As outlined by the Leader of the House on the Order of Business, the Second Stage of the Dublin Institute of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 1994, will be taken with this Bill for the purpose of debate. I should remind Senators that the time limits are 30 minutes per spokespersons and 15 minutes for other Senators.
Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1994: Second Stage.
I dtosach báire, is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le Cathaoirleach an tSeanaid agus le na Seanadóirí uilig as ucht go bhfuil sibh sásta an Bille seo a phlé, agus na Céimeanna éagsula a chur i gcrích. Tá a fhios agaibh an riachtanas atá ag baint leis an mBille, go háirithe i gcúrsaí Choláiste Réigiúnach Leitir Ceannain. Tá gá le cumhacht a thabhairt don Aire Oideachais dul isteach agus na ceisteanna a bhaineann leis an gcoláiste seo a réiteach.
I am glad the House has agreed to take all Stages of these Bills, especially those aspects which are so necessary in the context of restoring the operation at Letterkenny regional technical college back to where it desperately needs to be. I am grateful to all Members for the opportunity to debate and conclude all Stages of this Bill.
The Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, and the Dublin Institute of Technology Act, 1992, came into effect on 1 January 1993, bringing into existence on that date 12 new statutory based institutions. This legislation has done a number of important things: it has defined the membership and functions of the colleges in the Dublin Institute of Technology, it provides for the roles of governing bodies, it has established the post of director as chief executive in all of the regional technical colleges and the post of president as chief executive in the Dublin Institute of Technology; it has provided for the establishment of an academic council in each of the institutions with clearly defined functions; it has established all staff as employees of the particular institution and has allowed for the drawing up of programmes and budgets on an annual basis.
The Bills now before this House are aimed at addressing difficulties which have arisen in the appointment of governing bodies to the colleges and the institute, which were not contemplated when the Acts were drafted and passed in 1992. The Bill also addresses difficulties which have arisen in Letterkenny Regional Technical College and extend the provisions considered necessary to address those particular difficulties to all the institutions as a safeguard for the future.
The regional technical colleges have undergone dramatic development from the time of their establishment in the 1970s under the vocational education committees to their foundation on a statutory basis as autonomous higher education institutions from January 1993. Prior to their establishment and following the publishing of the reports "Investment in Education" and "The Training of Technicians in Ireland" in the early 1960s, a steering committee was set up to advise the then Minister for Education on the provision of technical education. This committee's report in 1969 formed the basis for the establishment in the 1970s of most of the colleges. The report related the colleges to economic growth both nationally and in their own regions. In their continuing adaptation over a period of almost 25 years, the colleges have continued to stimulate demand for skills which the economy needs.
The Dublin Institute of Technology can trace the development of technical and technological education in Dublin to much earlier times, from the Artisans Exhibition in Earlsfort Terrace in 1885 through to 1978 when the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee established the Dublin Institute of Technology on an ad hoc basis to ensure better co-ordination of the work of its third level colleges.
The growth in this sector in this period has been marked. In the period since 1980, whole-time student numbers in the regional technical colleges have risen from 6,500 to 25,000, an increase of almost 300 per cent. In the same period, the enrolment of whole-time students in the colleges which form the Dublin Institute of Technology has risen from 4,000 to 10,062, an increase of 150 per cent.
The 1992 legislation, since coming into effect, is providing new opportunities for the sector to broaden its range of activities and to branch into new spheres of development. Activities such as applied industry supported research, technology transfer, services to regional industry, industrial training, product development technology centres and new industry incubation are now an ever increasing feature of the sector. Looking to the future, national and indeed EU initiatives point to a number of developments in higher education. These include participation and access, partnerships, continuing education and international linkages. The regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology have a major contribution to make in all of these areas.
In the case of participation and access, the colleges and the institute have been major instruments in broadening educational opportunity and access. They provide national and regional access to courses at a wide variety of levels matching closely the abilities and ambitions of the students. They have developed co-operatively transfer possibilities to higher studies on a large scale and they also provide a programme of professionally oriented part-time education and industrial training. The success of the Tallaght college in the context of access and participation of the local community is the most recent testimony to this.
In forming the partnership with economic life, the colleges and the institute are working with national and international development agencies. New industry incubation, co-operation with and assistance to indigenous industry and the attraction to the regions of investment in development are and will continue to be major functions of the sector. Whether through associated technology parks or through tourism courses and the services sector, the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology will be significant regional and national contributors and will provide support for community and rural development projects. They will also contribute to technology updating in the education sector generally.
There is an increasing demand for continuing education and, in the future, it is expected that there will be a higher proportion of mature and part-time students. As a result, greater diversity of access and lifelong education will be required. The regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology will be expected to offer an education service to those students, given their highly regarded traditions in these fields. Pilot schemes in open and distance learning are already a feature of the sector and can be expected to grow.
Where international linkages are concerned, many students of the institutions covered by this legislation participate in a wide range of EU programmes in the education, culture, science, technology, information and other spheres. The institutions also have a range of development and research programmes with industrial and international partners. This record of growth and the key and exciting role of the institutions for the future should be kept to the forefront of our minds when we come later to discuss the situation in Letterkenny regional technical college which is unique in the sector and which must be addressed as a matter of urgency in the interests of the sector as a whole.
The Bills before the House have a number of aims. They were initiated in the other House as Bills relating to various aspects of the governance of the colleges. In particular they were intended to underpin on a statutory basis gender balance on governing bodies, to provide certainty in respect of who among the academic staff were entitled to vote in the elections for governing body position, and to clarify certain technical matters which arose from the High Court judgment relating to elections to governing bodies.
Following publication of the Bills the then Minister, having considered the report of Dr. Miriam Hederman-O'Brien into the management of Letterkenny regional technical college, brought forward proposals by way of Committee Stage amendments to protect the interests of that college and its students and to provide safeguards for the future in the other institutions.
In January of this year, Dr. Hederman-O'Brien was appointed by the then Minister as an inspector to inquire into aspects of Letterkenny regional technical college and she reported to the Minister at the end of July. Her report outlines the situation which causes all of us serious concern and worry. In particular the report raises concerns about the financial management of the college, the selection procedure for staff appointments, the provision and authorisation of courses and the provision of services for students and certain strategic issues with implications for all the institutions.
Concern has been further heightened by developments since Dr. Hederman-O'Brien made her report. Investigations by my Department suggest that student enrolments in the college are falling at a time when there is unprecedented demand for places elsewhere in the regional technical colleges and the third level sector generally. The former chairman of the governing body of the college has accused senior management in the college of being responsible for a range of management failures. Furthermore, subsequent to the finalisation of the inspector's report, it has emerged through the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General that there is a fraud in the accounts of Letterkenny regional technical college.
My first and overriding concern now is to safeguard the reputation and operation of this college by ensuring that it is brought to the high standards expected of a third level educational institution. In the circumstances now obtaining in the college I cannot have confidence in the capacity of the present management structures to achieve that. Accordingly, in circumstances where there is strong prima facie evidence that the management and governance structure has failed, I consider it to be my duty as Minister with ultimate responsibility for this college to take immediate steps to remedy the situation.
The provisions of section 2 of the Bills will enable the Minister for Education to appoint a commission to direct and control the college for up to two years. The commission will, upon appointment, immediately take on the role and functions of the governing body and director. The appointment of a commission will thus ensure that an effective management structure can be put in place immediately in Letterkenny regional technical college. This will allow time for a full consideration of the inspector's report, particularly in the context of affording a full and complete opportunity to those named in the report as having responsibility for the situation outlined in it to have their views considered. The appointment of a commission should not be seen as prejudging that process but as an assurance to others with an interest in the college, such as staff, students and the public, that in the meantime their interests also will be protected.
In drawing up this provision there was a concern to ensure that the interests of any institution to which a commission would be appointed in the future would be protected from any unfair or arbitrary action by a Minister. A number of safeguards were built into the provision as drafted and these were strengthened by the Select Committee in the other House. These safeguards include a requirement that a commission can be appointed only on the making of a report by an inspector appointed under the Principal Act. Further protection is accorded by giving the governing body, chairman and director a statutory right to be informed of the reasons for the appointment of a commission and an opportunity to show cause why the functions vested in a commission should be revested in them.
The third protection for the normal management and governance structure in an institution is provided by the fact that the period for which a commission may be appointed is limited to at most two years. In the Select Committee on Social Affairs the provision was amended to ensure that any future order would require confirmation by the Oireachtas in general in advance of it becoming effective. To safeguard institutions from undue delay by the Oireachtas an order would become effective automatically 28 days after having been made. In such a case however, the Houses could annul the order within 21 sitting days.
This provision is proposed in the particular context of the situation obtaining in Letterkenny regional technical college. As I outlined earlier I have every confidence that high standards of management and governance apply in the other regional technical colleges. This proposed provision is, however, drafted in general terms to cover all the institutions. I consider this to be advisable. Letterkenny regional technical college has shown how an institution can move seriously out of line in terms of its management and operation. The public has a right to ensure that were that to happen again in this or in any other institution, the institution can be rescued, the interests of the many people involved, including staff, students and parents, guaranteed and the significant investment by the State protected. The granting of power to the Minister for Education, in the carefully balanced way now proposed, is in my view the most effective way of giving the public that assurance.
I would like to now outline to this House the background to the provisions relating to gender balance. In enacting the 1992 legislation, the Oireachtas quite rightly recognised that it would be in the interests of the institutions if the method of appointing governing bodies ensured a reasonable gender balance. The regional technical colleges and the institute have a record of achievement behind them and a challenging future ahead of them. The realisation of the aims and ambitions for this sector of third level education will best be achieved by a co-operative effort by all the interests involved and the harnessing of a wide range of relevant experience and expertise. This must be firmly rooted in the governing bodies and in the method of their selection.
