as the schools are concerned, a new census being taken. That census is not yet completed. When that is completed we will know where we are. Senator Yeats quoted from the Inspector in Mayo, and parts of Leinster that border on the Shannon, but Senator Gogarty did not quote from the Inspector for Dublin, for the Senator condemned every school in Dublin. He would, if he had looked into the report of the Inspector for Dublin, see that that is not borne out by the Inspector for this particular area.

There are undoubtedly many schools —the exact number we do not know— that are not in a proper condition; but, bad as they are, the Seanad should consider the alternative. These schools are generally in congested districts. They are very often in poor districts, and there are poor districts in the city and in the country, so that the choice is between going to these schools—I am merely looking upon it from the health point of view—unsatisfactory as they are—or remaining at home. What is the choice so far as health is concerned? Taking the bulk of the homes of the particular people I am talking about in the cities and in the country, would it be any advantage to the children to stay at home? Are the homes of the people from whom we are compelling the children to go out, so satisfactory compared to those schools? It is well to pause and consider, not one side but the whole effects. What I am saying is that the unsatisfactory condition of many of the schools is no real reason for postponing the particular measure now before the Seanad. Senator Gogarty suggested that we should bring all the children out to the garden suburbs. Well, if there are sixty thousand children in Dublin, we would require a few 'buses, and I am afraid Senator Sir John Keane would receive another shock.

I am not going to suggest that the present expenditure on education is the limit. I have done nothing to encourage any belief on his part to that extent. In the Dáil most of the Deputies in the Farmers' and Labour Parties, and also Deputy Good, pointed out that economy in education was disastrous. It is not possible to deal with all these problems at once. We can only deal with particular problems when we are ready to deal with them.

Senator Mrs. Costello raised a question about the children of people generally known as "tinkers." Undoubtedly they are meant to be covered by the Bill. How to make the Bill apply to them effectively is an extremely difficult question. I would be ready to consider with the greatest sympathy any effective amendment put forward for dealing with that class. If I can think of any amendment myself between this and the Committee Stage I may be able to bring a suitable one forward. The other points are really ones for dealing with in Committee. On the question of age, that was the subject of a rather long discussion in the Dáil, and the objections were examined. I feel that we have, considering the whole economic circumstances of the country, from that point of view, gone as far as we could go.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad went into Committee.