Private Members' Business: Portlaoise Vocational School Post: Motion.

It is with genuine regret that I, as a Laois Deputy, find it necessary to move the following motion:

That Dáil Éireann calls on the Minister for Education to hold an immediate public inquiry into the conduct of the County Laois Vocational Education Committee which according to a High Court decision was and is in breach of its statutory duty in relation to its failure to appoint a qualified Principal for Portlaoise Vocational School.

My motion arises from the fact that the Laois VEC over the past three years have failed to appoint a principal for Portlaoise Vocational School. Over that period they have failed, for some political reason of their own, to appoint as headmaster the qualified candidate whom they considered was more suitable for the position.

The history of this case makes very sorry telling. I am distressed to have to bring this motion before Dáil Éireann in an effort to prevail upon my colleagues in the House to make this very necessary call on the Minister for Education. In early 1974, a vacancy was created for the position of principal of Portlaoise Vocational School due to the retirement of the previous headmaster. An advertisement was published in the public Press in April, 1974, by the Laois Vocational Education Committee inviting applications from suitably qualified candidates for the position of principal of the vocational school.

Built into that advertisement was the statement that the qualifications and conditions of appointment were set out in paragraph 12 (b) and Appendix C to Memorandum V.7 of the Department of Education. As the House knows, Memorandum V.7 is a document issued by the Department of Education governing the appointment, qualifications and scales of salary of permanent full-time teachers under vocational education committees.

The memorandum also covers appointments in the case of whole-time teachers permanently established to posts of responsibility in such schools, including posts as principal and vice-principal. The qualifications as outlined indicated that one of the requirements of the person who would be appointed to the post in Laois would be that he should have not less than five years' whole time teaching experience in the vocational education service.

The Laois Vocational Education Committee received nine applications for posts in response to their advertisement. In accordance with normal practice the candidates were called for interview by a central selection board on the 17th May, 1974. In accordance with established practice at the time, and still, the central selection board consisted of seven members, four nominated by the County Laois Vocational Education Committee, including their chairman, and one representative of the Irish Vocational Education Association and two officers of the Department of Education.

I think I should point out that at that time the Laois Vocational Education Committee was fully made up of Fine Gael nominees, which included all Fine Gael county councillors, and Fine Gael nominees filling the noncouncillor positions on that committee. The only exception to this, was a non-party tied parish priest— if I might use that description who had survived from a previous committee.

Was Mr. Campion on that committee?

He was not. I would point out that when I talk about an all-Fine Gael committee it was not a Coalition committee, as both Fianna Fáil and Labour representatives were banned from this committee by the previous Laois County Council where Fine Gael had a complete monopoly. Therefore, Labour did not need to be incorporated into the movement at that stage as far as Laois was concerned.

Arising from the selection board reviewing of the nine applications, they reduced the candidates for the position to a first and second choice.

The order in which these two candidates were placed by the four nominees of the vocational education committee on the selection board was not acceptable to the other three members of the board, namely, the vocational association representative and the two nominees of the Minister for Education, because the candidate placed first by the vocational education committee nominees did not have the minimum of five years' whole-time teaching experience required by the terms of paragraph 12 (b) of Memorandum V.7, whereas the candidate placed second by the vocational education committee nominees complied with this and all of the other requirements for the post.

In the event, the report of the meeting of the selection board on the 17th May, 1974, was signed only by the four nominees of the vocational education committee and also by the committee's chief executive officer as secretary of the selection board, but not by the other three members of the selection board.

The first choice candidate of the members of the vocational education committee on the selection board was a permanent full time teacher of English and history and had been in the whole time employment of the Laois Vocational Education Committee from September, 1971. He was previously employed on a temporary basis as a teacher in Terenure College, Dublin, from September, 1970 to June, 1971. He had not, therefore, the minimum of five years whole time teaching experience required by the terms of the Memorandum V.7. On the other hand, the second choice candidate of the members on the selection board, was a permanent whole time teacher of science and mathematics who had been in the whole time employment of the County Laois Vocational Education Committee from October, 1963.

He was, therefore, fully qualified with his teaching experience as prescribed in Memorandum V.7. On 20th May, 1974 the chief executive officer of the committee wrote to the Department of Education indicating, notwithstanding the views expressed by the IVEA representatives and of the views expressed by the Minister's two representatives at the meeting of the selection board on 17th May, 1974 that the Laois Vocational Education Committee members of the board had selected as their first choice the candidate who did not fulfil the requirement in respect of teaching experience.