In general I believe it is necessary in public life to ensure that men and women are fully represented and given the opportunity to make their contribution. Traditionally women have not been so represented. In the case of educational institutions gender balance assumes a particular significance in view of the role these institutions have in educating young people in all aspects of life. Governing bodies are charged with the overall governance of colleges where in many cases women are more than 50 per cent of the student population. The total current number of women students in the sector is 15,000. Given the importance of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology in the development of their regions and in the national educational framework, it is essential that there should be balance in the range of experience and expertise available to them. Gender balance facilitates this.
In January 1993 the Programme for a Partnership Government included a commitment to a radical programme of affirmative action in appointing women to State boards with the objective of achieving a minimum of 40 per cent of both men and women among the direct Government nominees within a period of four years. Subsequent to this the Government in March 1993 set out a gender balance policy to increase the participation of women in public life and to ensure that men and women are fully represented and given an opportunity to make their full contribution in all aspects of public life.
Regretfully the experience to date has been one of extreme difficulty in securing an appropriate balance of women on the governing bodies. The structure of the appointments system at present is that the vocational education committees make recommendations to the Minister for Education on the composition of the governing bodies and the Minister formally makes the appointments. Recommendations come from six areas in the case of the colleges and seven in the case of the institute. These are nominees of the vocational education committees, academic and non-academic staff, students, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and relevant organisations in areas such as agriculture, industry, commerce and the professions. The institute has an additional nominee from Trinity College.
When guidelines were issued to the relevant vocational education committees in November 1993, for their nominations for the new governing bodies to be appointed with effect from 1 January 1994, my Department sought nominations in accordance with the Government policy on gender balance. It was indicated to the committees that the then Minister would have no option but to refuse nominations under the various sections where the required gender balance was not met. Letters in similar terms were sent to the outgoing governing bodies in the context of staff and student elections and to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in connection with their nominee under the Acts.
The nominations from vocational education committees generally failed to provide an appropriate gender balance. By March 1994 the situation with regard to the appointment of governing bodies in the institutions had reached an impasse with the vocational education committees in most cases either unable or unwilling to put forward proposals on the basis of minimum representation of 40 per cent for men and women.
The requirement to ensure gender balance is a duty imposed on the Minister for Education by the Acts. On the other hand, the vocational education committees pointed to a weakness in that legislation. While it imposed an obligation on the Minister to ensure gender balance in appointing governing bodies, it imposed no such obligation on the vocational education committees in making recommendations as to the people to be appointed.
This clearly placed the then Minister in a difficult position. To meet and discharge the statutory obligation to ensure gender balance, the Oireachtas had to provide the necessary powers. It would not, however, be in the best interest of the institutions if they were left without governing bodies in the meantime. Accordingly, governing bodies were appointed as recommended, but only for one year instead of a possible five year term and the provisions now forming part of these Bills were drafted to prevent the kind of stalemate which occurred this year from occurring again.
At present the selection of governing body members is largely the preserve of the vocational education committees. During the Second Stage debate in the Dáil there were calls from all parties for a greater input by the institutions themselves into the selection process. I was happy to able to facilitate these calls by moving an amendment at the Select Committee which will give a central role to the academic councils of the institutions in selecting five of the 17 ordinary members of the governing bodies. The academic councils are in the best possible position to know which organisations are most relevant to the courses and overall academic aims of the institutions. That they now can put forward those organisations and request nominations from them for the governing bodies will greatly enhance the working of the governing bodies and through them the effectiveness of the institutions.
If the provisions now proposed are enacted I am confident that vocational education committees will have little difficulty in practice in assisting the Minister for Education in ensuring a gender balance on governing bodies and that the original Acts can finally, after two failed attempts, be implemented in this respect and in the spirit intended. However, I believe that a stalemate of the kind which developed over this issue of gender balance on governing bodies cannot be allowed to occur again.
It is extremely damaging for the operation and reputation of the regional technical college-DIT sector and carries series legal and financial risks if colleges are left for any significant period of time without governing bodies. Accordingly, I am proposing in section 3 of the Bills to provide for a situation where a vocational education committee, in making recommendations to a Minister in respect of the composition of governing bodies, fails in its statutory obligations. The Minister in certain circumstances would be able to by-pass the normal appointments procedure and appoint any person or body of persons to take over the functions of a governing body.
In bringing forward this provision I sought to ensure that it is reasonable and proportionate and that it strikes a balance between the need to put governing bodies in place with as little delay as possible while, at the same time, protecting vocational education committees from arbitrary or unfair action on the part of a Minister. I also sought to ensure that the power of the Minister is not so wide as to enable him or her to completely set aside the provisions of the Acts as originally enacted. Accordingly, any person or body appointed under this power could hold office for not longer than one year. This period in most cases would enable a Minister and a vocational education committee to resolve whatever difficulties led to the appointment in the first place and a governing body would then be appointed in the normal way.
Apart from the issue of gender balance, the appointment of governing bodies was delayed earlier this year because of litigation relating to who should be allowed to participate in the elections for academic staff nominees. This matter was the subject of a High Court judgment which extended participation in the election to certain part-time staff. In bringing forward provisions setting out in some detail who the electorates for academic and non-academic staff should be, I sought to implement the spirit of that judgement by including part-time staff in the elections.
At the same time I am conscious of the fact that some part-time staff have only a limited commitment to the colleges and the institution in terms of the number of hours the work there. In my view it would be inappropriate that such staff would be allowed to participate in elections for governing body positions on the same basis as staff whose contribution is much greater. In reconciling the rights and interests of part-time staff who make a significant contribution to the colleges and the institute and the rights and interests of staff who work on a full-time basis there, I propose to limit participation in elections to all permanent staff and to those part-time staff who work at least 50 per cent of the hours of whole-time staff.
I am also proposing in these Bills to amend the method by which student nominees for the governing body are chosen. At present the legislation provides that two students are to be elected by the student body in accordance with regulations made by the governing bodies. College managements and the Union of Students in Ireland made representations to me to change the method of selecting student members of the governing bodies. Their concern was that elections for governing bodies separate from the student union elections could lead to a situation where the student members on their governing bodies would have no formal link to the students unions in the colleges. This would cause fragmentation of student representation which would be damaging to the colleges and the students' interests.
In recognition of these concerns I propose to amend the method of selection of student members by providing that selection is to be made according to regulations made by the governing bodies. This will enable local managements to work out with students how best their interests can be represented on the governing bodies. The provision if accepted would put the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology on the same footing in this respect as the University of Limerick and Dublin City University where this method of selection is working well.
I now propose to outline to the House the provisions of the Bills as presented. My remarks on the individual sections apply to both Bills and I will indicate points of difference as they arise. Section 1 merely provides that the Principal Act referred to in the Bills is the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, or the Dublin Institute of Technology, 1992, as appropriate.
Section 2 provides for the appointment of a commission to a college or the institute. Subsection (1) provides that where the Minister is satisfied on the basis of a report of an inspector appointed to inquire into any aspect of an institution's affairs that the institution is not being managed in an effective way, then the Minister may appoint a commission to take over the functions of the governing body, the chairman or the director or all of them. The commission may be one person or a body of persons and under subsection (2) will have all the powers necessary to carry out their functions. This subsection also limits the period for which a commission can be appointed to at most two years. At the end of that period, under subsection (7), the powers of the commission must be revested in the then acting governing body, chairman and director.
Subsection (3) provides that the governing body, chairman and director must be informed of the reasons for the appointment of a commission and given an opportunity to show cause why the powers should be revested in them. This provision ensures that the governing body, chairman and director are given an opportunity to have their case heard and considered. Subsection (4) ensures that the commission can get necessary information from the former governing body, chairman and director.
Subsections (5) and (6) give a flexibility to the Minister to vary the membership of a commission while subsection (8) extends that flexibility to the functions of the Commission. This provision would enable a gradual return of functions to the normal management and governance structures as circumstances allowed. Subsection (9) provides for the remuneration of a commission while subsection (10) provides for the role of the Oireachtas in the making of orders to which I have already referred. Section 3 would enable the Minister for Education to appoint a person as director of a regional technical college in an acting capacity.
The director of a college is a key person in its operation and management. He or she is described by the 1992 Act as the chief officer of the college and is charged by that Act with the control and direction of the activities of the college, the direction of staff and the efficient and proper management of the college. At present the Act provides for the appointment of a director by the governing body of the college with the approval of the Minister for Education but has no provision for an appointment in an acting capacity and no power for the Minister to make such an appointment. In certain circumstances this power would be of crucial importance.
Section 4 provides for the method of selection of a governing body. It replaces subsection (4) of the Principal Acts. This provision would effect no change in the overall composition of the governing bodies. In the case of the regional technical colleges, there will continue to be 17 ordinary members comprised as follows: six to be nominated by the vocational education committee; two each to be nominated by academic staff and students; one each to be nominated by the non-academic staff and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and five to be nominated by relevant organisations as determined by the vocational education committee. In the case of the Dublin Institute of Technology, there is one additional member — a nominee of Trinity College, Dublin.
The changes to the present subsection (4) which would be effected by this provision are the imposition of a formal requirement that in the case of the student and academic staff nominees, one from each group must be a woman and the other a man and in the case of relevant organisations, the vocational education committee may seek nominations from any number and then choose five for recommendation to the Minister. The provision also establishes clearly who among the staff are entitled to participate in the elections.
Subsection (2) imposes a statutory obligation on the vocational education committees to ensure a gender balance and to implement ministerial directives in making recommendations. Subsection (3) effects the substitution of these provisions for the provisions in the 1992 Acts. Subsection (4) makes the provisions relating to the electorate for staff members retrospective to safeguard the elections which took place in the wake of the High Court judgment.
Section 5 provides that in the event that a vocational education committee fails to abide by its statutory duty in making recommendations and persists in that failure after it is brought to its attention, the Minister may appoint any body of persons to perform the functions of the governing body for a period not greater than one year.
