Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 29 May 1930

Vol. 35 No. 2

In Committee on Finance. - Vote 13—Civil Service Commission.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £8,445 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1931, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí Coimisiún na Stát-Sheirbhíse (Uimh. 5 de 1924 agus Uimh. 41 de 1926) agus an Coimisiún Cheapacháin Aitiúla (Uimh 39 de 1926).

That a sum not exceeding £8,445 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Civil Service Commission (Nos. 5 of 1924 and 41 of 1926) and of the Local Appointments Commission (No. 39 of 1926).

The variation here, again, is partly due to the incremental scale and partly due to a slight increase in the staff of the Commission.

I would like to ask the Minister about the future policy of his Department in connection with Civil Service examinations. I want to be reassured, at least on one point. One of the avenues for entrance to the Civil Service on the post office side is by way of boy messengers. There is limited competition between a number of these boys for the positions in the clerical staff, and I understand it is now the only method by which young lads can enter the Civil Service as messengers. To qualify for clerical posts afterwards examination is held, known as a limited competition—that is the name it had in the old British Civil Service, and I think it has the same to-day—in other words, competition is confined to boy messengers. Within the last few months a case was brought to my notice in which a young lad got first place in the examination for boy messengers. He scored very high marks in written and oral Irish. Subsequently he presented himself for examination to become a boy learner—in other words, to enter the clerical grade. There also he scored a very high place—in fact, the highest place; he got an aggregate number of marks of 531. He scored very high marks in written Irish, but rather low marks in oral Irish. I want the House to mark this point, that the boy had already shown a desire to learn the language and had acquired a very good knowledge of it, both written and oral. When he presented himself for the clerical grade he got a very high percentage in the written Irish, but rather low marks in oral Irish. All the same, he came out at the head of the list. He got 531 marks, and the candidate whom I shall call B, who was second highest on the list, secured 500 marks. The second candidate, who only got 500 marks as against the other candidate's 531 marks, was appointed to the position.

Of course it will be said that this is an attack on the language. It is not. It is merely an inquiry to know where we are. Here is a lad who gave every indication of a desire to acquire a knowledge of the language, and who, no doubt, had a very good knowledge of it. Here is the point I would like the Minister to explain. It may be the case, and I believe it is —I do not like to assert it, because I like to stand over everything I say here—that the lad was examined by a man from another area, who possibly had not the same blas or pronunciation of Irish words as the boy. I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to this state of affairs, and to ask what his policy in this direction is to be in the future. It is certainly a very trying thing for poor men to educate their children, and to do their best for them in very adverse circumstances, when the children acquire a knowledge of the language, and show every desire to learn it, that they should be turned down because some other boy has a better knowledge of the language, although he may not be quite so good in subjects that are more essential for clerical appointments, such as writing and arithmetic. I can pass the figures to the Minister to show that this boy victim of the Civil Service Commissioners got in his first examination 67 marks in Gaelic, as against 34 marks secured by the other candidate. In English he got 151 marks, as against 193; in Arithmetic he got 110, as against the successful candidate's 105; in Handwriting 143, as against the successful candidate, who only got a pass. It will be seen that this is a case that should command the attention of the Minister, so that industrious parents in the State will know where they are in relation to the whole system of education, and particularly the system of examination. If it is to be the system in future that oral Irish is to be the all-important thing, then let it be known, and we will know where we stand. I am quite sure that if the people are going to be told that, the Minister and the Government will have a very short shrift, indeed. We want to know where we are.

Deputy Anthony has referred to an individual case of which I never heard until he spoke, so that it is quite impossible for me to deal with it now. But I am satisfied that the Deputy has not got the facts of the case quite accurately, because if there was a competitive examination, as he seemed to indicate, in which there were certain marks given for oral Irish and certain marks for written Irish, and the candidate succeeded in passing in oral Irish, but not as well as another candidate, the one who got the biggest aggregate marks would be appointed. It may have been that the Deputy's candidate, A, failed to pass——

I do not know the boy at all.