The CEO requested, in that letter, an indication from the Department of Education of their view in the matter in time for a proposed meeting of the Vocational Education Committee on 9th June, 1974 at which the selection would be considered. The Department replied to the CEO on the 30th May, 1974 stating that the first choice candidate was ineligible for appointment as Principal of the Portlaoise Vocational School.

Nonetheless, at the meeting of the Vocational Education Committee at which the appointment was considered and which was held on the 10th June, 1974, the report of their selection board signed only by the four members of the vocational education committee on the board was before the meeting as, of course was the Department's letter on the 30th May, saying that the candidate was ineligible.

At this meeting, made up of a completely Fine Gael appointed committee there were two proposals. The first was that the report of the selection board be adopted and that the full committee now approve of the appointment of Michael Parsons as principal of Portlaoise Vocational School as from the 1st September, 1974.

There was an amendment. The amendment was, that the selection board named second choice, William Phelan, be appointed to the post as principal of Portlaoise Vocational School as from 1st September, 1974. The amendment was put and defeated on a show of hands by eight to four. The original motion was carried by the same majority. The chairman who was then Deputy Oliver J. Flannagan, accordingly, declared the first choice candidate appointed to the post as principal of Portlaoise Vocational School with effect from 1st September, 1974, subject to the sanction of the Minister for Education.

The Department of Education informed the vocational education committee, by letter dated the 5th July, 1974, that it was not open to the Department to sanction the first choice candidate's appointment for the reasons set out in their letter of 30th May, to which I have already referred.

The Laois Vocational Education Committee met again on 8th July, 1974, to consider the Department's reply of 5th July but this was a meeting with a difference.

Between 12th June and 8th July, the local election had been held and a new committee had been appointed. Fine Gael had failed to hold their overall majority of the Laois County Council and a Coalition grouping had taken over. By agreement, however, four places were conceded to Fianna Fáil representatives on this new committee, but the vacancies for those four placings had been created by the removal from the Fine Gael group on the old committee of the four Fine Gael members who had opposed the dictatorial action of the majority led by Deputy O.J. Flanagan, the chairman.

Those four people, including Deputy Charles McDonald and three colleagues of his on the outgoing vocational committee who agreed with the Minister at that time and had proposed and supported the amendment that the properly qualified man should be appointed principal, were all removed from the committee.

The vocational committee have continued since then to be in breach of their statutory responsibility. This committee, which the present Minister for Education has stated here in this House were properly constituted, have continued to carry on in a manner of complete opposition to their statutory responsibility.

In the minutes of the committee's meeting of 8th July, 1974, it is stated that the committee would not accept the fact that the first choice candidate was ineligible in accordance with the terms of Memorandum V.7. A motion of the meeting that the first choice candidate be appointed as principal in charge was carried by nine votes to two and an amendment that the second choice candidate be appointed teacher in charge was defeated by the same vote.

There followed a further letter from the Department to the VEC on the matter dated 29th August, 1974. This letter made it clear that there was not included among posts of responsibility in vocational schools a post carrying the title of principal teacher in charge and again pointed out that the first choice candidate was not eligible for appointment as principal. You will see that this committee, led still by Deputy Oliver J. Flanagan, were insisting on not acceding to ministerial and departmental directives.

The Laois VEC met again on 9th September, and a proposal was carried by nine votes to five, the five being made up of four Fianna Fáil nominees and a Labour county councillor, and those nine supporters of Fine Gael at this stage, on 9th September, decided to appoint their non-acceptable nominee as acting principal, without remuneration, as from 10th September, 1974.

An amendment that the second choice again be appointed to the post of principal as advertised was defeated again by the same majority of nine votes to five and that has been the consistent vote ever since. The committee were informed in writing on 18th September, 1974, by the Department of Education that this new proposal could not be sanctioned by the Department.

The Department stressed in the same letter that it was essential in the interest of the pupils concerned that the vacant post of principal of Portlaoise vocational school should be filled immediately in accordance with the provisions of Memorandum V.7, with particular reference to paragraph 12 (b). It was stated too by the Department that they considered that the first choice candidate was not eligible for the post but that the candidate placed next in order of choice should be appointed since he was fully qualified and eligible for the position.

