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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 14 Nov 2001

Vol. 168 No. 12

Youth Work Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am glad to be able to propose the Youth Work Bill, 2000, to Seanad Éireann. Since my appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for youth affairs, I have given priority to the Bill. Today, Seanad Éireann has the opportunity to debate this ground-breaking legislation aimed at giving a sound framework to the provision, co-ordination, monitoring, evaluation and development of youth work programmes and services.

The Bill is the end result of many years of effort entailing detailed research, consultation and discussion among everybody interested in youth work. It is the culmination of an extensive consultation process. The report of the national youth policy committee, which was chaired by Mr. Justice Declan Costello, issued in September 1984, was the first important document on youth work in Ireland. It was followed in 1993 by a report by the consultative group on the development of youth work which made a number of recommendations on the development of youth work provision, particularly as regards definitions, underlying principles, characteristics of youth work, evaluation and youth work structures. Much of what is contained in the Bill draws to a significant degree on the consultative group's report.

It may be recalled that the previous Administration was responsible for the Youth Work Act, 1997, which was a follow-up to the consulta tive group's report. However, this was predicated on the establishment of education boards. After the change of Government in 1997 it was decided not to proceed with the establishment of education boards and, instead, base the local youth work provision with the vocational education committees. Accordingly, the Youth Work Act, 1997, had to be revisited when it became evident that a replacement Bill, rather than an amendment Bill, was required. This being the case, I began discussions with relevant youth work organisations and bodies in order to give them an opportunity to subscribe to the new Youth Work Bill, 2000. In addition, my officials and I met representatives of several of the interest groups. The submissions, meetings, etc., that formed part of my comprehensive and widespread consultative process fed into the legislation.

The Bill has a number of very important features. First, it gives a clear definition to youth work by defining it as being a "programme of education designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young persons through their voluntary participation and which is (a) complementary to their formal, academic or vocational education and training, and (b) provided primarily by Voluntary Youth Work organisations." This definition was arrived at after exhaustive consultation and because of this, has met with general acceptance.

The proposed legislation outlines in comprehensive detail the youth work functions of the Minister. These include responsibility for the development and co-ordination of youth work policies, programmes and services; co-ordination with education and other programmes; research; monitoring and assessment of youth work programmes and services; gender issues; particular regard for those aged ten to 21 years of age and those socially or economically disadvantaged; directions on the manner of youth work; joint action by two or more vocational education committees and the establishment of a national youth work advisory committee. As I have already mentioned, these functions are comprehensive and detailed.

I have already stated that it was decided not to proceed with the establishment of education boards. Because of this, it was decided that the appropriate local body in the case of youth work would be the vocational education committee. Thus, vocational education committees will have a central and pivotal role to play at local level in the delivery of youth work programmes and services. The vocational education committees will have a number of functions.

A very important provision in the Bill is that relating to the appointment of an assessor of youth work. The Minister will be enabled to appoint such an assessor who will have a key role to play in the evaluation of youth work programmes and services on grounds of efficiency and effectiveness.

The Bill also provides for the appointment by the Minister of a national youth work advisory committee. This committee, which will have equal representation from the statutory and voluntary youth work areas with an independent chairman, will primarily have an advisory role to the Minister in terms of youth work provision, development of policies, establishment of criteria for the approval of various designations of youth work organisations, etc. It will, therefore, be the major independent source of advice for the Minister on youth work matters and, accordingly, is of crucial importance. Such a committee was established under the provisions of the Youth Work Act, 1997, and continues to operate.

At this point I express my appreciation of the work the present committee has done and the continuing advice it is giving to me on matters relative to youth work. At my request, it is in the process of finalising a national youth work development plan which will chart the way forward for youth work over the next five years or so. I understand this plan is nearing finality and look forward to receiving it. Again, I extend my thanks to the committee members who have given selflessly of their time and expertise towards delivering this plan.

An important aspect of the legislation will be the creation of VEC sub-committees described as youth work committees. These committees will have equal representation from statutory and voluntary youth work organisations. Their main purpose will be to advise and make recommendations to the vocational education committees on matters relating to youth work provision in their respective administration areas. It is intended that the composition of the youth work committees will reflect the major players involved with youth work provision at local level. One half of the youth work committee will come from the voluntary sector and the Bill allows for the creation of voluntary youth councils to enable this to take place. Guidelines and regulations on elections may be issued by the Minister following consultation with the National Youth Work Advisory Committee. We will thus have a structure more responsive to the needs of local areas and closer to community interests.

What follows in the Bill relates to the categorisation of youth work organisations. First, there is the issue of prescribed national representative youth work organisations. As the National Youth Council of Ireland represents the majority of youth work organisations, I have named it in the legislation to be the prescribed national organisation. This situation will be reviewed every three years. Provision is made in the Bill for the Minister to grant authorised organisation status to organisations which might from time to time engage in the provision of a youth work programme or service.

The third category is that of approved national youth work organisation. This refers to national youth work organisations such as Fóroige, the National Youth Federation, etc., grant-aided by my Department. The last category refers to desig nated local youth work organisations where the power of designation is entrusted to the vocational education committees.

The resource allocation function exercised centrally by the Department in regard to local and regional youth work programmes and services will, therefore, be devolved from the Department of Education and Science to the vocational education committees. As a result, not alone will decision making take place at the more appropriate local level, but the Department will be freed up sufficiently to enable it to concentrate more closely on vital issues such as national policy formulation, overall planning and development, assessment of performance, financial management, quality assurance and the national distribution of funding. This will be in full accordance with precedents of devolution in other European countries, most notably, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain and Portugal, many of which had previously, like ourselves, a tradition of highly centralised control of all aspects of the education system.

The Bill also underpins the primacy of the volunteer in youth work. The most significant way in which the Bill will do this is through the establishment of voluntary youth councils of volunteer youth leaders throughout the country. These councils will have several crucial functions, including the power to nominate 50% of the members of each vocational area youth work committee, the duty of advising the relevant vocational area in relation to its youth work planning and the role of providing a forum for local voluntary youth work organisations. In this way, the Bill should help to ensure volunteerism will continue to flourish in the youth service. This is a major concern for me because volunteerism is the key to real success in the provision of youth work services.

In relation to the voluntary youth councils, among the innovative provisions of the Bill are that at least one fifth of the membership of each council will be set aside for volunteer youth leaders under the age of 25 years and that there will be special provision for volunteer youth leaders working with the Traveller community. Hence, the council will encourage youth participation and assist in the empowerment of the Traveller youth work sector.