Section 6 provides that where a member of the governing body who was elected by the staff of the college or institute ceases to be a member of that staff, he or she will also cease to be a member of the governing body.
Section 7 is intended to address the difficulties posed by the fact that the governing bodies leaving office last year had, in effect, after the striking down of their regulations governing staff elections by the High Court, left office without making valid regulations. A full governing body could not be appointed until regulations were made but regulations could not be made until a governing body was appointed. This "catch 22" situation is addressed by providing for the appointment of a less than complete governing body which would then make the necessary regulations. It is retrospective to cover the present governing bodies which were appointed under this procedure. Section 8 provides for the short title, collective citation and construction.
In summary, the Bills seek to provide for the exceptional circumstances which have arisen in Letterkenny regional technical college; bring certainty to the process for electing staff members to governing bodies; ensure that an appropriate gender balance is effectively implemented on all governing bodies; assist nominating bodies to achieve gender balance in their recommendations and to prevent a situation from ever arising again where failure on the part of nominating bodies could jeopardise the good order and management of the colleges and the institute.
I commend these Bills to the House. I thank my colleagues for facilitating an early passage of this very essential legislation. I regret that it will not be possible for me to remain in the House for the full Second Stage debate. I hope, however, to be able to return as quickly as possible for the remaining Stages. I will, in the meantime, have as much access as possible to what is being said so as to address the questions raised.
Senator Cotter, as spokesperson, has 30 minutes.
I welcome the Minister to the House. He has had to carry a heavy load this last week or so, which he is doing with aplomb. I hope we will have a good discussion on this Bill before the evening is over. I recognise the need for the introduction of these Bills. However, I have tabled a number of amendments which I believe are important. I hope we can discuss them in full and get at least part agreement on some of them.
I agree with the Minister that the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology have done an enormous job for this country, in the case of the regional technical colleges since the 1970s and in the case of the Dublin Institute of Technology for almost a century. The need for the regional technical colleges was established, as the Minister pointed out, in the 1960s and they were set up in the 1970s. They have made an enormous contribution to economic and social development in the intervening years.
The Dublin Institute of Technology, in particular, has made a wonderful contribution for almost a century. It is a widely respected institution and has been offering degree courses since 1975 through a link with the University of Dublin. The success of the institute is due, in no small way, to the unremitting dedication of its various presidents and the members of the teaching staff.
The regional technical colleges are a more modern development, most of which were established in the 1970s. When one compares the 1980 enrolments to the current enrolments, one is struck by the enormous strides which they have made. Today, as the Minister pointed out, there are about 25,000 students attending these colleges and about 10,000 attending the Dublin Institute of Technology. We need to pay attention to the further growth of these institutions.
We have to strike a balance between the academic and the practical, technical courses these institutions offer. For years Irish education was — and still is to a large degree — purely academic. The economy would benefit if we could get a proper mix between academic and practical, technical courses.
Industry has come to realise the value of these institutions and the quality of their graduates. Having worked in education at post-primary level, I know that industry was slow to employ those graduates in the beginning. Any change is a slow process but, thankfully, industries are now employing these graduates and are reaping great benefits from the quality of their work.
The continued development of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology is essential to good economic growth in the years ahead. These institutions have developed courses which are more oriented to the practicalities of industry and the economy in general. These colleges sit comfortably side by side with the universities. They have carved out their own distinctive niche in education and their futures are assured.
I believe — and it was discussed in the other House and by the Select Committee — that both the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology should be given university status eventually. The Minister should set out a time frame within which this might be achieved. Certain things would have to be done before they could be given that status and if the Minister set out a time frame the colleges could starting working towards fulfilling all the requirements. Changes would need to be made to the curriculum and methods of certification. If the colleges knew the prerequisites they could work towards them. We need a good balance between the purely academic and the more practical orientation in third level education. University status would give a further impetus to the development of these colleges and we should actively pursue it.
I wish to refer in passing to the decision, in principle, by the former Government to introduce free third level education some time in the near future. I am not satisfied with that glib proposal because as it stands, and as it was announced, it lacks fairness and equity. Further to that, it is proposed at a time when the primary and post-primary sectors are continuing to operate in a milieu of scarce resources. I wish to give details to the House of some of the cuts which have been brought about in educational funding during the course of this current year.
The voluntary secondary schools attended a meeting in the Department of Education a couple of days ago. All six of the voluntary secondary schools in County Monaghan were present as were the public representatives from the county. We had an interesting discussion in the Department. However, certain figures were placed before us and the House should know the position.
The income used by managers of voluntary secondary schools to keep the institutions going comes from capitation grants. Departmental officials admitted that if these per capita grants had maintained their real value over the last number of years, they would currently stand at £202 per student. However, this year schools are being paid £158 per student. One does not have to be a mathematician to realise the huge gulf that exists between the amount of funding required and the amount of funding being provided.
We also discovered that there was quite a substantial cut in the book grant for necessitous pupils this year — up to 25 per cent in many cases. That cut was applied to some schools where the enrolment has increased by 15 or 20 per cent; in those cases the cut is greater. I fail to understand how a Labour Party Minister in particular could justify the cut under that particular heading — book grants for necessitous pupils — but it has been done.
The schools were not notified about the cut until after September. In every case the schools assumed they would get at least the level of the grant they had last year and obviously had to take steps to provide grants for students. As a result, the schools are in a right mess. They had to dig into their empty pockets to find the money. One school pointed out that its management is currently running the school on an overdraft of £30,000. This should give Members some indication of the current commitment to post-primary education.
Subject grants for practical subjects, such as woodwork, drawing and art, in post-primary schools have been reduced to a farcical level. The amount per student granted by the Department to schools is totally inadequate; it would barely supply the materials necessary for the certificate examinations alone, let alone supplying materials used in the day-to-day teaching of these subjects.
It is coming through strongly to me that the voluntary sector feels under siege and is convinced that there is an ideological battle going on in which it is being sidelined. We cannot afford that. There is a good mix of public and private voluntary schools at post-primary level. The actions of any Minister who would try to interfere with their current status should be carefully examined.
The voluntary sector has made an enormous contribution to the development and continuation of post-primary education over the years. It is clear, given some of things in which she has been involved, that the former Minister has some sort of ideological bias in that direction. It has to be said that the vocational sector is also doing a marvellous job. The two systems work side by side without any difficulty.
In every town there tends to be at least two schools, one public and one private voluntary; both fulfil necessary requirements. We cannot do without the voluntary sector at this stage. If the former Minister is not reappointed, the voluntary sector will heave a sigh of relief. That is the information I am getting. When the new appointment is made that sector will be looking to the Minister and the Government to restore, with some degree of equity, proper funding for the running of their schools.
With regard to the proposal for free third level education, participation rates in third level education are highest in areas which are convenient to the colleges and lowest in remote areas.
That is not true.
It is not natural but it is true.
Kerry has the highest participation rate.
I have seen figures for west Cavan and other places which are quite remote from colleges and participation levels are very low. The statistics are there to prove it.
Mayo and Kerry——
The reason is the additional cost involved in getting students to the centres and maintaining them.
The lowest participation rate is in Dublin.
Senator Cotter, without interruption please.
We will discuss that later. Throughout the provincial counties the participation rates are as I have stated. This is caused by the additional costs involved which families are unable to bear.
Any proposal to introduce more equity into third level education will have to go further than just saying we will have free education. The public are not in a position to accept such a statement because everybody now knows that while national education is designated as being free, it is patently not free. The same applies in the post-primary sector which is also designated as free but is not. Both second level and national schools are forever trying to get money from parents to keep the show on the road.
If the Government proposes to pursue its proposal for free third level education we will have to oppose it unless it is introduced in an equitable way. The Government would have to introduce further proposals to ensure equity in the system. One method would be to examine and try to improve maintenance grants, particularly for those living in remote areas. It is also necessary to look at families who are unable to avail of grants. The Government would have to use tax breaks and other methods to assist those families to avail of necessary third level education.
The former Minister was involved in a broad spectrum of issues. She showed promise when appointed but the promise has largely turned to ashes in recent times. The meeting she held in Dublin Castle was excellent in itself and seemed to form a basis for agreement on the various proposals she had vis-a-vis regional and local authorities in education. However, subsequent actions by the then Minister have brought those proposals to naught. At this stage I do not believe anybody supports local or regional education authorities. It is a shame that this has happened. If the new Government is to make any progress in those areas, a new hand will have to be put in charge.
The two Bills before us have been constructed by a Labour Party Minister. Given that party's overt commitment to openness, transparency and accountability, particularly in recent weeks, I examined the Bills with those issues in mind. I wished to see if the overt motivation of the Labour Party was translated into practice. However, I was disappointed.
In section 2 of both Bills the Minister sought the power to appoint a commission to carry out the functions of the governing body, chairman and director. Appointments to State boards and to commissions of this nature are powers which Ministers can use in a self-centred way; they are not answerable to anybody for such appointments. Although questions can be asked in the Dáil, in general such boards and commissions are populated by faceless people who are unknown to the public. That is wrong. The public has a jaundiced view of Ministers who make appointments to boards, commissions and so forth. If a Minister is involved the public is convinced that the appointments are made totally on the basis of grace and favour, in other words, it is seen as political favouritism.
Except when it is Fine Gael.
No, I am speaking in a general context. If Fine Gael were in power I would like to see certain changes made as well.
The public is turned off by such practices. The public — or 99.9 per cent of the people — never receive a phone call to say "there is a little job going in the Judiciary" or "a board is being appointed, would you like to sit on it?" That is how such appointments are made. There is no competition for such positions. Ordinary members of the community who are looking for a job must compete for it. They are not happy that appointments to State boards, commissions, the Judiciary and so forth are made in such a laissez faire manner. I sympathise with them. We must assure the public that appointments are, in the first place, good appointments. I am not concerned about the background of a person who accepts a particular position or whether the person is a Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour Party supporter. Such sympathies must be discounted. However, I am concerned that the public is convinced that appointments are genuine and that the appointees are qualified to fulfil their functions. We are not doing that at present. The public is sceptical of the systems being operated in that area.