In a letter of 5th September, 1974, the then Minister for Education endeavoured to get the message across straight and fair to the chairman, Deputy Oliver J. Flanagan, and to his maverick committee. The letter stated that, notwithstanding the availability of the candidate who fulfils all the requirements for the post of principal in accordance with the committee's own advertisement and in accordance with the relevant terms of the Department's Memorandum V.7, Laois VEC had persisted in proposing that the post be filled in some form or other by a candidate who did not comply with the requirements applicable to the Portlaoise vocational school—that the person appointed should have not less than five years' whole time teaching experience.

The letter went on to state unequivocally to the committee that, while there was a candidate available who satisfied the conditions for appointment as principal in accordance with normal procedures, the Minister for Education would not sanction the filling of the post on any other basis.

All of the above particulars which I have given to this House are taken from a statement made by the then Minister for Education, the then Deputy Richard Burke, in a contribution which he made in the Dáil in reply to an Adjournment Debate in which I raised this matter on 11th February, 1975. All the facts stated by me already are contained in the Minister's statement on that occasion, so none of those factors can be contradicted or will be contradicted by the present Minister.

Arising from that letter from the Department of Education to the Laois Vocational Education Committee and from correspondence between the Minister at that time and the chairman, Deputy Oliver J. Flanagan, this rebellious VEC sought legal advice as to how they could force the Minister for Education to sanction their proposals. They failed to get legal opinion which would justify their conduct and continued to carry on and refused to nominate the qualified candidate who at all stages, from their point of view, was placed No. 2. The vocational committee were clearly conscious of the fact that they have been out of order since June, 1974, but the maverick majority of this committee have been consistently flouting the rules and regulations laid down by the Minister and it is because of this that I am seeking the inquiry.

I asked the Minister for Education by way of parliamentary question on 20th May, 1975, if he had as yet studied the legal advice which had been offered in March to the Laois County Vocational Education Committee in relation to their dispute with him and if he could now announce his decision in the matter. By way of reply, the Minister said that he had seen the legal advice in question. It had been discussed at the meeting of the County Laois VEC on 14th April, 1975, and their views thereon had been conveyed to him in the minutes of that meeting.

He pointed out that he was then considering the views of the committee and would be in touch with them in due course. On that occasion I drew the then Minister's attention to a statement which had appeared in The Irish Times of 19th May in which Deputy Flanagan had claimed that there was confusion regarding the regulations contained in Memorandum V.7 covering this particular instance.

The Minister refused to be drawn on this for fear of condemning his colleague, Deputy Flanagan, at that stage, except to say that there was no confusion in regard to teaching regulations. I asked the Minister if he was not aware that the majority of the Committee of the Laois VEC were playing ducks and drakes with him and that the situation had been shown in this light in the national and provincial press. I even went so far as to suggest that by dallying in his decision the Minister was suffering the ignominy of having those members of the committee laugh at him. The then Minister accepted this and said that he was prepared to endure the laughter of people provided he got the right decision in the end.

The situation that ultimately transpired was one whereby the Laois Vocational Committee realised that the Minister for Education could not force them to appoint a headmaster and could only recommend to them that they obey the rules. As long as they continued to disobey the rules and as long as they refused to submit the name of the qualified man, Mr. Phelan, for this appointment, they could keep kicking for touch and avoid making the appointment and the Minister could not force them. The only option open to him was to dismiss the committee as such. They played on the strength of their political power in this regard, in the knowledge that no Fine Gael Minister for Education could possibly disband a Fine Gael controlled VEC. In the event they have won the battle, despite promises made in the debate on 22nd May, 1975, by the then Minister for Education. I was satisfied at all stages about the integrity of the then Minister for Education and I feel that if he was still Minister for Education he would have by now taken the appropriate action. He indicated he would do so in reply to my contribution on 22nd May, 1975. In the time at my disposal in the presentation of this case I do not expect to have sufficient opportunity to quote extracts from the Minister's statement on that occasion but such quotations would justify the claim I have made. That Minister was conscious of the position he held and conscious of the challenge which had been thrown down to him. He was determined to make the right decision.

The majority of the Laois VEC have played this particular card to the ultimate and when it became so obvious that there was going to be no other reaction from the Minister for Education and that it appeared that the Minister for Education was not going to perform his duty and dismiss the Laois VEC, the unfortunate victim of the whole affair, Mr. Phelan, decided to go to court and ask the High Court to issue an ultimatum to the Laois VEC to give him fair play and his just deserts which was his appointment as headmaster in Portlaoise vocational school.

