The Minister opened her remarks with some general points. I do not want to enter into that type of debate but I want to place on record my strong objection to the process which developed over the past number of months in relation to the Universities Bill. The Bill has changed dramatically but it has almost happened behind closed doors in one sense. There was much campaigning by Fianna Fáil and the staff of the universities.
There is something fundamentally undemocratic about heads of universities being brought in, told that they are present in their personal capacities and must obey a condition of confidentiality to such a degree that they are apparently not even allowed divulge the content of the discussions between themselves and officials of the Department with their governing bodies or the wider university community.
There is a complete lack of transparency in the process because legislative committees such as this were established to be proactive in the formulation of legislation. Ideally, the Heads of a Bill such as this one should have been before this committee from the outset. The members should have gone through brainstorming sessions and teased out the issues. I suggest that if that had been done a year and a half ago we would not be in this situation where the Minister has tabled over 100 amendments and substantial alterations to the Bill.
It says much about the lack of commitment to real Dáil reform and to the full utilisation of committees in a proactive way in the preparation of legislation. The Bill was published in August and what we are effectively debating now is a new Bill without having had the opportunity to examine the original one. It makes a mockery of the Legislature and us, as Deputies, because the Minister has come in here with afait accompli as far as she is concerned. She will have a voting majority and will push through most of her amendments. That is fine to a degree because we welcome many of them but I make the point because I want to place on record my fundamental dissatisfaction with this process from a democratic and legislative point of view. A year ago I asked the Minister to debate the position paper in this committee but that never happened.
When one compares the Dublin Institute of Technology Acts with those relating to the universities one begins to see why provision was not made for it in this Bill. Dublin Institute of Technology operates under a very restrictive legislative framework which was introduced in 1992 and the Minister has considerable powers over it. It actually operates under a framework similar to that under which the Minister wanted the universities to operate in the original Universities Bill as published. In other words, the thrust of the original Universities Bill was about more State control, ministerial interference and references to sanction being required from the Minister to borrow money, acquire land, etc. To include the Dublin Institute of Technology would have caused difficulties for the Minister because of its legislative base. In many ways, the original provisions of the Universities Bill were an attempt to introduce the type of controls which exist currently with the Dublin Institute of Technology. The Dublin Institute of Technology operates under a legislative framework which is far too restrictive and that is why the opportunity should have been taken to include it in this Bill. For example, the appointment of research fellows, research assistants and other support staff is subject to conditions laid down by the Minister with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance. Selection procedures for staff are determined by the Minister under the Dublin Institute of Technology Acts. It cannot acquire land without the Minister's approval and that is critical because the Dublin Institute of Technology's position with regard to facilities and accommodation is a difficult one. One could argue that it does not have the freedom to manoeuvre, move forward and acquire land because it is under the stranglehold of the Minister and the Government. That is why I would argue that if it were given more freedom it might be of greater assistance to the State in terms of self-development and it would have the status and capacity to raise private funding to assist its development as do the universities. The NUI, DCU and UL have done tremendously well in raising private finance. The State was left behind in that and it should learn from what universities can achieve if they are trusted to develop their policies and given freedom of action. The State should treat the Dublin Institute of Technology in the same way. It should give it the degree of trust which it deserves and requires at this stage of its development.
The Minister has said she will give it the authority to award degrees and I respectfully suggest that position has been forced on the Minister in the past two or three weeks because of the campaign which was launched by the Dublin Institute of Technology, its students, their parents and everybody who wrote to the Minister and every Deputy and Senator in the Oireachtas. I am under no illusions that the Minister would have made that announcement if Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats had not publicised the fact that they would table amendments to the Bill to include the Dublin Institute of Technology. The Minister has reacted to the campaign with what amounts to progress for the Dublin Institute of Technology but it falls far short of what it wishes to achieve.