I have put down an amendment which applies to the two Bills. It provides that, when a Minister makes an appointment or, in this case, appoints a commission, the appointees should appear before the Select Committee on Social Affairs at a public hearing. I assume there will be no objection to that amendment. It introduces the qualities of accountability and openness for which people — particularly the Labour Party — are screaming. I assume my amendment will receive the full support of the Labour Party. If it does not, people will make up their own minds about the intentions of the Labour Party and the practice as against the promise. There has always been a difficulty in that area.
Maybe we do not trust the Select Committee.
The practice and the promise have always been a little far apart. When the Government was formed after the election in 1992 the Labour Party brought members of their families into Government with them and put them on the public payroll. That is a matter of fact. I am not aware of any Fianna Fáil Ministers who did that. Perhaps they did, but I am not aware of it. We must look at the promise and the practice and we should beware of deceiving the public.
The Senator should speak to the two Bills.
I am discussing an element of the Bill which relates to the appointment of the commission.
We will discuss the other aspects another time.
It is a whispering tactic.
It is not a whispering tactic.
It is abuse though.
It is on the record of the other House that what I am saying is correct.
The Senator without interruption.
Everybody will get an opportunity to speak. The facts are there. Those who are putting themselves forward as shining white knights should be a little more circumspect in their comments and be more conscious of what they have done and how the public will judge them eventually. It appears that the Labour Party is on the crest of a wave. However, waves, as they approach the shore, have a tendency——
——to drown people.
——to get smaller and less effective. I assume that when the public settles down and looks at the spectrum of events it will see that there is a huge gap between the promise and the practice. I hope the Labour Party will examine my amendment and support it in the interests of openness, transparency and accountability.
Surely the Senator wants that too?
Yes, that is why I have put down the amendment. I hope we will have a good discussion on it later.
I have put down other amendments. Some of them have been discussed in the other House so it will be easier for us to deal with them this afternoon. I will press a number of the amendments and I hope some of them will be accepted or that we achieve some sort of agreement on them. I look forward to those discussions.
I have a difficult job today. I am saddened that a college in my county must be discussed in this House and that special legislation is necessary to put a management structure in place there. It is difficult for me because the college means so much to Donegal, to the future of the students and to the generation in that county that will require third level education.
We waited many years for that college. There was no third level education available to our young people. The building of the regional college in Letterkenny in 1982 was a major development that had been eagerly anticipated. As the late Bishop MacFeely said, although we regretfully had to export some of our young people at least the college equipped them so that they might aspire to higher employment than digging tunnels. The college was the seventh regional technical college to be built.
The late Bishop MacFeely persuaded the late Seán Lemass to provide the college in Letterkenny. Of the seven regional technical colleges, none was more necessary. Devastation had been wrought in the area as a result of our isolation and our peripherality and no development was as welcome in Donegal as the regional technical college.
There were many problems over the years, caused mainly because it was a small college, with 500 students initially, but it grew. Today, salaries at the college amount to £7 million. There are 168 teachers and the student population is almost 1,500 in an area which did not have a tradition of third level education. If one provides a regional college in Dublin, Limerick, Galway or elsewhere where there is a third level institution, there is a pattern, procedure and structure. However, in County Donegal, it was a completely new structure which encountered all the problems involved in growing as a college. Some of the best teachers and committed lecturers were involved.
However, the college got into serious difficulty when involvement by teachers and lecturers in areas outside the college was accepted as the norm, that is, where part-time lecturers undertook work outside the college. This situation existed in the college to the extent that it promoted internal jealousy. Whatever the type of outside involvement, it had a detrimental effect on the college. It reached such a point at one stage that I approached Deputy Higgins and asked him if there was any such difficulty in UCG. He told me his experience was not dissimilar to the position in the college. There was much trouble because the pursuit of activities outside the college promoted internal strife.
At one stage a lecturer, who undertook architectural or design work outside the college, designed a school. He featured prominently, advertising the fact that he designed schools. The school in Letterkenny was for disabled people and he featured prominently in the photograph of those involved at the formal opening of the Little Angels School in Letterkenny. He was a lecturer who was paid full-time by the board of management. This is an example of the difficulties that would arise.
At that time, the Department had no structures in place whereby those involved and paid on a full-time basis should and could not be involved in outside activity. Much of the trouble at the regional college in Letterkenny started as a result of the fact that lecturers could be classified as part-time because they had other activities outside the college. That caused much jealousy.
I have 30 minutes to make my contribution to this debate but it would take me three days to cover all the details. It is a pity I do not have three days because I want to do justice to the issue. I have a responsibility in this area because I come from County Donegal and I have an in-depth knowledge of what happened at Letterkenny regional technical college. I was chairman of the board of management for the five years previous to the setting up of the current administrative structure.
As I said, the trouble started with those who were involved in activities outside the college. This difficulty developed to the point where a new principal was appointed. In 1985, I was a member of the panel who interviewed the teachers and we appointed a principal who came from outside the college. The internal difficulties in the college were so serious that we were glad to get a suitable candidate from outside. It is with much concern and difficulty that I contribute to this important debate. The newspapers have printed many statements; every politician who felt like it jumped on the bandwagon about the Letterkenny regional technical college in recent months. Some of the national newspapers must not have had much to write about if they had to feature Letterkenny regional technical college as their lead story. One article in a local paper stated that £25 million for the regional technical college was in doubt following union trouble, that a £25 million funding project for the extension and development of the regional college was in serious jeopardy due to the ongoing controversy involving the board of management at the regional technical college. I will not quote the author of the article but I was disappointed to read it.
We believed we would solve some of the college's problems by the appointment of a principal from outside the area — he came from Birmingham. We were wrong. Everybody makes some mistakes but I was one of the interview board and we made a very serious mistake by appointing a principal from outside the college. We listened to the principal putting his case. He said he had spent almost 20 years developing a college and making a major contribution to education in England. He dearly loved home and said he wished to return and contribute something to his native county. He went on to say that the activities of a good principal did not stop when the college closed in the evening; they had to continue through after care and outreach education. He used all the nice phrases. From his experience on the ground in the college in Birmingham, the principal said he had approximately 98 per cent success in after care, by seeking jobs and keeping in touch with his students. We fell for it. On the day I found it almost too good to be true. The man said that at 5 p.m. in Letterkenny and he was on duty in Birmingham the following morning. I rang the college in Birmingham next morning to see if he was on duty and he was. After that, I believed in him and played some role in his appointment, which was a disaster for the college.
Some people have jumped on the political bandwagon and would have us understand that the trouble at the college only emerged recently with the appointment of the board of governors. Special focus has been placed on the chairman of the board of governors. This chairman has been called a political hack and it has been said that he used the college. There has been a great deal of innuendo but to my knowledge that is not the situation. I am surprised that the special investigation into the college did not consult those who were involved in the board of management prior to the establishment of the board of governors. As chairman of the college's board of management for the previous five years I had gained an in-depth knowledge and experience over those years. I did not expect to make a contribution but I thought I would have been consulted. I formed the impression that Dr. Hederman O'Brien came to do an in-depth examination of the difficulties at the college with the brief that this was a political problem. The examination was totally ineffective as her findings did not relate to the real problems.
When the former chairman of the board of governors was appointed I persuaded him to take an interest in the college because of its serious difficulties and he finally agreed. I gave him files on seven difficult cases, I am pleased that he pursued them and, in two cases, got results. He spent his own money in investigating the problem of drugs and was successful in detecting the drug pushers in the college.
In another case one person was hell bent on doing anything but his job as lecturer. He was employed for four or five terms and the board of management finally said "no more". He went above the board of management to the Department or the Minister or somebody with influence and obtained leave of absence. I persuaded the former chairman of the board of governors to pursue that case and, again, he was successful. He established that the person involved was involved in activities outside the college, that he bought a first class ticket charged to the college in his expenses and traded it for two tickets — one for his wife and one for himself. The former chairman of the board of governors, who has been called a political hack, made a major contribution to solving problems in the college.
As chairman of the board of management of the college I convened 11 special meetings — four of them on Saturdays in the Mount Errigal Hotel — with Deputy Blaney, chairman of the vocational education committee, Sean O'Longon chief executive officer of the vocational education committee and the principal of the college. The House will understand that it was not normal activity. To indicate to those who may think that this is a recent problem the dates of some of the meetings were Friday, 15 May 1987, Saturday, 16 May 1987, 5 June 1987, 12 June 1987 and Saturday, 5 December 1987.
I do not know how Dr. Hederman O'Brien managed an inquiry into the college and made recommendations without consulting those involved. I would readily have made the files and the information available which would have clearly indicated that we had a problem going back to 1987 and before that. That problem was compounded the day we appointed the principal — who is still there — on 1 April 1985. It was April fool's day and we on the board of management were the fools. I have more files than I could carry into the House — nothing is lost or missing and they are all available to help to put in place a structure that will manage the college properly.
Those who try to nail the former chairman of the board of governors on political grounds do a disservice to the college and are on the wrong track. Many people know exactly what happened and I compliment the former chairman of the board of governors for his consistent approach and determination to clean up a bad management structure at the college.
As chairman of the board of management of the college I had occasion to write to the chief executive officer — also the finance officer — involved on the board of management. I wrote to him on 18 February 1988 as follows:
Please include on Agenda for Special Meeting of the Board of Management of the Regional Technical College on Monday 29th February the following items: (at 11 a.m.)
1. The failure of the Regional Technical College to proceed as planned with the 2 Diploma Courses in 1987/88. [The reason I included that was that the principal was missing for four months and the teacher who was planning to introduce two diploma courses could not get into the office to get the letters.]