The outcome of the High Court hearing came to light on 28th February last, when Mr. Justice McWilliam held that the Laois Vocational Committee were bound immediately to take such steps as might be necessary to have the appointment made to the position of principal of the Portlaoise vocational school and also ruled that the committee were and are in breach of their statutory duty. The High Court judge deliberately did not give any directions as to who should be appointed and in this regard, as I see it, Mr. Phelan did not get the decision he was expecting to get. Nonetheless, it was open to the Laois Vocational Committee to mend their hand and appoint him as they should have appointed him earlier on, but, instead of that, the committee, despite the decision of the High Court which stated that the committee were and are in breach of their statutory duty, still refused justice to Mr. Phelan and readvertised the position. It is in the consciousness of the fact that this position has been readvertised and a brand new interview arrangement is being set up that I raise this matter.

I have no reason to think that the present Minister is anything but a decent man and he decided to instruct the committee not to go ahead with advertising this position until he had an opportunity of studying the High Court judgment. Since then, during the Easter holiday period, his Department indicated to the CEO that the advertisement could be inserted.

I still feel that Mr. Phelan will prove to be the best qualified, but incorporated in the advertisement is the standard statement that canvassing will disqualify. A member of the committee has already stated publicly at committee level that if anybody opens his mouth in favour of Mr. Phelan— even my raising this tonight—he will see to it that Mr. Phelan is disqualified as having canvassed for the position or arranging to have canvassing done on his behalf. If Mr. Phelan applies for the position of headmaster it is my personal view that he will not receive justice from the interview board dealing with this appointment. I should like to state categorically that Mr. Phelan has made no effort to contact me in relation to this motion. I am saying this in the consciousness of the fact that despite the fact that the Teachers' Association of Ireland and the new Minister will have two members on that selection committee they will prove once again, as they did in June, 1974, to be ineffective against the powers of the four members of the Laois VEC who have been nominated to hold the interviews.

What hope has Mr. Phelan of being appointed by this committee? Surely, his chance of appointment has in no way improved over the last three years. That cannot be fair play and there cannot be a just recommendation from such a loaded interview board.

I feel, (1) that the advertisement should never have reappeared and (2) that the Minister should have dismissed this committee altogether on the basis that it is impossible to get fair play from them and because of their non-conformity with their statutory obligations.

When I raised this matter previously I said I did not want the Minister to dismiss the committee because I was conscious of the important part a vocational committee play at local level but this committee have gone too far in their attitude. I note in fact, the Minister for Defence, Deputy O. J. Flanagan, has arranged to have himself appointed to this interview board. I frankly think that this is disgraceful. I have never heard before in the history of this State of any Minister of State holding on to a position as a member of a county council in the event of his being appointed a Minister. Deputy Flanagan has and he has held on to his position as a member of a subsidiary body of that county council in order to use undue influence on that committee and on fellow-members on that committee.

Apart altogether from the outcome of my request for an inquiry in this regard the Taoiseach should have called on the Minister for Defence, Deputy Flanagan, before now to give up his positions on the county council and the vocational committee. He has already done so on the county committee of agriculture and on the Midland Health Board, but not on this committee where he and a particular colleague exert more than undue influence on the other members who are afraid—I say that deliberately— of both Deputy Flanagan and his sidekick who shall be nameless. I know every member of this maverick committee and I am satisfied that the vast majority of them are decent men, I cannot understand why they have so consistently been a party to the victimisation of William Phelan.

It was stated at one stage that one of the reasons why Mr. Phelan was not the number one choice was that he was not a "leader". If I might digress, I should like to point out that Portlaoise senior footballers won the Leinster Club Championship title this year. They were beaten ultimately in the All-Ireland semi-final by Austin Stacks of Kerry, who won the All-Ireland and who stand head and shoulders above the rest. The man mainly responsible for organising, leading and cultivating the young people of the Portlaoise football team to win the Leinster final and go within a few points of becoming All-Ireland champions was William Phelan.