In addition, the Bill does not neglect the all important issue of accountability in the expenditure of public money. Several of its provisions, especially the provisions regarding monitoring and assessment, afford a means of demonstrating the benefits and the value for money of youth work and ensuring public funds expended on youth work services are spent efficiently and effectively.

We have already discussed the Bill in the Lower House. During the Dáil debate I indicated my acceptance of various amendments proposed to give equal prominence to the issue of reports in Irish, persons living in Gaeltacht areas and representation on the youth work committee from Údarás na Gaeltachta where a vocational education committee functions in a Gaeltacht area and representation on voluntary youth councils. I also moved an amendment in order to distinguish the two groups to which particular regard should be given in relation to youth work requirements, that is, those aged between ten and 21 years and those socially or economically disadvantaged. This occurs in a number of places in the Bill.

I reconsidered the membership of the National Youth Work Advisory Committee. I was satisfied that as part of this review, the membership for the Irish Vocational Education Association should be increased from two to four. I have allowed also for a commensurate increase in regard to representation for voluntary youth work organisations. I also moved an amendment to section 19 to give greater clarity in relation to the working arrangements between vocational education committees and youth work committees. Furthermore, amendments to provide for the appointment of the chairperson and vice-chairperson by the youth work committee from among the VEC representatives were accepted.

In relation to youth work committees – section 20 – I moved an amendment to provide for additional nominations to the committee by the Ministers for Social, Community and Family Affairs and Tourism, Sport and Recreation. These additions will serve to enhance the activities of the youth work committees at local VEC level. I also undertook to reconsider the composition of voluntary youth councils as provided for in section 22. I am satisfied that as a result of this re-examination, the composition of the council, as I have advanced it in the Bill, strikes the right balance as to the representation between volunteers and paid youth workers.

The issue of ethnic groups was raised in regard to the voluntary youth councils – section 22(7) – and I promised to consider the matter further. On the basis of the advice I have received I am satisfied that any concerns on this issue may be addressed under the terms of the Equal Status Act, 2000, and do not, therefore, propose anything further on this matter.

Section 24 deals with the prescribed national representative youth work organisation. In this case, I moved an amendment on Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann to the effect of prescribing the National Youth Council of Ireland as the prescribed organisation. Such prescription will be subject to three year renewal periods.

Section 24 deals with the prescribed national representative youth work organisations. In this case, I moved an amendment on Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann to the effect of prescribing the National Youth Council of Ireland as the prescribed organisation. Such prescription will be subject to three year renewal periods. I did this as I was satisfied that the National Youth Council of Ireland represents the vast majority of youth work organisations in this country. This prescription has, of course, been welcomed by the NYCI.

I wish to direct the attention of the House to section 13(4) dealing with the categories of young persons to be catered for in the VEC development plan and to say that formal correction is required in section 13(4) (a) (iii) with the insertion of the words “young persons” before the words “who are living in a Gaeltacht area and or whose first language is Irish”. This correction arises from the need to clarify and remove any ambiguity in interpretations in the text of the amendments put forward in Dáil Éireann by Deputy Creed, which I accepted. I ask you, a Chathaoirligh, under Standing Order 121 to direct the Clerk to make this correction.

It will be apparent from what I have said in relation to amendments that I adopted an open mind on constructive amendments in Dáil Éireann. This is reflected in the amendments that I have accepted or proposed. I have been prepared to accept amendments where, for example, they have given greater clarity to the provisions of the Youth Work Bill, 2000. I am satisfied, therefore, that the Bill before the Seanad today adequately reflects the widespread consultative process resulting in the proper philosophy and structures for a modern youth work policy and provision in Ireland.

I commend this Bill to the House.

I wish to inform the Minister of State and the House that I will direct the Clerk to make the correction outlined.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome the Bill which is long awaited. The Youth Work Bill, 2000, will provide for a national youth work advisory committee to report to the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science on youth work programmes and services. It will formalise procedures and arrangements to enhance youth work already being carried out by organisations and agencies. Investment in youth work is vital if we hope to deal in a proactive rather than in a reactive manner with the many problems in society. Youth work can help reduce crime and drug abuse.

Under the provisions of the Bill, vocational education committees will have to prepare three-year costed youth development plans to be reviewed annually and an assessor of youth work will examine the efficiency and effectiveness of existing youth work programmes. Each VEC will be empowered to appoint youth work committees. The vocational education committees will have to submit youth work budgets to the Minister for approval, detailing their programmes and services. The Minister will be empowered to make annual grants available to vocational education committees, approve national voluntary youth work organisations and designate local voluntary youth work organisations and will publish an annual list of all approved voluntary work organisations.

My party welcomes the Bill, which is long overdue. The Minister of State said this Bill was pub lished when he decided not to proceed with the establishment of the education boards. It has taken four and a half years to bring this Bill forward. It is a pity it was not brought forward earlier and that he did not proceed with the establishment of the education boards. There is no point in introducing a Bill and promising everything in the absence of a financial commitment from the Government and there is no point in depending on VEC resources because they do not have them.

I welcome the Bill's definition of "youth work" as the planned programme of education, designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young persons through their voluntary participation and which is complementary to their formal academic or vocational educational training and provided primarily by youth work organisations. The word "voluntary" is important. The words "voluntary" and "community" have almost disappeared from everyday use in society. We put a price on everything and a value on nothing.

This legislation covers the active participation of up to 40,000 in youth work groups, assisting and liaising with up to 600,000 to 700,000 people. We are all aware of the enormous work done by voluntary groups and the benefits which have accrued to the country as a whole. Many commentators have said there is a price on everything and that time means money. That was never more true. Youth work is carried out on an almost exclusively voluntary basis at a time when work tends to be measured in terms of its commercial value. The concept of voluntary work is strong in the youth work sector and long may it continue. I hope with the passing of the Bill the necessary structures will be put in place to ensure the continuance of voluntary work in society.

The focus which the Bill places on the role of the vocational education committees is welcome, given that vocational education committees have a long record of assisting in the field and endeavouring to become the ideal vehicle for implementing this legislation. They will be at the core of the operation of the proposals in the Bill. I am aware of the commitment of the majority of VEC members and VEC chief executive officers to youth work and the development of the sector. Being at the helm, chief executive officers will play a major role in bringing this Bill to the people at large. I have no doubt they will meet the challenge and that VEC members will be eager to play their part on the youth work advisory committees as they are aware of the value of youth work in their communities.