2. The grounds for the Principal withholding information supplied to him on 13th January 1988 by the TUI until the 12th February. [He had important information about which he did nothing for a month]
3. The failure of the Principal of the College to act as instructed at a Meeting of the Board of Management of the College on 27th November 1987, i.e. the Board of Management decided that before the College would undertake any outside work, approval would have to come from the Board of Management — the Principal was directed to inform the College Staff accordingly. Up to Monday 15th February the principal has not informed the College Staff of the decision of the Board of Management.
4. Testing for the Department of Marine. [This was done under the management of the regional technical college at the marine college in Killybegs. This scheme has a long history — the idea was to organise testing of fish quality, but it was impeded from achieving its full potential because it was badly managed and controlled, largely because it was left to the principal of the college].
5. The Principal's letter, dated 14 January 1988 to the Vocational Committee/District Auditor. [In my opinion, what was written in that letter was not true and I want it investigated.]
6. Principal's absence from the college on outside activities.
At the meeting convened on 29 February all those items were discussed. The minutes stated that the principal must win back the confidence of the board of management. He admitted at the meeting that he had lost our confidence and was foolish enough to sign his name to the minutes.
The board of management was aware the principal was a problem, which made its job much harder but it was able to handle it. However, when the 1992 Act came into force knowledgeable people who had given up their Saturdays for the regional technical college and put great effort into its management were swept aside. The principal now had autonomy and the committee no longer had control over him or his financial management. That Act prevented involvement by the vocational education committee in those affairs. Not only that, it removed Deputies Blaney, Harte and me from the board of management. I question that provision because I do not believe everyone who becomes involved in Irish politics is a gangster, a crook or a political hack but that most are doing an honest job. The people involved in the management of Letterkenny regional technical college had an onerous job and I felt that even those who differed from me politically were sincere.
It was a mistake to exclude them. If this provision is challenged under the Constitution, I do not think the court will uphold the exclusion of people simply because they are Members of the Oireachtas. It may yet be challenged. Membership of the Oireachtas is temporary and it should not be possible to exclude a member of the Oireachtas from the board of management of an regional technical college. It was wrong to exclude us and introduce a new group of people who have not yet discovered the problems.
It is with a certain amount of sadness that I speak today. Many issues could be mentioned but listing them all may not achieve much. For example, at another meeting we had to consider the unauthorised appointment by the principal of a temporary teacher.
On 18 February 1988 I wrote to the chief executive officer, asking him to supply me with copies of claims for travel, expenses and subsistence submitted by the principal of the regional technical college. They show that the principal was away from the college much of the time. In January 1987, he was in Dublin five times and once in Galway; in February he was six times in Dublin; in March he was three times in Dublin; and for every month that year he was away from Letterkenny on four or five occasions, involved in every outside management structure except what he was appointed to do. That indicates the failures and the difficulties at the regional technical college. People may ask why we did not sack or suspend the principal. I asked him for his resignation but he would not give it. He employed a solicitor who sent a letter to the board of management. The Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, wrote to the principal on 19 November 1987 and 20 January 1988, both times about fairly important matters but the principal took four months to reply. Senator Cotter expressed surprise earlier but when I was chairman of the County Donegal vocational education committee the vocational education committee sacked the principal of a college in Ballyshannon and the then Fine Gael Minister reinstated him, despite the wishes of the vocational education committee. I directed the vocational education committee to take the Minister to the High Court, where we won the case and succeeded in sacking the principal who was doing everything except what he should have been doing in Ballyshannon. That should be on the record, although I am not anxious to score political points. I will give details if asked. The Minister should also know that in 1989 the Department of Education ordered a review of the regional technical college but nothing untoward was reported, despite the Department having been given the information. That was a mistake. The examination by Dr. Hederman O'Brien was a political one to nail one person in County Donegal. Because of this I ask that there be another examination, and I will make new information available. I will also prove beyond doubt that the examination undertaken by Dr. Hederman O'Brien was superficial, did not address the details of the case and did not seek information that was available.
Before the Minister establishes a commission to run the college, he should clean out the existing system and ensure that any new structure will be soundly based and will not present any difficulties. In this respect I ask for a further examination of the matter as there is much evidence available, many files to be considered and plentiful problems to be addressed. The files are available for scrutiny and I am anxious that matters be cleaned out, because our college, for our county, is paramount.
Nobody in our county will be used as a scapegoat, and this was attempted recently. In this respect it is important to ensue that this inquiry does not conclude that the problem which arose was the total responsibility of one person. On the contrary, the person concerned made a gallant attempt to clean it up and he has my total support. He did what I expected of him, and this is not a bad reflection on the former chairman of the Board of Governors at Letterkenny; quite the contrary.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House, and also the report of the Minister, Deputy Smith, who outlined to the House the acceptance of this important Bill, one which is badly needed. Both Bills before the House are important, but for those, like myself, who come from County Donegal, the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill is also important in that a major problem has come to the fore over the years and it was vital that action be taken to address it.
The 12 regional technical colleges in the country have made a major contribution to education, both in Letterkenny and nation-wide. Letterkenny regional technical college, the improvements there and the number of students attending it have helped the industrial development of County Donegal. Major firms have been established in Letterkenny, such as Unifi Textured Yarns, IMED and ITE, which has been recently established, has its training headquarters in the regional college. The regional college has benefited the town, the county and the north west region to a great degree, because it allows for the development of skills which encourages investment by industrial units.
I compliment the former Minister for Education, Deputy Breathnach on establishing the investigation when requested into the college in Letterkenny. There were major problems at the college, and in this respect I compliment Dr. Hederman O'Brien on the report she produced on them. I also admire Senator McGowan's defence of the former chairman of the college, which is to be welcomed. Anybody who defends a friend, as Senator McGowan did, must be complimented.
It is never the wrong time to say the right thing.
I will not compliment the former chairman as Senator McGowan has done. The first students, 77 in all, were enrolled in Letterkenny regional technical college in 1971-72. By 1993-94 the college had 1,500 students with a staff of 168. That was no mean achievement, and people such as Senator McGowan and Deputy Blaney must be complimented on the role they played in the establishment and development of the college.
An examination reveals that 60 to 70 per cent of the students attending the college come from outside the town and the county. These students had to be catered for, including their social life, because they are away from home. The fact that we in County Donegal did not have a real link with other parts of the country left us in the position that we had to undertake this task, or else the students had to look after themselves. The spending power of the students, both in Letterkenny and in County Donegal is enormous, whether it be on food, drink, rented accommodation and so on. Figures such as £7 million have been generated for Letterkenny from the regional college alone, which is big "bucks" in anybody's money.
It is necessary to consider the nature of the facilities available to the students at the college, and I would question the kind of supports, both from the college and the board of management, which were provided to students who were away from home for a long time. In this respect, the conduct of the students in Letterkenny was excellent. People made political capital from criticising and scandalising them, but the students had an excellent record with the local community and the people they stayed with. They were good for the town and the town got on quite well with them.
The troubles in Letterkenny started a number of years back. Lest anybody has vague ideas as to how they started, it is necessary to state that they commenced because the students moved their place of entertainment from an establishment in Letterkenny to another establishment, which I will not mention. Immediately, one of the directors of the former establishment criticised the students. Those, like myself, who live in the town and saw what happened agree that the threats, the pressure and intimidation which took place were a disgrace. It was not deserving, and should not have happened, but politics being what it is in County Donegal, that is the way it was. It was open season against the students, and some people went to town on them in style.
I am aware of the identity of the person, whose name I will not disclose, who gave the database of the student's names and addresses to the directors of the Golden Grill. I also know the girl who was told to hand over the database to these directors. What is the reason for the delay by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in providing a response? The agency has had the relevant information for almost a year and in view of this I wonder if those in the agency have been got at, because I am concerned that they have not undertaken any serious investigations into the situation in Letterkenny. That is a national agency, and when the names and addresses of people are disclosed in such a manner somebody should be held accountable. The identities of those who distributed the database in Letterkenny are well known, and they should be made to pay for what they did.
Some people considered that there were alleged irregularities of student's accounts. A report from the Garda Síochána is still awaited with regard to these accounts, but a reading of the report submitted by Dr. Hederman O'Brien reveals that there is very little in it which deals with the students. There was no major investigation of the students, and at the end of the day, the students have not come out of the affair too badly. Students are students, no matter what way the situation is considered, and the attacks made on them by those who are part of the right wing agenda in our area, examples of which were on display in the House today and in the other House yesterday, angers me. Protection is given by these people to the former chairman of the board but nothing is given to the students, who are away from home and have to overcome challenges. We must help them as much as we can.
Letterkenny is a good town and the number of students there has grown year by year. The growth over the last five years has been phenomenal and the indications are that by 1997 student numbers may rise to around 2,600. It is important for us as politicians to see that this happens. A rise in student numbers is important for the development of the town. The college is and has been excellent and we must do all we can to restore its good name so that it continues to grow and enjoy major achievements, as it has in the past.
Once this matter is cleared up and the Bill comes into force a commission will run the college in place of the people who have done so until now. The sooner it is cleaned up the better. Educational standards are important. Good management practices are also important and we did not have them in Letterkenny in recent years. It is important for the regional technical college to maintain its local and regional position and to become a centre of excellence in education.
People have asked why this Bill is needed. Only has only to look at the record of the college over the years to see the mess that has been created. The college has been established in Letterkenny for 22 years. Senator McGowan, Deputy Blaney and Councillor McGlinchey have been chairmen of it, the latter since September 1991. There were no problems until the students decided to change the venue of their disco, which was a great money spinner. Since then we have heard complaints about embezzlement and fraud. There have been such allegations from within the college itself. The Garda are investigating a fraud which is supposed to have taken place there. There have been accusations about politicians, staff and students. The situation is an absolute mess.