All of us know how difficult it is in a chief town in a county to keep young men together, to keep them organised, to keep them disciplined. This, in fact, is what Mr. Phelan did and everyone in Portlaoise is proud of the achievement of that aspect of Mr. Phelan's work. He has the same capacity for leadership which could be ideally operated at vocational committee level and the man preferred to him will not hold a candle to him from the point of view of leadership. That is my view of Mr. Phelan's qualifications for the headmastership, apart altogether from his academic qualifications and his experience to which reference has already been made. It has never been suggested that this controversy has been engaged in because of the fact that Mr. Phelan is politically associated with Fianna Fáil because this is simply not so.

In fact, the active members of the committee opposed to the appointment of William Phelan were the very people who supported his appointment as vice-principal some years previously. He had been vice-principal and, if we had a normal committee, one would have expected Mr. Phelan to have been automatically promoted to the vacant principalship when that vacancy arose. When the vocational committee recently, following the High Court decision, decided to re-advertise the position the immediate pupil and teacher reaction was to strike and refuse to attend the school. Now I have, as I said before in this House, met representatives of the student group who were protesting at the committee's decision. They stressed that the administration and discipline in the school were chaotic and they instructed me to ask the Minister to examine the results achieved by the students in all examinations in 1976 as an indication of the inadequacy of the education being offered. This, they stressed to me, was not because of any incapacity on the part of their teachers but appeared to arise from a widespread lack of dedication within the school establishment itself.

Following on the student strike a short time ago, things have improved in that the Minister instructed the committee not to readvertise the post the day after my raising the matter in this House on 9th March last. On his instructions the committee appointed the CEO, Mr. O'Connor, as principal pro tem. The result of this was that Mr. Phelan, as vice-principal, became responsible for administration and things began humming immediately. Unfortunately, however, during the Easter break the Minister, to his everlasting shame, sanctioned the readvertising of the position. If the overall situation were not so frighteningly serious one could be excused for joining with so many Laois readers in laughing scornfully when they read in our local paper—The Leinster Express—an account of a contribution made by the Minister for Defence, Deputy Flanagan, at a recent vocational education committee meeting. The following quotation from The Leinster Express reads:

Deputy Flanagan described the school as one of the best and finest in Ireland and said there was a grave responsibility on the members of the Committee to do what they could to end the dispute.

This was a reference to the students' recent strike.

But the good name of the school has been dragged irresponsibily across the floor of Dáil Éireann by some public representatives. I hope that those who want to be criticised by Portlaoise Vocational School will be silent from here on. I deplore the small group of public representatives who have been decrying the service of this school.

Here, once again, was a further example of the master of hyprocisy stating his claim for appointment as chancellor of its university.

The Deputy should not use a phrase like that in regard to a member of this House. "Master of Hyprocisy" is a term that should not be used.

I was making the point that he was making his claim as chancellor of the university of hyprocisy.

The phrase should not be used.

I should not have to say that.

I am sure the Deputy would not like such a phrase to be used about himself.

I certainly would not like such a phrase to be used about myself. It would not be justified.

It is a phrase that should not be used.

The reference is legitimate if one takes the original meaning of the word.

On the Chair's ruling that the phrase should not be used, I withdraw the phrase. I should like now to summarise by making the following points. The ruling of the High Court judge on Monday, 28th February, 1975, stated that the subterfuge of the Laois Vocational Education Committee appointing Mr. Parsons as acting principal and leaving him in that position over a lengthy period without the consent of the Minister was wholly improper. I suppose if I accused the Minister for Defence now of subterfuge I would probably have to withdraw that. The High Court judge went on to say that this committee "was and is in breach of its statutory duty".

I asked the Minister to take action. At the original appointment meeting held on 10th June, 1974, the chairman, Deputy O.J. Flanagan, informed the members "that he had confirmation from a reputable firm of solicitors, who had consulted senior counsel, that the clauses in Memorandum V.7, section 12 (b) `that the person appointed should have not less than five years' whole time teaching experience' was not mandatory, but was more a recommendation". This mis-statement, I assert, started the whole controversy. The minutes for that meeting show Deputy Flanagan's attitude: "He would not accept the Department's ruling in this matter as conveyed in his letter of 30th May, 1974, to the CEO". Deputy O. J. Flanagan is now a Minister himself. I quote from the minutes of the meeting of 8th July, 1974: "The Committee would not accept the fact that Mr. Parsons was ineligible in accordance with the terms of Memorandum V.7".