This legislation was flagged as far back as 1984. Excellent work was done in researching the topic and many problems were highlighted and possible solutions flagged, but in the interim successive Governments did not act on them. It is only right that voluntary groups and youth work should be recognised. To date there has been a degree of duplication in the delivery of services in this area by various Departments. One of the advantages of the Bill is that the delivery of such services will be streamlined. This will allow the Minister of State and his Department, a youth work assessor, the voluntary education sector, various committees, the youth work advisory committee and the youth work committee of each VEC to ensure best value for money is obtained. Although record resources are available at present, that may not always be the case. A structure must be put in place to ensure money is spent effectively and that there is no duplication or waste of resources.

The Minister of State referred to the role of the assessor of youth work which is of crucial importance. I look forward to the reports of the assessor on youth work around the country. In some regions youth work is being done more effectively than in others. When there is a national referee who can comment, adjudicate and advise in the areas where youth work is not as strong as it should be people will be able to act on that advice.

I welcome the provisions of the Bill and look forward to its enactment. It is of crucial importance that the vocational education committees have the funding and staff to deliver on the commitments and plans they make. Those plans will be ambitious, particularly when the local youth work committees combine with the voluntary youth council. There will be a huge range of new proposals and plans, even if those ambitions are not realised in the first year or two. The vocational education committees will be expected to chart a new course and, without the necessary personnel and financial resources, they will not be able to meet their targets. Where there are well organised, funded and structured youth services young people will have an alternative.

Despite all the information on drug abuse, substance abuse and under age drinking, these problems are increasing. One of the many ways of encouraging young people to be active in other than anti-social behaviour is to introduce them to youth services, as the Costello report pointed out. Generic youth work should be available to all young people. Most youth work in Ireland is driven by volunteers, in some cases with the support of paid youth workers. I urge the Minister and the Government to do something positive to encourage volunteerism. The number of volunteers is falling because of the pressures of modern life and the fact that people are doing other things. The last two budgets have been anti-volunteer, in the sense that they have penalised those who have decided to stay at home. Most people who act in a voluntary capacity are not appreciated and do not get due recognition from the system or perhaps from the parents whose children they look after. In many cases, all they get is criticism.

In this age of litigation there are youth workers volunteering to take young people to football matches and sporting events who are ending up in court because of an accident. There are huge obstacles in the way of volunteerism. While there is still great community effort, in that people devote time to football clubs, youth clubs and so on, there is not the same enthusiasm as there was. I understand that the national youth work plan is in place and will come into operation shortly. There must be clarification in the budget for youth work and, in addition, a budget must be set aside for the implementation of the plan. There are more plans than there are buildings for youth workers or facilities for sport and recreation. There is no commitment in the Bill or elsewhere to provide a realistic budget to ensure that all the proposals and recommendations in the national youth work plan will be properly funded.

There are many Departments involved in the funding of youth work: the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science, Social, Community and Family Affairs, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and Tourism, Sport and Recreation. There are probably other Departments involved also and it is very confusing. For example, social workers work under the health boards and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is involved in drug programmes and other justice projects. If the health boards have to depend on various Departments for help, their work in this area will not be as focused. In the past, professional youth workers have been employed by the various national organisations. They are committed and dedicated people, however I understand there are no salary scales applicable to them, there is no pension scheme and there appears to be little security attached to the work.

Most people take up such work at a young age and as they get older it may be more difficult to continue. The necessity to interact with children means that the job becomes more pressurised with age. There is a need to clarify the position on the status of youth workers including their terms and conditions of employment, pension rights and so on. Youth workers are very good and enthusiastic people. They are targeted by partnership boards and Leader programmes. They have available to them a number of alternative forms of employment that were not previously on offer and as a result, youth organisations are finding it difficult to retain them. If a job is not secure and there are no incentives to continue, the youth services will lose very important core workers. Far too often, the national media and Members who represent urban areas give the impression that disadvantage is confined to large urban centres. This is not the case because, unfortunately, throughout rural Ireland there are many disadvantaged young people.

I hope that the Minister and his Department, officials and the various committees will ensure that there is an adequate and proper spread of facilities. The Minister has referred in the Bill to ‘gender-proofing'. I emphasise that there is a need to ‘rural-proof' the Bill also. Youth services, clubs and work provide opportunity for young people to socialise and to get to know one another in a healthy and, possibly, supervised atmosphere. This could also be a freer, looser atmosphere than is found in schools which is important. Youth organisations such as Foróige, formerly Macra na Tuatha, have through the years done great work. These youth organisations and clubs need places where young people can go to do their work and socialise. This must be addressed. Youth work is as important as formal education. It should be treated with the same importance as formal education. This is informal education. In the same way that schools are provided for formal education, youth centres should be provided for this type of informal education.

Perhaps many of our schools could double in function as many of them are closed from three or four o'clock in the evening. I welcome the vocational education committees' involvement and believe that we should co-operate so that the facilities schools use during the day can be available to youth services in the evenings. The Minister should also examine grant-aiding community centres in rural areas. Members of a community council from Ballyheane outside Castlebar recently contacted me. They are trying to build a community centre but they have no funding. They have tried several Departments for funds to provide a much needed community facility but to no avail. Our streets at night have become violent places with young people under the influence of drink and drugs. I urge the Minister to make a block grant available nationally which would be disbursed through the vocational education committees, so that communities like Ballyheane could get some form of grant aid to supplement local fundraising. The community centre could be used not just for youth work but for many other purposes.

This is the type of structure that is needed but will not be built with local funds alone with just 500 people in the hinterland. I am delighted that the Minister mentioned that grant aid is an option. I appeal to the Government to make a sizeable fund available because these projects can take people off the streets and help to re-habilitate young offenders, keep their minds active and keep them away from the culture of drink and drugs. While youth work is very important to the deprived, it is equally important to those who are not deprived. Very often those who are relatively well off have nowhere to go in the evenings to socialise and learn informally from their peers. There should be an all-encompassing approach by the Department and others involved in establishing proper youth services to ensure they provide not only for those who are deprived but for those who are well off and need to avail of youth services.

I compliment the Minister of State on introducing this Bill, which is much needed. Most people are in favour of it. The Minister of State said that the resource allocation function exercised centrally by the Department at present in regard to local and regional youth work programmes and services will, therefore, be devolved from the Department of Education and Science to the vocational education committees. He also said that as a result not alone will decision making take place at the more appropriate local level, but the Department will be freed up sufficiently to enable it to concentrate more closely on vital issues such as national policy formulation, overall planning and development, assessment of performance, financial management, quality assurance and the national distribution of funding. I welcome the inclusion of that in the Bill and the fact that the Minister of State has decided to devolve this responsibility to the vocational education committees. However, that will not happen, unless this is properly funded. It cannot be stressed strongly enough that the necessary funding must be put in place through the vocational education committees, which are currently strapped for cash. Unless there is a structure of on stream funding in place to ensure they will automatically get funding and not have to go to the Department cap in hand seeking it, this will not work.