Drugs were mentioned. I cannot understand what Senator McGowan was talking about. If there were drugs in the college when the chairman took up his post, they are still there. There are drugs in every small town and they have not been cleaned out. Drugs were not a major problem in Letterkenny regional technical college. Attacks were made on the students in defence of the chairman. The drugs problem in the college was the only defence he had. Why did he resign if he had nothing to answer for? The report on the college was damning in regard to the director and the chairman.
The purpose of this Fianna Fáil Bill — much of the work on it was prepared by the Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition Government — is to rectify the situation in Letterkenny. It is important that the Bill also applies to other colleges because the same could happen in any of them. The students have been vilified time and time again. What supports were they given over the years? There is a one day strike in Letterkenny regional technical college today. Students are standing at the gates of both campuses because grants have not been fully paid to them. The powers that be in the college, at a very insensitive time, decided to deduct from grants moneys which were owed due to absences. These moneys were not deducted four weeks ago when they should have been. It was decided to deduct them after eight weeks and some of the students are left without a penny. This is a disgrace and very insensitive on the part of the management which should have learned over the years how to treat people. The lack of consideration of the welfare of students has been evident for years, particularly the last two years.
A number of speakers did not address the excellent report by Dr. Miriam Hederman O'Brien, for which I commend her, and defended the situation in Letterkenny and the chairman. I believe they are defending the indefensible. It is easy to attack the students and staff. Students and lecturers in the college are easy targets for politicians. Why did the chairman resign? The best he could do in his report was to attack the drug problem in the college.
Is it not a fact that drugs are available there?
There are drugs in every town.
Not in the Golden Grill.
I live in Letterkenny and I could give the Senator advice outside the door.
Senator Maloney without interruption. Senator Cassidy will have an opportunity to contribute.
I certainly will.
I have a great deal more experience in relation to drugs because I worked as a nurse for 26 years. I know a great deal more about them than Senator Cassidy.
I agree with that statement, but not in relation to the Golden Grill.
Charges were made about jobbery in the college. The dogs in the streets of Letterkenny are talking about it. People were saying they were given jobs days before the appointments were made. There have been High and Supreme Court actions.
Major problems are being addressed in the Bill. I commend it to the House. It will restore confidence in all the regional technical colleges. I want Letterkenny regional technical college to become a major educational centre. The confidence of the students and staff of the college and of the parents who send their children there must be restored.
I remind Senator Maloney that I never referred to the students. I want to put on record that I did not mention, criticise or——
I am sure the record will speak for itself.
This debate is very important. I bow to the Members from Letterkenny who have had knowledge of this problem for a long time. I concur with their statements on the important role which has been played by the college. From my long experience of the business I was in before I became a Member of the House in 1982, I know that the chairman, during his 40 years in public life, has established a reputation of being a person of great integrity. He was a very distinguished Member of this House and made valuable contributions to it. The junior Members may not know that he holds the record for the longest and second longest speeches in the Oireachtas. He is an intellectual and a man of the people.
For the last few months I have read about and closely followed the problem which exists in Letterkenny. The chairman took corrective action and now has to bear the brunt of a report which, in my opinion, should be re-examined. I concur with the call by Senator McGowan, the father of the House, for an independent commission to further investigate the matter. He placed before the House certain files which contain extra information about the investigation. These were not sought and could make a valuable contribution to changing the conclusions which were reached. Everyone knows it is difficult to run a business but the chairman of this distinguished body has been an extremely successful businessman and has made a valuable contribution to the life of Letterkenny for 30 years or more. I have had personal experience of his efficiency and generosity in providing the community with the benefits of the establishment with which he has been closely associated through the years and with a social life which was not in the area when he started there many years ago. His profession brings him into contact with young people on a daily basis. One cannot cast aside the service he has given to the community. For many years, too, he has given his time to organising evening activities for young people, thereby keeping them out of danger. I value his opinion.
Having read the reports on this issue in the newspapers and listened to the contributions here today, I am convinced that this has come to light as a result of the role played and the contributions made by this gentleman as chairman.
I am sure that the people of Letterkenny, the public representatives from Donegal here today and everyone associated with the college are disturbed by news of some happenings in the college in respect of which we are not speaking about everyone there, but about a few students and a small minority of the teaching staff. The teaching staff in Letterkenny Regional Technical College are as good as the teachers anywhere else in the country and the students in Donegal, who will make their contributions to the affairs of the State as our ambassadors abroad, are as good as other students throughout the world.
I cannot understand how the report came to its conclusions when various alarming things were happening there Various activities, as Senator McGowan said, were organised by people who spent thousands of pounds without getting value for money. No one can condone that. It was an enlightening experience to listen to the quotations read by Senator McGowan during his contribution. There is something seriously wrong in Letterkenny Regional Technical College which is damaging it. I agree with Senator McGowan's conclusions.
I have vast experience in the entertainment world and in this case I was amazed to find that, for example, cheques were often written for £2,000 on the day after a band's engagement although the band had been paid in cash the night before. That would not happen in most areas, it is not usual procedure. I also understand that 33 discos took place in 1992-93 and 1993-94, but only 16 of these were accounted for. If all these allegations are true, I do not know how any Senator can ask us to accept the report's findings. There are major discrepancies and issues here. These eminent people were not investigated or asked questions, therefore the examiner did not have a fair opportunity to meet them.
The Members from Donegal may say they know more about the problem than do people in Dublin. However, as regards drugs, I am not aware of any college where a students' booklet was published which had such a damning effect as that which was issued in Letterkenny Regional Technical College. I know little about drugs, but the Senator who spoke before me would know about them because of his profession. This booklet, which was in circulation in Letterkenny Regional Technical College for a number of years and which many college principals must have known about, states:
To minimise the very real risks of acid:—
(1) the first time you take it use only a small amount — perhaps ? of a tab.
(2) Do not take it alone, or with people you don't trust emotionally. And remember, if you drop a tab at 11 o'clock in the evening you will be peaking at around 2-3 in the morning when friends are trying to sleep.
On a point of order, the Senator is taking that quotation out of context. What he has said is wrong.
I am reading it from the school's booklet.
The Senator should read the entire page. What he said is unfair.
This should not be in any page. I have experience of dealing with young people at night for 30 years or more. This is a disgrace. I would like to know if the parents of students at this college are aware that this booklet is in circulation there. The chairman of the governing body and former Senator, Mr. Bernard McGlinchey, ran a 100 per cent establishment in County Donegal.
I would prefer if the Senator refrained from naming people.
The previous Members did, but I will abide by the Chair's ruling.
I ask that Members who are not here to defend themselves should not be named.
The same advice is given in every handbook which the students unions have throughout Ireland.
It is a disgrace. The Students Union is teaching trash to our young people. There are two former presidents of that union in the Dáil at present. It is no wonder these thoughts are planted in their minds. A former Member of this House, who has a well run establishment in County Donegal, would not allow, tolerate or consider making a living through such activities. I commend him for it here today and for the stance he has taken in bringing to light the actions and activities in this college.
I could talk for a long time, but Senator McGowan has highlighted this issue and many other things which I did not know were happening in that college. I commend the chairman who is not a political hack. He could make a living from many other industries, instead of serving the public voluntarily one day a week, as those of us, who are county councillors, do. We do not get anything for ourselves, but we give our time free of charge for the common good of the people in the areas we represent. How dare the press categorise us. There is no one from the press in the Gallery this evening, that shows how concerned the media is. If it is bad news, the media wants it in abundance, but if it is good news, it does not want to know.
I intend to introduce to this House a code of practice which must be adhered to if it can be legislated for because the media at present seems to be moving into the trash tabloid area. The English press are dumping their magazines in Ireland and we must follow suit by being alarmist. The press coverage given to this college has been negative. Senator McGowan quoted from various cuttings in the newspapers here today, it is scandalous reporting.
I have never had to make such a strong speech in the House in my 12 years as a Member, but I hope that the person who tried to put this college back on a sound footing, by keeping students away from drugs and leading a life which we led in our youth in the 1960s and 1970s, will not be victimised for telling the truth and exposing the various wrongs in the college.
This is a most extraordinary affair. In theory, we are discussing two separate pieces of legislation but we are actually discussing the affairs of a regional technical college. It is astonishing that it should have come to this. I have little quibble with regard to the legislation itself. No right minded person could begin to argue a case, if there is one, against the idea of gender balance. It seems that some of the steps the Minister and Minister of State have taken here are prudent and timely. However, the issue of the commission raises other questions. The three previous speakers have referred to their view of the factors which underlie the establishment of the commission and the truly extraordinary affairs which took place in the regional technical college in Donegal over a period of time.
I am profoundly disturbed that any educational institution should have become involved in such a maelstrom. Politics are very much to the fore in this matter. It is interesting that the headline in one of our newspapers this week referred to the ex-chairman, Councillor McGlinchey, as a political hack. I am not here to defend that man. I am here to defend all politicians and politically connected people who take public office. I have no experience of the board of that regional technical college under that or any other chairman. It was my great pleasure to serve for a time on the board of Carlow regional technical college under the chairmanship of a gentleman from your party, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. When he could have been replaced as chair when my party were in the majority, I refused to stand and contest that position against that councillor because I believed he had done a phenomenal job, as many of our councillors do around the country in all walks of life, irrespective of politics. They serve this nation as well as they can. It is profoundly wrong, unjust and unforgivable that simply because they are politically connected they should be labelled, as has happened in a national newspaper and to the discredit of a politician in the other House, as political hacks, a word which is derogatory and intended to hurt. It also clouds the issues and they are complex in this case.
There has been an interesting argument in the other House recently about whistleblowers. This term was invented in American public administration at the end of the Watergate era. The wrongdoings of the administration at that time were brought to the fore by public servants who were rightly and properly offended by the way the State institutions were being misused by people in political office. The concept of whistleblower legislation was introduced in the United States to protect patriotic public servants who believed that the only way they could protect the public good was by bringing to the attention of the media or of politicians things which they believed to be wrong within the administration.
