I welcome my colleague from Dún Laoghaire to the House. I do not wish to go into the details of a recent case. However, in light of the decision in that case, widespread concern and representations I have received since, it may be necessary for the Department to review procedures for maintaining discipline in schools. We are concerned that fair procedures are adopted. However, it should not be the case that a school principal, as the person on the ground who knows the position, has not certain remedies open to him or her and cannot make decisions.
While the procedures used in that case may have been technically or legally defective, none of us would like it to be implied that the welfare of pupils and the problem of maintaining discipline, particularly in cases of serious nature, was not important. This was not a case of people talking at the back of the class or being late. Some of the matters raised were serious and there is much concern in certain quarters. I hope the Department will take a sympathetic look at how this matter was handled with particular reference to the legal costs because the principal involved acted in good faith. There has been discussion about how matters were dealt with and the fact that a decision was made and subsequently reversed.
The president of the National Parents Council – post-primary – Ms Marie Danaswamy, said that the person most familiar with the pupil, the school principal, should have certain powers and, except in exceptional circumstances, should be supported by the board. The public relations officer of that council, Ms Barbara Johnson, while declining to comment on the case, said that parents would wonder how children could be protected if school principals were not given the right to take actions they thought necessary and would not like what appears to have happened in this case to happen in any other school.
I am not sure whether I should declare an interest, but having two children at school I would certainly be concerned if the welfare of the pupils in general was not taken into consideration, particularly in relation to very serious matters. I hope that a decision either to expel or suspend would not be taken lightly but only in light of repeated or very serious offences. There may be a need to review the guidelines. People who serve on boards of management do much good work. However, in the end, as the Minister knows from her experience, people look to the teacher of each class and to the principal of the school. They are the people in the front line who have to make the judgment calls. People are not appointed principal of a school without having a reasonable track record.
In light of this case and other matters, perhaps there should be discussions on whether there is a need to review procedures or to provide for further regulations or for an appeals procedure. There is concern about this issue. When I read the newspaper headlines about the court case my reaction was that the decision was technically right. However, taking the broad view and taking account of principles of natural justice, one must try to balance the interests of one child who may have been a trouble maker against those of the school in general.
I hope the Minister will take what I have said on board and that she will agree with much of it.