I welcome the Bill. It will be good legislation. When all sectors, communities and groups work together, it can only be for the betterment of our youth.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, on introducing it. Having checked preparation work on this matter for the past ten to 15 years, I note this is the first Minister who has brought forward a budget for financing youth projects. That deserves mention. The Minister of State should be congratulated on being the first Minister to make a commitment to this area, on which there has not been a handle for the past ten years.

The purpose of this Bill is to look after the youth and to consider how best we can establish a structure in the lives of young people between the ages of ten and 20 outside education. Youth work will play an important role in determining their personality and reinforcing their self-esteem. It will give them a sense of identity in the workplace, be it voluntary or otherwise, and a sense of gaining confidence and assertiveness in their thinking. It will also give them training in how to work without receiving money for it. Too often the concept of life is preparation for the world of work with pay. It is important that one should have time in one's thinking for working without pay, giving to the community and giving of oneself as a person, not only giving with one's hand out and from the point of view of what is in it for oneself. This Bill is about what is in it for other people and what can be done for other people. At long last there will be a structure in place that will give young people a concept of how they should give of themselves to a com munity, how to be a team player and help develop the community of which they are a part and to be aware of the community of life rather than focused on themselves. This Bill will do that.

Addressing the needs of young people and organising voluntary work in a more systematic and comprehensive manner represents a fresh start. Youth organisation projects provide the means by which this development can take place. Youth work is young people's voluntary participation in the services provided by youth work organisations. This framework will detail the policy, budget, research, monitoring and assessment in this area. The Minister of State said these will become part of his functions and the functions of his Department. The vocational education committees will play their role in work procedures and will be responsible for the planning, prioritising, funding and implementation of their plans. The vocational education committees will establish a work committee in each VEC area. I welcome that type of structure because at long last there will be moves to ensure this takes place.

Another leg of this framework will be the setting up of the national advisory committee, which will oversee policy guidance for vocational education committees in terms of the constitution of the local voluntary organisations and the standard to which they must adhere. This committee will be mostly concerned with how best to achieve a greater degree of co-ordination to provide for the best return on investment in our young people. Its membership will be wide ranging and there will be many interested agencies and bodies within its remit. The Minister of State will ensure that the committee will reflect the widest possible representation of interested parties.

I welcome the fact that its membership will include a representative from the IVA and the chief inspector of the Department of Education and Science. Will ongoing special projects such as the drugs task force, Garda projects, projects that come under young people's facilities and services funding come under the remit of the vocational education committees or will they be stand alone projects operated under different guidelines? They should be grouped under the remit of one Department with an input from other Departments. I would like the Minister of State to clarify that position. I note the committee will have representatives from the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Tourism, Sport and Recreation and Social, Community and Family Affairs. From my reading of the section, that aspect was not clarified.

I welcome the fact that the committee will have the widest possible representation. That will ensure all bodies concerned will be aware of what is happening and will allow for co-ordination between formal and non-formal sectors of the community. It will reflect the spirit of co-operation between the State and voluntary sector. That level of co-ordination is reflected by guaranteeing that 50% of the representatives of the voluntary youth work organisations will be members of the committees. The VEC will establish the local advisory committees, which will reflect the statutory and voluntary agencies that will participate in determining the needs of youth work.

Another leg of this framework is the establishment of the youth councils, which will represent the needs and demands of the voluntary sector at local level. These councils will be made up of people involved in voluntary youth work. They will have a membership of 75% volunteers, at least one fifth of whom should be under the age of 25. I welcome that provision. One might say it is only a detail, but it is important that the thrust of this Bill reflects youth work in voluntary organisations. Initially I thought of this Bill in terms of work experience for young people, but it will deal with the voluntary aspect. It is important that message is sent from this House today. We are talking about people doing voluntary work, not about receiving money for work done.

The voluntary youth committees will nominate half the membership of work committees, which indicates how tight the structures will be working in the delivery of youth work. I welcome the concept of a national assessor of youth work in the provision of youth work programmes and services. Up to now there was little accountability for how funding was spent on voluntary activities. Now we will get better use of resources and a more formalised system of decision making for the VEC and the Minister, and rightly so because the VEC has a strong tradition in youth work and is ideally placed to respond to local needs in the youth work provision. The vocational education committees will ensure within their administrative areas the provision of youth work programmes and services in co-ordination with voluntary youth organisations. I understand that a three year development plan must be put in place. That is visionary and imaginative and will give structure to the overall plan for delivering these services.

I note that the national committee membership is to establish a five year plan on implementing voluntary work, but that the vocational education committees are to have a three year plan. Would it not be wiser for them all to work together on the basis of a five year plan coinciding, perhaps, with local elections when vocational education committees are dissolved? In addition, giving more power to vocational education committees by way of funding and assistance would give them the flexibility to adapt to prevailing conditions in their area. I note that money is to be provided annually. Could we not consider implementing that over a three year period? I know it must be done in accordance with the budget. However, we have three different timescales – five years, three years and one year – and that might result in some confusion. Would it not be better if planning were more structured by having just one timescale?

I understand the VEC will take into account those between the ages of ten and 20 and give priority to socially and economically disadvantaged areas. I welcome that because young people in such areas may not have the resources to structure their leisure time when they are not in education or at work. It is very important and is to be welcomed that the VEC should give priority to young people who are not working and thinking things out for themselves.

The question as to how these programmes will be resourced in terms of staff and expertise must be asked. It is important that the staff who run these types of youth services and programmes are knowledgeable about youth work, that they have a feel for dealing with young people. This is an old hobby horse of mine and I turn to it again. We have unsuitable remedial teachers doing remedial work and resource teachers who should not be put working on a one-to-one basis. We even have career guidance people in the counselling world who are not suitable. It would be of concern to me if the wrong people were doing the wrong kind of work where young people are concerned. It is important that people are well selected and that those running these courses are well briefed and have a feel for the work. Technically, everybody is good – anybody who has a brain can read books – but that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about empathy, about knowing how to handle young people, how to set up the programmes, how to lure these people in and involve them. In giving instructions to the national committee, the Minister should reflect on this aspect. In setting up the programmes, the people selected to run them is one of the core aspects. Technically it can be done and it may look beautiful on paper, but it will not work on the ground if the wrong people are doing the wrong kind of work. I ask the Minister, therefore, to take up that point in particular.