The ex-chairman of the regional technical college in Donegal would very much fall into the category of a person who, motivated by the highest public objectives, tried to correct what he believed was wrong. From what I have read of this affair and having read the Hederman-O'Brien Report and the attendant publicity, it seems that there was a great deal wrong for a long period of time in the regional technical college in Donegal. Senator McGowan is an ex-chairman of Letterkenny regional technical college as is Deputy Blaney. Both are on record as outlining long-standing difficulties in that institution.
The immediate past chairman of the regional technical college came into office and apparently took it on himself to try, within his capacity, to sort out this extraordinarily complex set of affairs that already existed. He became, in the classic concept, a whistleblower. He wrote as follows to the Minister for Education on 17 October, 1993 and spoke about the student representative council:
Since becoming chairman, I have always insisted that at finance meetings, every line would be thoroughly examined and explained. Indeed, some of the things I highlighted would disturb your officials. I adopted this same procedure with the students' accounts. In the second week of June, Messrs. K and G [I will not mention their names because they are private individuals and cannot be here to defend themselves] asked to see me. They wanted me to agree that a staff member prepare the accounts [again I will not name the individual] instead of an accountant. I refused. It was obvious to me from the discussion that there was something seriously wrong.
The chairman went on to outline the affairs of the discos operated by the students:
The student discos were held in the Golden Grill, which is owned by me. The paid ex-cashier on duty for all student functions was ... [he mentions a staff member here, a person he speaks of in the most glowing terms who was of the highest and impeccable integrity and was extremely reliable.] His job was to collect the admission fee, pay the expenses and put the profit on an invoice giving full details in an envelope and then hand it over to either Mr. K or G. The accuracy of the invoices kept by the staff member was never queried. Following my meetings with students, I asked this staff member if she kept a record of the student discos and she told me she did.
The ex-chairman further outlines the details:
The list shows that in 1992 and 1993, the union made a profit of £31,000 on discos. Before going to the accountants, K rang my son and told him that he had mislaid some of [this lady's] invoices and asked could my son give him duplicates. My son, unaware of the records, told him that he did not have the figures. K then said that he could produce these figures from bank lodgements.
I appreciate the points the Senator is making, but I again ask him to try to avoid referring to people who can be identified.
I hope you will accept that I am trying to do that, a Leas-Chathaoirleach. Most of those involved in this issue are of the highest integrity and have tried to serve the State well.
There was serious misaccounting in the matter of the student discos. The then chairman of Letterkenny regional technical college tried to bring it to attention and deal with it in the context of the regional technical college itself. When he failed to do that, and this was obviously at the nub of all of these accusations, it was brought to the attention of the Minister.
The letter continues:
The accounts were presented at our meeting on 6 September. The accountant stated that "The system of control over cash receipts and payments was not however, sufficient to enable us to independently confirm that all cash receipts and payments were properly recorded. Where appropriate, therefore, we have to accept the assurances from the two officials of the students union that all transactions were included in the records." [The accounts were signed by a named official.]
The accounts suggest that the profit on the discos of £22,000 — the figure mentioned — is £9,000 short of the actual profit which was taken at the door and accounted for. The letter goes on to say that "The most serious aspect is that there is an obvious deficiency of approximately £15,000 in the capitation and college subsidy." When one adds those two figures together, the discrepancy comes to at least £24,000.
All of this was brought to the attention of the Department of Education in a letter to the Minister which was acknowledged by her in her usual courteous manner some days later. The then chairman offered to go to the Department of Education, bring any documentation he had and lay it before the Department. He was never asked to do so because a few weeks after this letter was written, Miriam Hederman-O'Brien was appointed to undertake her own study. The intriguing point is that none of the factors dealt with here appears in her report. They do not appear to have undergone, from my knowledge of the affair, anything like the degree of scrutiny or attention they deserve. The reality is that the previous chairman of the regional technical college, having tried first to resolve these issues at local level, brought them to the attention of the Department of Education 13 months ago. This man is now being eviscerated in the public press, abused by politicians in this and the other House and made the scapegoat for all that was wrong there. However he deserves our gratitude, because in a public, elected position he sought to bring to attention what he believed was wrong.
This is all significant because one of the suggestions in the Hederman-O'Brien report is that he was over involved in the management affairs of that college. Reading the report and the other material available it must be clear to anyone with an open mind that there was effectively no management system in that college and that very substantial amounts of money are not properly accounted for. I am not saying they were taken, I do not know what happened, but very substantial amounts of money which should have been taken into account were not.
There are other affairs mentioned here which are frightening. There is a suggestion, for example, that cheques were routinely signed by a member of staff and handed over. Cheques, totalling £10,000 were bounced right, left and centre. There is a frightening suggestion, which I ask the Minister and the Minister of State to investigate, that the chairman drew to the attention of the examiner — a month after his appointment — a cheque which, to say the least, was questionable but there is no reference to it in the examiner's report.
Specific aspects of the examiner's report are important. For example, there are suggestions that the chairman and another member of the board did not comply with guidelines issued by the Department on conflict of interest. I regarded those as very serious allegations, but the chairman's response makes it very clear he believes he has complied with the second schedule. The bank mentioned in the examiner's report also complied with the Act. Perhaps there is a difference of opinion here, or a difference of the presentation of the facts. I do not know the explanation for these differences, but it strikes me that the differences between the two viewpoints demand further elaboration and explanation. We should, after all, inform ourselves in all our debates and deliberations by considerations of justice. The previous chairman of the regional technical college is entitled to justice, like any person in this State. The fact that he was a publicly elected official, does not mean he can become a target for individuals who set themselves up in judgment.
The Minister should address other fundamental issues in this report. For example, the Hederman-O'Brien report demands explanation.
I was so concerned about these affairs that I wrote in the following terms to the Minister for Education on 8 November 1994.
There were a number of specific points which have come to my attention and which I believe I would like to see pursued. I know from the press reports that there is some criticism that the ex-Chairman became "too involved" in management. I was very surprised at this comment which appeared in a number of press statements. I would have imagined that if a chairman of a board believed that something was fundamentally wrong and that the management structures which were in place were not handling the deficiencies, the chairman would have some considerable responsibilities to highlight the deficiencies.
As I understand it. Councillor McGlinchey, while chairman of the regional technical college, attempted to do this. I understand that he wrote to your office a year ago offering to come to Dublin and answer any questions that existed in the Department regarding the operations of the regional technical college. Apart from an acknowledgement he did not, as I understand it, hear anything further from your Department. This, given the subsequent revelations regarding the regional technical colleges strikes me as very strange indeed, as I would have imagined that a Government Department, aware that something was happening in a body which operated under the aegis of that Department would be more than anxious to have every possible piece of information regarding the problems.
Details relating to the financial affairs of the students' union which in my view are at the very heart of the evident decline in the relationship between the same students' union and the chairman of the regional technical college would seem to me to be either overlooked or totally ignored in the examiner's report. For example, it is my information that the Chairman has sent the examiner a photocopy of the bounced cheque which had issued in March 1994, a month after the examiner had begun her examination. There is no reference to this in the examiner's report.
Another matter which does not seem to get the attention which it would require in the examiner's report was the role of a specific officer in the college [I will not mention his name, he was a staff member.] who was responsible for cosigning cheques and overseeing the Students' Union accounts. He has admitted signing blank cheques. He has also admitted, I am informed, that his name appeared on cheques which he had not signed. He has further admitted that most of the cheques he signed were made out to cash. [What does the Minister think of that?] It seems that the same officer also accepts that £10,000 in cheques issued by the union were bounced by the bank. This should surely be a matter of some public concern as considerable amount of funds of the Students' Union come, after all, via the grants from public funds.
Clearly the Students' Union in question was handling its accounts in a remarkably slipshod, if not a bizarre manner, yet from the public commentary the villain of the piece seems to be the chairman of the regional technical college board who sought, in my mind correctly, to ensure that things were done in a less slipshod manner.
We are not talking about just the ex-chairman of the regional technical college, we are talking about every public representative who takes over chairmanship of any agency in this State. They are entitled to our protection and respect. They are entitled to a fair hearing and, by any objective standards, the ex-chairman of the regional technical college in Letterkenny has not had a fair hearing. I hope that we will have a full discussion on the Hederman-O'Brien report.
As the two buzz words seem to be "transparency" and "accountability", the outgoing chairman should be honoured for the way he highlighted the gross inaccuracies and carry-on in this college. We seem to have put his head on the chopper because he brought it to the notice of the general public. It is hypocritical to argue that everything should be out in the open, when we want to crucify the man who highlighted the problem.
I fail to understand why there was only one person on the commission set up to inquire into the workings of this college. Why were none of the public representatives on the board of management asked for their opinions? Something very wrong seems to be going on and will have to be tackled. There seems to be a view that anybody who is not a public representative can make no mistake but, very often, they make the biggest mistakes. We seem to disregard public representatives, yet they are elected by the public and are accountable to them.
Anyone that has been elected for over 40 years by the public knows that the electorate has changed a great deal during that time. They must be doing something right to be re-elected so many times. According to what I have here, at a meeting of the board of management of the college on 27 September 1987, because of the failure of the principal of the college to act as instructed, the board of management decided that before the college would undertake any outside work, approval would have to come from the board of management but this was not adhered to. Is the previous Chairman to be attacked because he insisted that this would have to be adhered to? Some £100,000 worth of equipment was bought by the college on a leasing arrangement without a tender, a quotation or an approach to the board. Would a county council or local authority allow that to happen? Why was it allowed here and why do we crucify the man who has highlighted this?
At another meeting the senior officer submitted a request for a Rank Zerox 5053 copier which cost £14,500. He claimed he needed it immediately. The Chairman objected, got other quotes and bought a similar machine for £11,000. Who was to get the £3,500 which this man saved? Why were quotations not sought in the first instance?