On 7th March last Councillor Keenan announced that the vocational committee costs in the High Court case, which they lost, would be paid by way of subvention from the Department of Education. I want to know will the Minister now inform the House if he is going to pay the costs of the case, costs which arose because of the VEC refusal to obey instructions from his predecessor and his Department. We have had a truly laughable situation. The committee objected to having letters written to them by the Department on the Minister's behalf. They wanted the Minister to write his own letters to them and, if he did not do that, the letters amounted to nothing.

Finally, the committee at their meeting on 13th January, 1976, at the direction of Chairman Flanagan decided they would not re-advertise the post. Why, then, did the Minister allow them to re-advertise without rescinding the two-thirds majority decision? If ever conduct deserved to be fully investigated surely the conduct of this committee does. Perhaps the Minister will be able to quote instances but I do not believe there ever was an instance where a committee carried on in such a rebellious manner as did Laois Vocational Education Committee over the last three years. My worry is that this was done at the expense and to the detriment of the pupils. I have not seen any amendment circulated to my motion and that leads me to believe the Minister is accepting my motion.

I am sure Deputy Lalor is under no illusion as to whether or not I will accept this motion.

I am hoping the Minister will.

I will not.

The Minister should be ashamed of himself.

Even if it should involve repetition of some of the details given by Deputy Lalor in the interests of putting this matter in proper perspective it is important to recount the history of the case from the beginning. By way of an advertisement published in the public Press in April, 1974, the County Laois Vocational Education Committee invited "applications from suitably qualified candidates for the position of Principal of Portlaoise Vocational School". It was also stated in the advertisement: "Qualifications and conditions of appointment as set out in paragraph 12 (b) and Appendix C (ii) Memo. V.7. of Department of Education." That memorandum V.7. is a document issued by my Department which governs the appointment, qualifications and scales of salary of whole-time teachers under vocational education committees. The memorandum also covers appointments in the case of whole-time teachers permanently appointed to posts of responsibility in such schools, including posts as principal and vice-principal. The provisions of the memorandum are reviewed from time to time and amended as and when considered necessary or desirable. Consultations for this purpose may take place between my Department, the Irish Vocational Education Association, which is the body representative of vocational education committees which are the managerial authorities of vocational schools, and the Teachers' Union of Ireland representing the interests of vocational teachers generally.

As I have indicated, the advertisement published in April, 1974 by the County Laois VEC inviting applications from suitably qualified candidates for the post of Principal of Portlaoise Vocational School specified that the qualifications and conditions of appointment for the post would be those set out in paragraph 12 (b) and Appendix C (ii) of Memorandum V.7. Paragraph 12 (b) of the memorandum in operation at the time of the adverttisement read as follows:

The person appointed in a permanent wholetime capacity to any post as Principal should be a fully qualified teacher with a capacity for organising. The choice of teacher will depend on the requirements of the centre, but should be such that he can be employed at the centre for the appropriate number of teaching hours. In the case of a school with a points rating over 449 the person appointed should have not less than five years' whole-time teaching experience preferably in the vocational education service. In the case of a school with points rating up to 449, the period of whole-time teaching experience should be not less than three years.

The points rating of Portlaoise Vocational School exceeded 449 at the time, and still does, and pursuant to the above terms of paragraph 12 (b) of Memorandum V.7. the requirement that the person appointed to the post should have not less than five years' whole-time teaching experience in the vocational education service is applicable in the case.

According to information supplied to my Department, the County Laois VEC received nine applications for the post of Principal of Portlaoise Vocational School in response to their published advertisement. In accordance with normal practice, the candidates were called for interview by a central selection board on 17th May, 1974. Seven of the candidates are recorded as having been so interviewed. One of the candidates was reported not to have presented himself for interview; no information is available to the Department regarding the ninth candidate.

In accordance with established procedure, the Central Selection Board consisted of seven members— four nominated by the County Laois Vocational Education Committee and including their chairman, one representative of the Irish Vocational Education Association and two officers of my Department.

The selection board reduced the candidates for the post to a first and second choice. The order in which these two candidates were placed by the four nominees of the vocational education committee on the selection board was not acceptable to the other three members of the board, namely, the representative of the Irish Vocational Education Association and the two nominees of the Minister for Education, because the candidate placed first by the VEC nominees did not have the minimum of five years' whole-time teaching experience, preferably in the vocational education service, required by the terms of paragraph 12 (b) of memorandum V.7., whereas the candidate placed second by the VEC nominees did comply with this and the other requirements for the post. In the event, in the report of the meeting of the selection board on 17th May, 1974, it was stated:—

We, the members of the Central Selection Board, having examined the applications received and interviewed the candidates hereby select the following and place the others in order of preference for the post of Principal, Portlaoise Vocational School:

First came the candidate without minimum of five years' whole-time teaching experience; second came the candidate with more than five years' whole-time teaching experience.