I know comparisons are odious, but another question comes to mind. Having worked with the City of Dublin VEC for many years and having been a member of the County Dublin VEC, I have always felt that the City of Dublin VEC had more resources and that the County Dublin VEC was the poor relation. The Minister may say that is not so, but the perception is that even in the context of youth programmes and services, the City of Dublin VEC seems to have more staff than the County Dublin VEC which is dealing with a vast area, taking in South Dublin County Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Fingal County Council areas, which means all County Dublin. I know the County Dublin VEC will do a good job, but I hope it will have the expertise in terms of staff and know ledge. If it gets them it will certainly do a very good job.

I welcome the Bill. It has been a long time in gestation and that is evident in the detail. I found it hard to get the detail into my head – it took much reading and rereading. However, there is a good framework there. There are many steps and many ways of keeping the whole programme together, of keeping the structure in terms of the national committee, the role of the vocational education committees, local education committees and youth councils, and of co-ordinating and co-operating in setting up the programmes. The Minister did a good job in that regard. This has to work, given the time that has been taken to allow for full and mature consideration of what is needed to consolidate the youth work sector and the comprehensive process of consultation to address the wishes of the voluntary organisations, as well as catering for the needs of those charged with its implementation. The Minister has got it right and I thank him for putting in so much time and effort. It was not an easy Bill to put together. There are many areas that needed much thought to ensure that all areas work well. This is a success story for the Minister and I have no doubt that it will stand the test of time.

I wish to share my time with Senator Quinn.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister and the Bill. In this International Year of Volunteers, it is very good that at last this Bill has come before the House. We are appreciating the voluntary sector properly only now when we are finding it so difficult to fill positions within it. I am sure there must be many other Members of the House who, like myself, are involved in voluntary organisations where there is no fight for the chairmanship of the organisation, no fight to be on the committee and grave difficulty in getting members to partake in the work of the organisation. This is one of the downsides of the great increase in employment and the fact that so many people have to work overtime. However, in giving more status to the voluntary sector in this Bill, the Minister has done a great service.

I was interested to note in the press the other day that Michael Webb, a former president of the National Youth Council of Ireland, speaking to the construction industry – he is a leading construction economist – said that the Government must continue to invest in education and health care. I was interested to see this because one would expect someone involved in the construction industry to try solely to promote the construction industry within Ireland and to say we must keep building roads and houses. However, he stressed in his speech to Plan Expo in the RDS that it was absolutely essential to put money into education and health care. This is as good as putting money into both those areas and I hope the Minister fights his corner and makes sure that the resources are made available because it is very important. The Youth Council of Ireland has welcomed this legislation.

There is one area I would like to address, that is the involvement of the vocational education committees. The only VEC in which I have ever been involved is the one in Dublin. It has been most helpful to me in my capacity as president of Cherish, the organisation for single mothers, in giving us support for education for these young mothers so they can make a better effort to find employment. It was supportive, not just about things which were obviously important for employment but also about making the lives of these mothers more fulfilled. It has a very enlightened attitude.

I am delighted that the Minister of State intends to look at amendments put before the House. I suggest that it is not essential for both the chairperson and the vice-chairperson of the advisory committees to be from the vocational education committees. Maybe the Minister of State has a good reason for that, which we can go into on Committee Stage, but it should be possible for somebody from the voluntary sector to become chairperson or vice-chairperson. I congratulate the Minister on this Bill.

I thank Senator Henry for giving me time to speak. The Minister of State may be interested in a story told by the American actor Kirk Douglas of his arrival in the USA as an immigrant from Eastern Europe. Very badly off, hungry and on the street, he was taken in by an American citizen who looked after him, gave him food and work and sent him on his way a few days later with a hundred dollars in his hand. A year later he came to pay back the hundred dollars only to be told that he did not understand; this was not to be paid back but passed on. This is a lovely story because it is the idea behind voluntary work. We do not always do everything for monetary benefit and it seems that the Minister has recognised this in the Bill.

The Bill deals with an important subject and is of concern to anyone who has the future of our nation at heart. It has to do with the education and training of young people, particularly young people from a disadvantaged background and those who are outside the formal education system. It seeks to build on and co-ordinate the vast amount of literally priceless voluntary work carried out in this area. These are the nice things I am going to say.

Given its importance, I find it extraordinary that it has taken the Government this length of time to bring the legislation to this stage. The process started out with the relatively simple task of amending the Youth Work Act, 1997, which focused on the provision of youth work services through a network of regional education boards. That idea was abandoned by this Government when it came into office, making the implementation of the Act impossible, so that new or amending legislation was required to switch the focus for providing youth work services to the vocational education committees. One would not think that would take very long. When they got down to the task of amending the legislation they decided it was worth making other changes as well, which is fair enough. What is not fair enough is the extraordinary amount of time it has taken. This Bill was not introduced into the Oireachtas until this time last year, a delay of over three years. Since then its progress has been extremely slow – for no good reason – and meanwhile, the existing Act was never implemented.

There have been four years of total inactivity on this issue which everybody agrees is important. Either those four wasted years did not matter, in which case one must wonder about the fundamental need for this legislation, or the delay did matter, in which case the Government must explain why it has been dragging its heels. What was so important in this new legislation that justified freezing the development of youth work services across the country for those four long years? Reading through the Bill, I cannot find any clues to the answer. Perhaps the Minister would enlighten us.

The Bill contains provisions that will create an absolute monster of a bureaucracy to oversee its task. I am not suggesting that the task is not important, but are these elaborate structures the best way of getting the work done? It has been my experience in both the private and the public sectors that committees with too many members rapidly disintegrate into talking shops, with each member clinging desperately to his representative hat and refusing to bond with the others in addressing the common challenge faced. A committee with 20 or 30 members never rises above the status of 20 or 30 individuals squabbling together. Because each member gets so little talking time, the incentive to attend such meetings regularly and to put serious effort into making a contribution is usually undermined. I have found that if anything is to be achieved the membership of the committee must be kept down to fewer than ten people. With such a size people find it easier to take off their representative hats and to work together as a group, sharing their diverse experiences and pooling their resources to achieve their aim. Such a size is also one where every member will have a fair chance to have his say and make a contribution. The smaller size of the group puts pressure on each person to contribute.

