I am putting forward the views that were expressed at the meeting yesterday. I know that the committee are not satisfied. They know about the 50 per cent of the capital cost. But the committee has no provision made with the county council to meet the capital expense of erecting this school. The committee, as I have already explained, have made provision to erect three schools in the non-Gaeltacht area. The county council agreed to borrow a sum of £40,000 for these three schools. We have done our part in co-operating with the Minister and the Department, and we are not satisfied as to progress that is being made towards the erection of these schools. Although it is two years since the deputation met the Minister, we have not got sanction yet for the schools in the Gaeltacht area, except to be told to go ahead with one. We have made provision for the three schools that I have referred to in East Galway, but we have not made any provision for the others for the simple reason that we were under the impression that the Gaeltacht area would get special treatment. The Gaeltacht area in Galway is a very big area. It should be treated as a special area on account of the low valuations there and the density of its population. For these reasons we thought that we had made an unanswerable case for special treatment for it. The committee, as I say, are not a bit satisfied with the position. As I have said, they have made no provision for the schools there with the county council. The committee are also very much dissatisfied with the last sentence in the Minister's letter in which he says re the proposed school in Kilronan:—
"Tá súil ag an Aire go rachaidh an coiste ar aghaidh anois comh luath is is féidir."
The Minister tells us that we are to go ahead with it now. We have been going ahead with it since November, 1948, ever since the members of our committee met the Minister, and for years previously. I may say that the members of the committee were thoroughly disgusted with the last line of that letter. That was the feeling at the meeting yesterday. It was as much as to say to the committee: "You should go ahead with this thing now." That would look as if the committee had done nothing up to this. As far as I can see, we have been led astray about this whole matter. I hope that a clarification of that letter will be sent down to our committee so that we may know where we are.
With regard to the other school I mentioned, New Inn school, we have got permission to go ahead with that. We have done our part so far as the money is concerned. As regards Dunmore and Loughrea, we have been held up from going ahead any further with these schools. As we have cooperated with the Government in every way and made provision for the money, I should like if the Minister would let us go ahead with the building of these schools as quickly as possible. Other Deputies mentioned about putting up annexes to halls, Nissen huts, etc. I think they are only temporary expedients. If we are to have vocational education, if we recognise that it is an integral part of our educational system, we should have buildings properly erected for that purpose. Parish halls are very useful, but there is such a demand for the use of these halls by Young Farmers' Clubs, Country Women's Associations and our local defence force in every parish who use these halls for training purposes that we cannot provide properly for vocational education classes and all the equipment necessary which has to be left in these halls. Therefore, we should have proper schools for vocational education as we have for national and secondary education.
So far as County Galway is concerned, our committee are prepared, if we get the co-operation from the Minister and the Department, to erect these schools. We have raised money for three in the non-Gaeltacht area and, as far as the Gaeltacht area is concerned, in view of the density of the population and the small valuation there, I hope we shall get special terms for it. In order to bear out my point, I have here a circular from the Sligo Vocational Committee which I think was sent to every Deputy, but which I should like to read in order to have it on the records of the House. This is a memorandum explanatory of the methods of financing vocational education committees, especially in low valuation areas, and County Sligo committee's resolution calling for their amendment. I hope that the Minister may be able to insert such an amendment in this Bill, or accept one, if it is put down, on the lines suggested in this resolution and the explanatory memorandum that goes with it, which reads as follows:—
"The finances of every vocational education committee are derived mainly from two sources, namely, the local rating authority and the Minister for Education.
The amount provided by the former is the amount of the rate struck.
The Minister's contribution is made up of basic grant and additional grant. In the case of county schemes, the additional grant is the equivalent of the contribution excess. In the case of urban schemes, the additional grant is generally four times the contribution excess.
The contribution excess is the amount of the excess of the proceeds of the rate struck in any year over the proceeds of seven farthings in the £. For example, if the rate struck is 7d. in the £, the contribution excess is the proceeds of 5¼d. (7d. — 1¾d.) in the £.
It follows that the Department's annual contribution to vocational education in counties of low valuation is much smaller than its annual contribution to other counties. The lower valuation areas are generally the more densely populated and, therefore, require a greater share of money to provide popular education. Hence, the Department's contribution, which is derived from the taxpayers, should be greater in these populous areas and not very much less as at present.
A simple example will show the inequity of the present system, even in a case where there is no difference between two counties in population per square mile, but where one, A, is of higher valuation than the other, B. Assume each to strike a rate of 7d. in the £ for vocational education. If the proceeds of 1d. are £1,200 in A and in B only £800, A gets the contribution excess of £6,300 (£1,200 × 5¼) from the taxpayer, while B gets only £4,200 (£800 × 5¼). In other words, A, the wealthier county, can employ at the taxpayers' expense about five teachers more than the poorer county, B. When the poorer area has the greater population, the injustice is still more glaring, and as the local rate increases the disparity becomes greater.
Experience ever since the passing of the Vocational Education Act has shown that the low-valuation counties have not been able to provide vocational education on the same scale or to the same extent as the sometimes sparsely populated, but wealthier, areas. In counties like Sligo, Leitrim and Galway, a system of vocational stop-gap special grants has had consequently to be resorted to, not so much to develop schemes as to enable existing under-developed schemes to survive in the face of constantly rising costs. It is significant that the local authorities in these areas, knowing the educational needs of the people, almost without exception, strike the maximum rate permissible. Although they do so willingly, it must be admitted that the present system makes it practically imperative on them.