The report was signed only by the four nominees of the VEC and also by the committee's chief executive officer as secretary to the selection board but not by the other three members of the board.

The "first-choice" candidate of the members of the VEC on the selection board was and is still a permanent wholetime teacher of English and History, and has been in the whole-time employment of County Laois VEC since September, 1971. He was previously employed on a temporary basis as a teacher in Terenure College, Dublin, from September, 1970, to June, 1971. At the time of his selection therefore he had not the minimum of five years' whole-time teaching experience we referred to in paragraph 12 (b) of memorandum V.7.

The "second-choice" candidate of the members of the VEC on the selection board was and still is a permanent wholetime teacher of science who has been in the wholetime employment of County Laois VEC since October, 1963. He therefore complied at the time with the requirement of five years' whole-time teaching experience referred to in paragraph 12 (b) of memorandum V.7.

On 20th May, 1974, the chief executive officer of the committee wrote to the Department indicating that, notwithstanding the views expressed by the IVEA representative and the Minister for Education's nominees at the meeting of the selection board on 17th May, 1974, the VEC members on the board had selected as their first choice the candidate who did not fulfil the requirement referred to in respect of teaching experience. The CEO requested an indication of the Department's view in the matter in time for the meeting of the VEC on 9th June, 1974, at which the selection would be considered.

The Department replied to the CEO on 30 May, 1974, stating that the "first-choice" candidate was ineligible for appointment as principal of Portlaoise Vocational School and adding:—

The relevant rule as set out in Paragraph 12 (b) of Memorandum V.7. makes it clear that a minimum of five years' whole-time teaching experience is a necessary qualification for this post and not merely a desirable qualification.

The meeting of the VEC at which the appointment was considered was held on 12th June, 1974, and the report on the selection board—signed only, as I have said, by the four nominees of the VEC on the board—was before the meeting, as was the Department's letter of 30th May, 1974.

Two proposals were proposed and seconded for consideration by the Committee. The first:

"That the report of the Selection Board be adopted and the Committee now approve of the appointment of (the Selection Board's named first choice) as Principal of Portlaoise Vocational School from 1st September, 1974."

The Second was an amendment:

"That (the Selection Board's named second choice) be appointed to the post of Principal, Portlaoise Vocational School, as from 1st September, 1974."

The amendment was put and defeated on a show of hands by eight votes to four. The original motion was carried by the same majority. The chairman accordingly declared the first-choice candidate appointed to the post as Principal, Portlaoise Vocational School, with effect from 1st September, 1974, subject to the sanction of the Minister for Education.

I am sorry to have made the Minister's speech for him.

What the Deputy said and what I have said is what my predecessor said previously——

Exactly.

——and I want to get it on the record here now quite precisely.

For the third time.

My Department informed the VEC by letter dated 5th July, 1974, that it was not open to the Department to sanction the first choice candidate's appointment for the reasons set out in its letter of 30 May, 1974, to which I have already referred.

In the minutes of the committee's meeting on 8th July, 1974, it was stated that the Committee would not accept the fact that the first-choice candidate was ineligible in accordance with the terms of memorandum V.7. A motion at the meeting that the first choice candidate be appointed as "Principal Teacher-in-Charge" was carried by nine votes to two, and an amendment that the second-choice candidate be appointed "Teacher-in-Charge" was defeated by the same voting.

The next letter from the Department to the VEC in the matter was dated 29th August, 1974. This letter made it clear that there was not included among posts of responsibility in vocational schools a post carrying the title of "Principal Teacher-in-Charge", and again pointed out that the first-choice candidate was not considered eligible for appointment as principal of Portlaoise Vocational School.

The next proposal which my Department received from the VEC following the Committee's meeting on 9th September, 1974—a proposal carried by nine votes to five—was that the first-choice candidate be appointed as acting principal without remuneration, as from 10th September, 1974. An amendment that the second-choice candidate be appointed to the post of Principal as advertised was defeated by the same majority.