I was shocked to find in this Bill provisions for about 60 bodies, each with 20 members or more. The National Youth Advisory Committee is to have between 27 and 29 members and in each VEC there is to be a youth work committee with between 12 and 20 members as well as a voluntary youth council with between ten and twenty members. In my experience the maximum number of members is always appointed and I do not expect any difference in this case. At national level the advisory committee will have 29 members and every VEC area will have both a youth work committee and a voluntary youth work committee with 20 members each. That is a total of 60 bodies and 1,200 members. Every one is likely to become a nothing more than a glorified talking shop.

The argument I often hear for creating large and cumbersome bodies is that it is necessary to make them fully representative of the range of interests involved. The first five places on the proposed youth work advisory committee go to the Minister, as he appoints the chairman, two other members experienced in youth work and two officials from his Department. Straight away this could be cut to two. I suggest that the Minister appoint only the chairman and one official from his Department. I see no reason the Minister, in addition to appointing the chairman, should also appoint two other members experienced in youth work given that this committee will be awash with people with such experience. One civil servant should be quite enough to hold the Minister's brief. The next proposal is for two representatives of the Irish Vocational Education Association. Why two? Are they like the Legion of Mary, who have a rule about always going around in pairs? Let them have one seat which they can share between two people if they wish.

So far we have seven members proposed by the Bill, whereas my suggestion is for three. Next, seven more members are nominated by relevant Government Departments and one from FÁS. I have no quarrel with any of this but that brings the proposed number up to 14, plus the chairman. That number is then doubled by the addition of an equal number of representatives nominated by what the Bill describes as the prescribed national youth work representative organisation. I shall pass over the Stalinist ring of that title and concentrate on the numbers. The representative organisation gets 14 representatives, merely to balance the numbers between it and the official side of the table. This is important because, given that there is only one organisation involved, nobody could make the argument that they need 14 members to represent their interests. They only need 14 to keep the size of the teams equal. If the suggestions I made to cut down the numbers were accepted, the number needing to be balanced would be reduced to ten, not 14, giving a total of 21, including a chairman. That would be a good deal better than 29, but still too large.

I will now outline a way to reduce the committee to a tight, businesslike group. All the representatives of Departments, other than the Minister's own representative, should be observers rather than full voting members of the committee. That would create a group of seven – the chairman, the Minister's representative, the Irish Vocational Education Association representative and the FÁS representative, and three balancing representatives from the prescribed representative organisations. We would then have a tight, cohesive group of seven persons, backed up by the resource of seven observers from the various Departments. If we want the national advisory committee to be effective, that is the way it should be structured. If we want it to be nothing more than a talking shop, without any real effect, it should be kept to 29 members.

The same principle can be applied to the bodies at local level – I would recommend doing so – but what I really want to criticise is the idea of having two bodies rather than one at local level. Why not roll them into one? That would reduce the number of bodies throughout the country to 30, from the mind-boggling 60. I cannot believe that amalgamating the youth work committees and the voluntary youth council would not be an improvement. It would have the effect of leveraging the work of the people concerned and, therefore, increasing the results on the ground, which is what we all hope this long awaited legislation shall achieve. I speak from an anxiety to make it effective, and believe my suggestions are worthy of consideration.

I also welcome the Minister of State to the House and welcome the Bill. It has been said that it has been a long time in gestation. That happens to be the case, but it must also be said that, as presented to us this evening, it is the outcome of a great deal of consultation on the part of the Minister of State with those who have a hands-on approach to youth work, a great deal of experience in the field of youth work and know from that experience what is and is not attainable, does and does not work and is the best type of legislation required. For that reason it has to be a good Bill.

The Bill has gone through all Stages in the other House. As it has already been amended, there is not much we can do by way of amendment, but we can comment on it. I will return to the comments made by a previous speaker because the issues he raised need to be addressed. I am particularly pleased with the Bill, but I have two messages to give to the Minister of State. First, he should work now for a speedy enactment because the Bill is overdue and has the potential to do a great deal of good. Second, he should work hard to ensure its provisions will be properly and adequately resourced.

We are constantly being told that our greatest resource as a nation is our young people. That is the truth. Our greatest asset is our young people. That being the case, we should argue strongly for proper investment in them, not just in their future as adults, but in their developing years because that is the investment that will determine the kind of adults they will become. They are the next generation who will run this country when we have passed on. They are worthy of the best invest ment we can possibly make, not just in terms of education, the importance of which is constantly stressed, but also in terms of informal education in the context of well-structured and well-delivered youth work. It is sad but true that in many cases, due to the enormous pressure put on schools in terms of points and college places, mainstream education prepares young people for examinations. Youth work prepares them for life. Which of the two is more important? It is important that we bear this in mind when we argue for resources to ensure the aspirations of the Bill are fully met.

I do not regret the delay in bringing forward the Bill for a number of reasons. I could never give my full consent to the establishment of the local education committees, and I am delighted there will be a stronger partnership, in the context of this legislation, between the vocational education committees and voluntary youth work. During the years they have built up an enormous corpus of expertise in terms of the needs and potential of young people. They have gone beyond the parameters of formal education, and through their outreach programmes have reached out to a number of young people who would otherwise have fared badly in education. They have the expertise to deal with young people often labelled as disadvantaged because they do not fit the prescription of mainstream education, often to the neglect of a range of other gifts they may possess. The vocational education committees are excellent at developing alternative and successful programmes for young people such as those I have mentioned. They do it through the outreach programmes, in the way they have developed PLC courses and a range of education provisions under the VTOS and other programmes. In so doing, they have built up valuable relationships with young people and schools.

In the light of this experience, the knowledge they have gained and the will they have demonstrated, they are the best people to act in partnership with voluntary youth workers to make the aspirations of the Bill a reality. I am delighted they are the people who have been given this role because they have the "feel" for it. When dealing with young people it is important to be able to communicate with them. Being able to listen and understand them is half the battle. It has never been more important that we make this kind of investment in young people.

When I was young we shared our problems with our parents, most of the time, and listened to what they had to say. Nowadays young people confer with their peers. It is with their peers they talk about their problems and, importantly, it is to their peers they look for support if they hit a bad patch. We must make an appropriate investment in youth work, acknowledge the voluntary input in terms of well designed youth work and, most importantly, make an investment in professional youth workers.

Senator Ormonde made a profound statement, the first politician with the courage to do so. She talked about remedial education. We have had 20 years of remedial education, but what has been the outcome? Those who needed remedial education 20 years ago no longer need it. In fairness to Senator Ormonde, she explained that we simply did not have the people with the necessary skills, expertise and art of communication to deliver remedial education, as demonstrated by the outcome. We should not allow this to happen again in the context of youth work. We must support voluntary effort, which has immense value, with a hard core of well trained professional people to give direction, structure and definition in terms of what needs to be done. It is important we ensure this happens.