The former Chairman has proved himself in business. As someone who worked with him for the past 20 years on the health board, I know he questions expenses and costs incurred. Now because he does so, we condemn him. We must ask ourselves many searching questions. Do we want Chairmen who are prepared to do the unpopular thing and show up inaccuracies and wrong-doings or do we want Chairmen who will take the line of least resistance and close their eyes to cover-ups?
I saw the great work he did in the health area. I have opposed the abuse of alcohol and drugs over the years. The outgoing Chairman was the first man at a meeting of the North Western Health Board 15 years ago to say that it was not alcohol but the abuse of drugs which we need to stamp out. He was ahead of his time. He took positive action. He had the courage to bring in the gardaí and have six drug pushers barred from the premises. Is that a crime?
Two were arrested.
Two of them were arrested and possibly charged. Is that why we are crucifying the man? It is scandalous that a man of his calibre who had the guts to begin to clear out a rotten system should be castigated. If there were more men like him, there would be fewer drug problems. I am sure many parents of students attending that college are singing his praises for saving and protecting their families from the curse of drugs and for clearing up matters at the college.
As Senator McGowan said, some people have been doing outside work when they should have been working in the college. This should be looked at. Some colleges have set up companies where lecturers provide classes after school hours. They are charging students for these classes which should be held during school hours and which should be on the curriculum. We need to clean up our third level institutions.
The outgoing Chairman, a former Senator, will go down in history as the man who turned the first sod to clear out the ruin in our thirds level institutions. This job must be finished. Donegal is no exception, this probably happens throughout the country. I do not know why anyone should be given a contract without sealed tenders first being opened at a public meeting as in local authority and health boards. An organisation should not be able to give thousands of pounds to its friends in the trade. In this case £3,500 was added to the price of a piece of equipment. Who was to get this money? I applaud the actions of the outgoing Chairman. If there were more people like him, we would have fewer public services bills to pay.
I commiserate with much of what was said. As regards drugs, I agree with what was said about advice given and I have seen this in other regional technical colleges and universities. That does not imply that students use drugs, but information given to them is not very helpful. The students in Letterkenny regional technical college have moved their disco from Leo's to Hotel Clanree. I do not know whether they take drugs but they certainly drink because Tia Maria, vodka, peach schnapps, scotch, Carling Black Label and Rolling Rock are all £1. That is certainly an inducement to students. We read reports in the past week about young people and drink and it is appalling that they should be induced to drink in this fashion.
This debate is about somebody trying to discredit the former Chairman of the regional technical college. They will not get away with it because everything is on the record and above board. The Chairman has informed both the Minister and the examiner, Dr. Hederman O'Brien, of everything which took place. There are some facts which should be placed on the record of the House of which Members may not be aware.
The student representative council in the Letterkenny regional technical college consists of a president and two vice presidents — there is no executive committee. When a student pays £100 registration, the governing body hands over £25 to the union to be used for the benefit of the students. I do not believe there is a legal obligation to do so, although in 1992 the college paid £36,400. The board of management gave £1,500 in May and £8,500 later. Most colleges do not bother to do this. Payment has always been subject to proper audited accounts being presented. All cheques had to be signed by a lecturer, by the president or vice president, although as we heard, one of those involved signed blank cheques.
The accounts which should have been ready in April only reached the board in September. The former Chairman always insisted at finance committee meetings that they be examined line by line. He quickly discovered that there was something grievously wrong. A previous speaker suggested that this arose because the students shifted their custom from one disco to another and we should call a spade a spade — the students left the Golden Grill which is owned by the former chairman. However, I do not believe that is the reason.
From 1992 to 1993 the students made a profit of £31,000 on their discos, which is a great amount of money. When the accounts were presented on 6 September, the accountant stated that the system of control over cash receipts and payments was not sufficient to enable him to independently confirm that all cash receipts and payments were properly recorded and that where appropriate he had to accept assurances from the president and vice president that all transactions were included in the records and that the accounts were signed by the president.
Those accounts suggested that the profit from discos was £22,000. Where did the figure of £31,000 come from? That was the figure recorded by someone who the former chairman described as a woman of impeccable integrity and extremely reliable who took the money at the discos, namely Senator Maloney's sister. There is an obvious deficiency of approximately £15,000.
I ask Senator Lydon to refrain from identifying people.
I did so as a mark of respect.
I am sure the Senator appreciates the difficult situation.
I was speaking about her integrity and nothing else. I apologise if I have offended her in any way.
Mr. McGlinchey speaks highly of her.
I see. There is a deficiency of approximately £15,000 in the capitation fees. This would mean that the total discrepancy is probably £24,000. It has been suggested that the former chairman should not get involved in trying to clear up this matter. However, it is his duty as chairman — in fact, he is bound to do it. The college solicitors issued a letter from which I will quote as it is important that we realise what they are doing. It states:
Mr. McGlinchey, chairman of the regional technical college, would have been in dereliction of his duty if he failed to bring to the attention of the governing body information in his possession which indicated that there were serious deficiencies in the accounts and figures, which tended to show that all of the funds received by the SRC are not recorded in the books of the council.
Yet this man is being pilloried in public. It is a common thing these days to try a man when he has no chance of defending himself. However, he is putting up a good defence and I do not think anything will stick to him. He had to take matters in hand.
Senator Cassidy spoke of the former chairman's record as a legislator in this House and his integrity. I have known him for many years and I may be biased in my appraisal of him. An objective appraisal would say that this man did nothing wrong. In fact, the examiner will testify — it is number 5.6.13 in her report — that he was less than satisfied with the principle of separate accounts. She received a letter from him in April 1994 which alluded to the existence of a separate account in another bank. However, she omitted to mention that he sent her a photocopy of a bounced cheque which was issued in March 1994, a month after she began her examination. She obviously saw nothing wrong with that.
In a letter to the Minister he outlined all the problems which existed and he got an acknowledgement from the then Minister, Deputy Bhreathnach. The letter contains the facts, some of which I outlined, and was sent on 17 October 1993. An acknowledgement came back from her speedily, as one would expect from an efficient Minister.
There is no good in going on about some of the things which students might or might not do. Students fight abortion issues or whatever and they come and go and leave somebody else to clean up the mess. This may be a similar situation. I am not blaming the students but some person there obviously signed blank cheques. I do not know the person's name and I would not wish to allude to it even if I did. However, there is something fishy about this — there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.
I agree with Senator McGowan that we need a much more detailed examination than the one which has been done. The newspaper headlines screamed for the head of one man who did his best to make sure that things were straightened up, not the other way about. I am sure he was sorry to lose the business from the students when they moved. Senator Maloney suggested that the students were discriminated against. I do not know whether they were.
Senator Maloney also suggested that the people in the Data Protection Agency may have been got at, if I quote him correctly. That is a terrible thing to suggest. I do not know anything about the people in the Data Protection Agency but I doubt if they were got at. I am sure that all of these matters when examined in the clear light of day will vindicate the integrity of the person who is supposedly on trial. I would like to see a more thorough — I will not say more independent — examination of all the facts before we reach any conclusions on a commission going in to clean up the affair. That has already been attempted by the former chairman.
I thank Members for their contributions to the debate on these Bills. In particular, I thank those Senators who have supported these Bills and acknowledge the universal praise for the generally high standards in the regional technical college and Dublin Institute of Technology sectors.
I also wish to acknowledge the cooperation of the House in recognising the urgency of bringing forward proposals to resolve the difficulties in Letterkenny regional technical college. I can readily agree with Senator McGowan that the majority of staff in the college are of the highest standard. It is in their interest and that of the students and the community that the proposals in these Bills are brought forward.
I also concur with what Senator Roche said. It is unfortunate nowadays that politicians have become scapegoats. The vast majority of politicians are hardworking, conscientious, honest people. It is sad that they are constantly open to ridicule and become immediate scapegoats.
A number of questions have been raised which I cannot answer but which I would like to answer at a future date. Perhaps the new Minister for Education could apply herself or himself to getting the answers to the questions raised.
During the debate it was claimed that the Minister would not be answerable to anyone in the composition of the commission. The Minister is, of course, always answerable to the Dáil for his or her actions. In the case of the commission to be appointed to Letterkenny regional technical college, the Minister has already stated that the overriding concern is to bring the college back to the high standard which obtains in other colleges. The composition of the commission will be decided solely with that aim in mind. I believe that is what we all want.
Senator Cotter referred to the need for additional higher education facilities. I draw Senators' attention to the fact that the future development of the higher education sector is being considered by the steering committee established under the aegis of the Higher Education Authority. The steering committee will prepare projections to the year 2015 of the total potential enrolments in higher education and the corresponding needs of the sector to facilitate these enrolments.
The committee will carry out a comprehensive analysis of higher education requirements. Its remit includes the overall needs of society and the economy as well as regional, socio-economic and equality considerations, together with the needs of students and the world of work. It will also focus on the appropriate provisions for mature students as well as the need to provide access to third level education for disadvantaged students. The work of the committee will have to be informed by, and take account of, budgetary and financial considerations. The steering committee's recommendations will be carefully considered when they become available.
I thank all the Members.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
If it is agreed, we will suspend the House for 15 minutes until 4.30 p.m. and then take Committee Stage.
Is that agreed?
Is there a guillotine in operation?
The Bill is to conclude at 5.30 p.m.
I have tabled some amendments which I would like us to discuss and returning at 4.30 p.m. would give us just an hour.
That is correct.
We have to get through Committee and Report Stages. Why do we need to suspend the sitting for 15 minutes? Could we not proceed at once?
The Committee Stage amendments have to be considered. The Acting Leader asked for 15 minutes which would mean coming back at 4.25 p.m.
I accept that.
Is that agreed? Agreed.