Yes. I was trying simply to indicate the reasons for my personal position in regard to the merger at this point but if I have strayed too far from the direct subject I shall certainly bring that part of my remarks to a close.
I would again sum up my reasons for being unhappy about this Bill: first of all, the absurdity of bringing in a Bill here to extend the life of the Senate of the National University of Ireland at the same moment as the governing body has just decided within a matter of weeks not to extend its own life any further after doing so for two years in the hopeful expectation that something might happen about the merger. I cannot see how a Government can justify on the one hand the governing body going ahead with its election and the Senate election being abandoned, more particularly because these bodies are intercommunicating to a very high degree. Indeed, the Senate elects to the governing body and the governing body elects to the Senate. There is no one on the electoral body who is not in perpetual motion between them through this interesting mechanism. This being the case, I cannot see how you justify abandoning the election to the Senate when that Senate which is now not going to have an election is going, in fact, to choose members of a governing body which will have an election and the new governing body having the election is going to choose people to the non-elected Senate. The two bodies are so closely linked that to adopt opposite procedures in regard to them at this point of time is utterly absurd. I cannot blame the Minister because the Bill was initiated before his time but I do not think the previous Minister really thought the thing out. I cannot believe his advisers really thought the thing out in coming to the House with such an extraordinary proposal at this point of time.
The Charter of the NUI is a document which sets out the details with regard to the Senate of the University and the governing bodies of its colleges. It is one document. These are two sets of bodies within one institution. If there is a reason for abandoning elections in one, there must be reason in the other. If it has now been decide, and I think properly, after several years of hanging around waiting for a non-existent merger, to hold elections and to at least have an elected governing body instead of those which have lost all authority, if it is decided to do that, how could the Government have chosen this moment, of all moments, to introduce a Bill to extend the life of the Senate indefinitely? The absurdity of this is so evident that when one puts it like that it becomes clear that the only value of this Bill and the basis on which one could support it is to legalise an inadvertent illegality committed by the Senate in thinking that the Government could extend its life by order.
I also feel, as I have said, that it was most undesirable in principle and, indeed, for obvious practical reasons, to undermine the authority of any university institution at this time by artificially extending its life and I think the case against that has been shown in the case of UCD. It is evident to anybody who has followed events there that the situation there is a serious one, has been serious and is a potentially serious one even today and will be serious next autumn because of the fact that we have a governing body which is unrepresentative of two-thirds of the staff and of all the students and two-thirds of the staff and the students have no power to elect any members to it and which has extended its life with Government connivance and Government support for several years so that it has lost the moral authority it needs to have. There have been few periods in the lives of universities in this country when it has been so necessary for the bodies which govern them to have moral authority as well as power and this House should do nothing to undermine it. I would, therefore, appeal to the Minister in replying to the debate to give us an assurance that the Bill will be used to remedy whatever technical defects there may be in relation to the Senate of the NUI but that he will ensure that the procedure for the election of the Senate of the NUI starts immediately. It should have started several months ago —that is why this Bill is necessary now —and that the election will take place, if not by 31st October, when it should, at least by the 31st December so that there will be a newly-elected Senate with the function of appointing members to the governing body which is being elected in accordance with the governing body of UCD. It could be very valuable to have a new Senate—a Senate that would have been elected by the present generation of electors which include a very large proportion of people who have come on the register within the past five years.
Owing to the rapidity with which our universities have expanded, the proportion of electors on the register is exceptionally high. There is quite a disproportionate share of electors on this register, who elect 80 members to the Senate whose names have been placed on the register within the past five years and who are much more in touch with the current realities of university life than other generations.
I should like to stress the point that the changes that have taken place in our universities within the past 12 months are really quite extraordinary. It would have been inconceivable, say, two years ago, to think that we would have in UCD today a system whereby there are staff-student committees working in every department—committees which are working closely and harmoniously together in arranging courses for the various departments and committees which have proved their worth during the past year. These committees have commanded the support of the students and the admiration of the staff for the way in which they have worked.
It would have been unthinkable also even six months ago that an assembly of these staff-student committees could become a sort of parliament meeting together to discuss crucial issues as to how the college is run. These developments have changed the atmosphere in our college in a way which was unthinkable two years ago. The universities today are quite different from what they were. The whole idea of what a university is for is changing.
There is a desire among staff and students alike to recreate in some form the community of scholars which universities were in mediaeval times, a desire to recreate a sense of sharing in this process of expanding knowledge and of passing on knowledge. On the part of the students there is a desire to participate fully in the running of the institution in which they play a part; the staff have been alerted to the needs and desires of the students which may at times seem to be dramatic or even melodramatic in the way in which they are presented.
Personally, I can say that having passed through the events of February and March in my college my experience at that time was different from any which I had ever previously known. To find oneself in a situation in which people broke out of their normal relationships and established new types of communications with each other; to find a situation in which most of the staff of the college, not all, sat down to discuss with students the problems of how the university should be run and discussed it together in a constructive manner was something completely new.
We are in a new era in our universities. The transition will be difficult. It will be difficult for us to find our place in a new relationship but the effort will be rewarded and nothing should be done at this point to disturb this transition. Nothing should be done to weaken the authority of the existing bodies who have to carry the process through, but to extend the life of any of them at this stage would be a mistake. The Minister should have regard to these facts when considering the position.
I am glad that the governing body of the college have decided that there shall be an election and not to seek from the Government any further extension. I am glad that an election will take place, although I know that because of the antiquated constitution of the governing body, the governing body that will emerge from that election will be in many respects unrepresentative. However, it will be possible for them to take a step towards a new type of university structure, for example, using their power of co-option to co-opt students to the governing body. By taking this decision not to extend its own life, the governing body have taken the first step towards student-representation on its own councils. Had the governing body taken a decision similar to the kind of decision being put to us in this Bill to prolong its life, again because this mythical merger is about to take place, the governing body would find themselves precluded by law from having students on their councils during the year 1970.
I am glad that this has not happened. It would be a pity if we in this House should, even in relation to a body that has less direct involvement in the college, take a step that would preclude the representation of the new tide of opinion on the Senate and make it more difficult for the Senate colleges to appoint to the governing body these new type of persons who would be able to bridge the gap between students and staff on the one hand and between the administration of the colleges on the other hand.
I appeal to the Minister not to press this point. Let us have the Bill by all means if it is necessary to remedy an unintentional legality but let us not use this Bill to prolong the life of a body which needs to be re-elected, which needs to have the opportunity of being replenished with people who know something more directly of the new tide of opinion within university affairs, a new body which also would in choosing its representatives in the governing body of UCD take account of this tide of opinion, a body that would be more representative and one that would be more likely to command the support of the students than the governing body we have today.