Obviously I did not read the Bill as closely as Senator Quinn, although I was struck by the fact that it appears to create an immense number of large committees. Senator Quinn's comments have a great deal of merit. The Minister of State and I have extensive experience of dealing with committees. Both of us, I believe, would concur with Senator Quinn's view that the committees will be overpopulated and top heavy. While I am not formulating an amendment, I strongly support the Senator's request that the Minister of State reconsider this element of the Bill. It is clear the Minister of State is more anxious than most to ensure the outcome of the Bill is both purposeful and positive for young people and that the structures are right. I ask him, therefore, to examine this matter before Committee Stage.

The Bill provides that both the chairperson and vice-chairperson of the youth work committees will be drawn from the membership of the VEC. This might work in many cases, but may not be the best approach in others. It is possible there will be people in a VEC area prepared to do a great deal of youth work, including planning and policy making, and have considerable expertise to offer, but who are not members of the VEC. Others might have a strong proven track record in dealing effectively with young people by reaching out to them, giving expression to their aspirations and leading them in the right direction. If the people concerned are not eligible to become vice-chairperson of a committee, we limit ourselves by failing to draw upon this expertise and experience. The Bill would be better if it stipulated that the chairperson must be drawn from the VEC, while allowing non-members to become vice-chairperson. I am sure an amendment to this effect will emerge on Committee Stage.

As it is late afternoon, there is no merit in repeating what others have said, except to commend the Minister of State for the spirit of partnership in which he approached the Bill. He involved the relevant people in all the discussions as the building blocks of the Bill were put in place. I commend him for this and the opportunities which, I hope, this legislation will open for volunteerism.

Reading between the lines, one ascertains that young people learn a great deal from example. They will understand the value of voluntary work if they see people working in a voluntary capacity for the well-being of young people in the community, which is the well-being of everyone in the community. I cannot remember how, when I was teaching long ago, we used to sum up the idea that young people learn from what they see going on around them. They will act as they see others act, not in the way they are told. If young people see a value placed on voluntary work, they will be tempted to do such work when their turn comes. Is that not one of the best forms of education we can give them?

It is critically important that the Bill is enacted speedily and well financed. These are strange times. Young people nowadays have more and better opportunities and challenges than ever before. They also have more difficulties to contend with, pitfalls to avoid and difficulties to confront and surmount than we did when I was young. They need support, which the Bill, once enacted, will give them. I commend the Minister of State for introducing it.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him sincerely for introducing what I and other Senators consider to be most important legislation. Most important of all is what it will do for the personal development of children as they grow into adulthood. The work carried out prior to introducing the Bill has played an important role in helping young people realise their full potential. Very few of us have not voluntarily participated at some stage in our lives in some form of youth work. This helps shape us and give focus and discipline in life.

As the Minister of State outlined, a central part of youth work is voluntary participation. We all know from childhood that coercion tends to lead to rebellion. There is merit in the fact that the Bill allows one to participate on a voluntary basis. I was surprised, however, to read a survey carried out in the north east inner city which found that one of the system's weaknesses was the absence of an obligation on young people to participate in these projects. At the time participation in a programme was generally ordered by the courts. I was surprised the authors considered this a weakness.

It would be remiss of the House not to compliment the hundreds of thousands of wonderful volunteers who have given much of their lives to youth work. I note with satisfaction that the Minister of State believes youth work is essentially delivered within a framework of voluntarism. The vocational education committees should also be complimented on the fine contribution they have made, with the minimum of resources and funds, to youth work in communities.

The measure of any good Bill stems from the degree of consultation the initiator takes on board before its introduction. The Minister of State must be complimented on the degree to which he did so and the number of agencies he addressed before proceeding with the legislation. The proof of this lies in the fact that he was unable to amend the 1997 Act, which forced him to introduce new legislation. I assume this was due to the number of amendments and the volume of input from several of these agencies.

The principal purpose of the Bill is to define what youth work means in a concise and clear manner and to give effective, unambiguous guidelines on policy, budget and research. It also defines the functions of the vocational education committees regarding youth work, particularly the procedures for planning, prioritising, funding and reporting the provisions of youth work programmes and their services. The Bill further sets out to establish special youth work committees in each VEC area to provide for the continuation of the national youth work advisory committees and to expand the committees to reflect to a greater extent the current composition of the youth work community.

I welcome the Minister of State's proposition that a minimum of 75% of the members of the Voluntary Youth Council should be volunteers. It is an excellent suggestion. I hope the voluntary organisations will be open and democratic enough to allow young people on to their councils. That has not been the case in the past and boards have been top heavy with bureaucracy and administrators.

If I were to ask if youth work has had the desired effect on the problems facing young people over the last ten or 20 years, the answer would probably be yes, to an extent. However, as a system it has had little impact in addressing the societal inequalities that create the problems faced by young people. Despite the outstanding work of many individual youth workers, organisations and agencies, they have had limited influence on national policy as it impacts on the lives of young adults. These organisations may have worked in isolation and their requirements have perhaps been tailored to specific local needs. I hope a spirit of greater co-operation in relation to information and collective aims will be fostered. If that happens it will help to shape amendments to this Bill.

I refer again to the lack of research into needs that manifested itself in the inner city survey. I am glad to see that being addressed in the Bill. The survey referred to a lack of co-ordination and that is also being addressed. It referred to the lack of parental involvement and that is not unique. We parents are not always the best when it comes to getting involved in the activities of our children.

I mentioned the great contribution which the vocational education committees have made through the years with limited resources and I am therefore delighted to see that the Minister of State is providing them with the opportunity to supervise, monitor and co-ordinate the systems the Bill is putting in place. They will be allowed provide grant aid, withdraw finance and use their own flexibility to determine programmes and projects. That is a very good thing. The survey singled out poorly resourced programmes as a weakness. If there is a co-ordinating body such as the VEC with the autonomy to pull rank, so to speak, and to monitor programmes that are up and running, it is a good thing.

I hope funding is shared equally throughout the system, as far as possible. All bodies should get a crack of the whip. Even though I usually spend my time here arguing on behalf of the disadvantaged area I represent, it is sometimes true that disadvantaged areas, particularly in circumstances such as those under discussion, get a greater crack of the whip. If you do not have a child who is causing problems you do not get any recognition at all. I say that with soccer clubs in middle class areas of the city in mind. They tend to have to do their own thing and go their own way with very little recognition. Many of their managers have done a wonderful job babysitting people and looking after them. We need only look at a club like Stella Maris FC, which has nurtured players such as Liam Brady, Dave O'Leary and Steven Carr. They discovered the discipline that comes from being involved in the community of a football team. Managers there were volunteers who gave of their time and shaped their family holidays around the participation of those kids in a structure. There are many such examples across the board, not just in football.