If it is contended that the same system obtains in all local services, such as roads, agriculture and health services, that is so much the worse for the counties in question. In those services, however, special grants are available in respect of special schemes and in making those grants regard is usually had to the financial ability of the area concerned. But this is not so in the case of vocational education.
It is not the County Sligo Committee's aim that any change in financing schemes should involve taking from one scheme in order to improve the other. On the contrary, they feel that the finances of all schemes are inadequate to meet the growing demand of popular education of a practical kind. They urge that the time has now come when the position should be re-examined and that the Statutory Order made annually by the Minister should be so amended that the areas at present seriously affected should receive additional grants equal at least to twice the contribution excess. Only in such a way can there be uniform progress in vocational education throughout the country. The County Sligo Committee also know that this question of providing educational amenities for the poorer rural areas is closely linked with the evil of emigration, and they feel that their resolution, as hereunder, will be actively supported, even for that reason alone, by all public representatives to whom it is addressed."
This is the resolution which was proposed by the Very Rev. Fr. Kelly, P.P., seconded by Very Rev. Canon Wims, P.P., and passed:—
"That in this committee's view the method of making grants from central funds, on the basis of pound for pound of the excess contributions in county areas is grossly inequitable; imposes unjust limits to the development of county schemes where the rateable valuation is low; and creates the situation of making the comparatively greater number of taxpayers in these areas contribute to the development of wealthier schemes while bearing the burden of a similar, or even higher, local rate. That rural committees in the West affected by this injustice be requested to convey their protest to the Minister by formal resolution and by enlisting the sympathies of local Teachtai Dála."
That memorandum explains the position of counties such as County Galway. I hold that our county, on account of its peculiar position in having such a large Gaeltacht area, is even in a worse position still. With this circular was sent out a table showing the rate struck by each county for vocational education, the local contributions per head of the population, the grants per head from central funds and the totals of the two grants.
It can be seen clearly from the table that counties like Sligo, Galway and Leitrim are paying the full rate that was allowed up to this, 7d. in the £, and at the same time they are getting only small grants per head as compared with counties like Meath, which is up at the top. Meath is paying only 5.4d., and the people there are getting 7/6 per head of the population in grants. I could not get the figures for all counties in the Library to-day but I got them for Meath. These figures show that the valuation of Meath in 1936 was £554,172, the population being 66,220 and the area, 577,824 statute acres. In our county, the valuation is only £484,049, much less than that of Meath, but our population is 191,053, three times that of Meath, and our area is 1,520,610 statute acres. That is for County Galway as a whole, but the valuation of the area west of the River Corrib, including the Aran Islands, is only £55,725 10s. I have here another table supplied to each member of Galway County Vocational Education Committee and which, I understand, was also forwarded to the Department, showing that the total grants received from the county council and the Department, so far as West Galway and Connemara were concerned, amounted to £5,556, while the total expenditure in the same area was £10,755. The debit against the East Galway area was, therefore, £5,199, payable by the ratepayers. These figures speak for themselves.
From what I have said, it can be seen that counties such as ours have a special claim and I hope the Minister will be prepared himself to insert some amendment or to accept an amendment from some other Deputy to deal with these matters before the Bill becomes law. Yesterday, we held a statutory meeting in addition to our ordinary committee meeting, in County Galway, and in order to finance our schemes for the next year, and to show that we are co-operating with the Government even before this Bill becomes law, we raised the rate to the maximum figure allowed for this year, 8d., subject to this Bill becoming law and to the county council approving of the proposal. We did that at the statutory meeting after the ordinary meeting of the county vocational education committee had been held.
I was glad to hear the comprehensive report which the Minister presented to the House in introducing the Bill which indicated the progress that has been made in vocational education since its inception in this country. We have a very energetic committee in our county and we have availed of every scheme that we could possibly avail of. In addition to ten permanent day schools, we have classes all over the county. I am particularly interested to have schools erected in rural areas because, knowing the conditions in these rural areas, I realise that the extension of vocational education will benefit the people of these areas both socially and economically. One of the factors which operated against the spread of vocational education in the beginning was that the people did not really realise the immense value that was being conferred on them. We had the canard, to which reference has already been made by some Deputies, that vocational schools were white elephants in many areas, just as we had the canard in reference to compulsory Irish and illiteracy in two languages. We know that if these cries are raised often enough, some people will be inclined to believe them. I believe that what happened is that, perhaps, there was some small falling off for a while in the beginning in the attendances at vocational schools in rural areas. People did not really realise that it was more important that the son who was to stay at home, and who was to have the farm, should attend a vocational school than it was even for the young boy who was to become a tradesman, an apprentice, or who intended to take up work in an office.
In later years they began to realise that, and nowadays we have the young men who intend to stay on the land attending our vocational schools. In addition, we have the girls who intend to stay at home and to get married in rural Ireland, attending domestic economy classes. These schools then are socially and economically of great benefit to the people, and with the extension of rural electrification, the laying on of water supplies to country houses and the introduction of other amenities, vocational education will be of great help in stopping emigration and in preventing the flight from the land to the cities and to foreign countries. In conclusion, I hope the Minister will be able to amend the Bill before it becomes law so as to incorporate some of the suggestions and ideas which I have expressed.