——in oral Irish, and it was necessary to do so to pass the examination. In that case the next candidate on the list in aggregate marks would succeed.

On a point of correction. The boy I referred to passed practically with honours in his first examination for boy messengers. I do not know him and never met him. The matter was reported to me.

I do not think the facts can be as Deputy Anthony gave them. He has not got the facts.

The marks are here.

We want to know all the facts of the case. There are certain examinations in which, in order to pass—I think most examinations, if not all—there is examination in oral Irish, but not a competitive one. In some examinations oral Irish may be competitive, but in many it is not competitive; it is qualifying, and if a candidate who is required to qualify in oral Irish does qualify, then his place on the list depends on the marks he got in the other subjects. If he fails to qualify, whatever marks he gets in other subjects are not sufficient to enable him to pass the examination. On the whole the standard for oral Irish for candidates is a very low standard. Very little is asked of candidates in the matter of oral Irish at entrance, but there is a provision whereby within a period of two years after entry to the Civil Service they must pass a reasonably hard examination, but not very hard, in oral Irish. It has happened heretofore that candidates have been given two or three shots at this oral examination, which has to be passed within two years after entry. The only penalty that has so far been imposed on a candidate who failed to pass that examination in oral Irish within the prescribed period was that his or her increment was stopped, that is, that a person who would have been due to receive an increment on the 1st June, having completed two years' service, but who failed to pass the oral Irish examination would have the increment stopped. If that candidate succeeded by the 1st October or the 1st November, or by some such date in passing the examination, then the increment would be given. I do not say that as much latitude as that will continue to be given, because any candidate who will make the attempt, who has any knowledge at all of oral Irish and was able to pass a written examination in Irish, would be very easily able to pass the examination which is required to be passed within two years.

If Deputy Anthony will give me sufficient particulars of this case to identify it I will write him on the subject, and if he is not satisfied with my letter and requires further information, then he can ask a question in the House. But full regard is had to the whole facts of the situation in dealing with this matter, and it is well recognised by the Civil Service Commissioners that to impose a high standard of capacity to speak Irish at entrance to the Civil Service would be hard, that it would prevent people from entering whose lack of knowledge of the language was not in any way their own fault. So that a very moderate degree of knowledge is required at entrance, and it is in order to enable that to be done and yet not make the regulations with regard to Irish farcical that the second examination within two years of entering the service has been arranged.

On a point of explanation. I am not sure that this case was sent on to the Department but I think it was, because I got a letter addressed to an official, in the course of which this candidate says: "I secured the highest aggregate of marks in the learners' examination. My failure in oral Irish was due rather to slowness than to an insufficient knowledge of the language. In the boy messengers' qualifying examination I secured the highest marks and first place. In the learners' examination I got 22 per cent. in Gaelic, and in the boy messengers' examination 53 per cent. in Gaelic."

Could the Deputy not pass that letter to the Minister?

That answers the Minister's question.

That bears out what I said, that it was not a question of passing in oral Irish and getting low marks, but that he failed to pass. What may have happened is that he did nothing between the first examination and the second and lost his knowledge to some extent, or that he failed to keep up his studies in this respect. That may well be the explanation of the matter. I do not know how long the interval between the two examinations was, but the boys entered on equal terms in the first instance, and if one of them pursued his studies for a period of two years and the other did not, then there would be a very great difference between them at the second examination.

What I want to know is if the Government is going to emphasise the importance of oral Irish against written. I can quite recognise the advantage of being able to speak the language, but surely, at present at any rate, due regard should be had to the fact that in an all-round examination there should not be too much insistence on the oral side of it, and also that the lad has done his best and is not living in an Irish-speaking district.

I tried to tell the Deputy that there is no insistence, that so far as oral Irish is concerned the tests are extremely easy, and that attention is paid to the facts to which the Deputy refers. But, of course, no matter how easy the test may be, if a boy will let some period elapse without preparing for it he is liable to drop some of his knowledge.

I do not want——

The Minister has concluded. I was expecting Deputy Hennessy to intervene, but he did not, although I gave him a chance.

Question put and agreed to