There is no suggestion in the Bill of programmes for people with disability. I am open to correction on that. I realise that many programmes do not have a physical dimension and probably could adapt to the needs of people with disability. The unfortunate thing is that even if the programmes were there, those with physical disability do not live in an environment which enables them to participate. If they did, they might not have the necessary transportation. Hopefully, those are things we will address along the way.

The Department of Education and Science has been to the fore in the integration of people with disability into the mainstream educational system. I see the area covered by the Bill as an extension of the educational system and it would be a shame, now that we have done such good work in mainstream education, if we could not facilitate those with disability to participate meaningfully in youth work. It is something that may not have received attention. If that is the case, I encourage the Minister of State to bear it uppermost in his mind that people with disability have similar needs to the able bodied in this regard. The only relevant programme I know of is run in the Central Remedial Clinic. It is funded by the clinic itself and the response is absolutely excellent. Other such programmes would be very beneficial.

I congratulate the Minister of State on bringing this Bill before the House.

I thank the Senators who have contributed to this debate. Their comments generally were constructive .

On the question of why it took four and a half years to bring this Bill before the Houses, it was necessary to look again at the Youth Work Act, 1997 because it was decided not to proceed with the establishment of education boards. It was therefore preferable to introduce new legislation rather than attempt to amend the 1997 Act. I was faced with this scenario when I came into office. Delegations came to me from all sorts of organisations, particularly from those representing young people. They told me, quite frankly, that the previous Bill was a disaster and a mess which had not been thought out properly. What was needed was a much more comprehensive approach. I decided to give that to them and that was the main reason for the delay.

My Department engaged in an extensive and comprehensive consultation process so the Bill would be the result of widespread consultation and represent up-to-date thinking on youth structures etc. The Bill is far better than the legislation that preceded it because of these consultations and considerations. While I would like to have been here to take Second Stage sooner, that is the price we pay for creating proper legislation.

With regard to finances, I intend to secure appropriate funding for the implementation of the Youth Work Bill, 2000, and I will do all in my power to achieve this. Some of the issues raised today in relation to volunteerism, the status of youth workers and the provision for rural areas are matters of concern to me. I expect that these matters are being examined by the National Youth Work Advisory Committee. I have asked that committee to prepare a five year national development plan for youth work and I hope to have it next month. I anticipate that the plan will address many of the issues raised today.

Senator Ormonde raised the question of future funding in terms of the young people's facilities and services fund and diversion projects. While the schemes in question will continue to be funded as they are at present, the composition of the VEC youth work committees will include all the major parties, statutory and voluntary, thus ensuring the best cohesion and co-operation at local level by the delivering agencies, including vocational education committees.

The question of whether there should be a three year plan or a five year plan was debated. The reason I have opted for a three year plan is to have regard to the programmes and services in youth work, some of which might operate for one year only. Extending the plan period to five years could make assessment almost impossible in some instances because the course-project participants could have left the informal youth work system. The three year period would also dovetail with the requirements for the assessor of youth work to assess, at least once in every three year period, youth work programmes and services provided by voluntary youth organisations that are funded by vocational education committees.

The prescription of the National Youth Council of Ireland as the prescribed national voluntary youth organisation is for a period of three years, subject to renewal. Thus, there is consistency in the Youth Work Bill in relation to three year periods. If the implementation of the VEC plan were to be coterminous with local authority elections, this would mean that the VEC youth work development plan would have to wait until July 2004. In addition, it would not be appropriate to have a plan starting in the middle of the financial year.

With regard to financial provisions, Senator Quinn suggested that youth work programmes and services were frozen since 1997 because of the non-implementation and failure to bring forward this legislation. That is a blatant untruth and I am sorry Senator Quinn is not here because I would like him to withdraw it. The truth is that since I took office, there has been a significant increase in the amount of State funding made available for youth work. In real terms, discounting inflation, the figure is 25%, which is very significant indeed. I have precise figures and percentages if the Senators are interested, which I will have on Committee Stage next week. I emphasise again that the increase has been significant.

As an indication of my commitment, I introduced a local youth club grants scheme in 1999 to help local youth clubs meet start-up costs, particularly youth clubs in disadvantaged areas. I am glad £1 million was allocated for this very worthwhile scheme in 2001. Furthermore, my commitment to youth work was manifested when I asked the National Youth Work Advisory Committee to prepare a national youth work development plan, which will be a vision for youth work over the next five years.

Senator Quinn also referred to the size of some of the committees and I accept there is a certain logic in what he said. He noticed the National Youth Work Advisory Committee is large, which is correct. However, if he examined a little more closely circumstances at ground level, he would discover that it generally performs the bulk of its duties at sub-committee level. This has proven to be very effective, as the Senator would realise if he took the trouble to find out.

The national youth work development plan was prepared largely by a sub-committee of the National Youth Work Advisory Committee. The full committee has the final say in all matters. Therefore, its size is an advantage in that all the major players in voluntary youth work effectively bind themselves to the findings of the committee by their presence. It also facilitates the flow of information between the members.

The prescribed national youth work representative organisation, the National Youth Council of Ireland, has 14 members. It is correct to say the National Youth Work Advisory Committee has 14 members, but the NYCI itself consists of representatives of 60 full and associate member organisations of remarkable diversity. The num ber pertaining to youth work committees is 16 to 20 members and that pertaining to the voluntary youth council is ten to 20 members. It is considered that these numbers are desirable on a number of grounds – for example, the importance of youth work, openness and transparency and, perhaps most importantly, democratic reasons. The measures in the Bill are the result of extensive consultation with people who have a vested interest in making the system work. I have no doubt that the size of the committees will not deter from the members achieving their objectives.

The Bill provides for an upper limit on the number of meetings per annum in the case of those committees, except when the Minister specifically sanctions otherwise. People will simply not have time to let the committees degenerate into talking shops. If they want to get the business done, they have only six meetings per year in which to do so. They have a vested interest, an all-consuming interest, in getting the work done and making the structures work, and I am confident they will be in a position to do so.

I thank the Senators for their comments. I have proved amenable to amendments in the Lower House. Some of the amendments suggested by the Opposition in that House were constructive and, by accepting them, I think we have finished up with better legislation. I will adopt an equally open and liberal approach to constructive amendments supported by solid arguments in this House. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 21 November 2001.
Sitting suspended at 4.45 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.