The Committee were informed in writing on 18th September, 1974, that this new proposal could not be sanctioned by the Department. The Department stressed in the same letter that it was essential in the interests of the pupils concerned that the vacant post of Principal of Portlaoise Vocational School should be filled immediately in accordance with the provisions of Memorandum V.7. particularly paragraph 12 (b) thereof. It was stated, too, that the Department considered that as the first-choice candidate was not eligible for the post, the candidate placed next in order of choice should be appointed since he was fully qualified and eligible for the post.

The Department's letter of 18th September, 1974 was considered by the VEC at its meeting on 23rd September, 1974. It was proposed and seconded:

"That Department's letter of 18th September, 1974, be marked `read' that no further action be taken on it, and that this Committee confirm the temporary appointment of (the `first-choice' candidate) as acting Principal, without remuneration, of Portlaoise Vocational School."

An amendment to this motion was proposed and seconded in the following terms:

That the instructions in Department's letter of 18.9.74 be carried out and that (the `second choice' candidate be appointed to the fulltime permanent post of Principal at Portlaoise Vocational School.

On a vote, the amendment was defeated by nine votes to five, and the original motion was carried by the same voting.

At this stage my predecessor caused two letters to be addressed to the chairman of the VEC, the first on 4th October, 1974, signed by himself, and the second on 22nd October, 1974, signed on his behalf because of his absence abroad on official business. The following is an extract from the first of those letters:

I am sure that on reflection your Committee will agree that the circumstances of the case are such that I cannot sanction the appointment proposed without contravening the regulations and thereby perpetuating an injustice on fully qualified, eligible and suitable candidates.

In the second letter, of 22nd October, 1974, following a reiteration of the previous position taken by the Minister in the matter and a statement that this was a position from which the Minister was not empowered and had no wish to depart in all the circumstances of the case, it was added:

The Minister cannot but regret that the Committee should, in a relatively simple matter which should not give rise to contention, persist in an attitude which cannot be regarded as being in the best interests of all concerned. Accordingly, the Minister is constrained to request again that the Committee will reconsider the filling of the vacancy in question and will submit a proposal of which he will be able to approve in accordance with established practice, procedures and regulations.

Consideration of these letters at the Committee's meeting on 11th November, 1974,——

Could the Minister go ahead with that second letter of 23rd October, to embrace the bit I put into it?

I have not quoted it. Consideration of these letters at the Committee's meeting on 11th November, 1974, again led to opposing motions for the appointment of the "second choice" candidate to the substantive post of principal and for the appointment of the "first choice" candidate as acting principal. The second motion, which was an amendment to the first, was carried by eight votes to four, and the first motion was declared lost by the same margin.

The minutes of the committee's meeting on 11th November, 1974, incorporated a statement in justification of the action hitherto taken by the committee in the matter. My Department wrote to the committee on 5th December, 1974, indicating that the Minister was satisfied that the considerations outlined in that statement were entirely irrelevant in the context of the central point which was at issue. The Department's letter went on to say:

The central point on which the views of the Minister and of his Department have been made abundantly clear in correspondence with the Committee is that, notwithstanding the availability of a candidate who fulfils the requirements for the post of Principal in accordance with the Committee's own advertisement and in accordance with the relevant terms of the Department's Memorandum V.7., the Committee has persisted in proposing that the post be filled in one form or another by a candidate who does not comply with the requirement applicable to Portlaoise Vocational School that `the person appointed should have not less than five years' whole-time teaching experience, preferably in the vocational education service'.

This letter was read at the committee's meeting on 9th December, 1974, and the following resolution was carried by nine votes to five:

That Laois Vocational Education Committee instruct its solicitor, Mr. J.G. Bolger, to initiate High Court proceedings forthwith to establish the priority of the Committee's actions in appointing the "first choice" candidate to the position of Principal, Portlaoise Vocational School, and in presently maintaining him in the position of Acting Principal without remuneration, and further to determine whether the word `should' in paragraph 12 (b) of memo V.7. of 1/9/72 and section 16 (2) of revised memo. V.7. of 1/9/74 was mandatory or optional, as the Committee acted in the premises that the word was optional.

The committee's legal adviser sought and obtained the advice of senior counsel in the matter. The advice was dated 7th March, 1975. I do not think it necessary for me to go into the nature of the advice in detail except to say that senior counsel stated that he could not guarantee that proceedings in the High Court would be successful.

Correspondence read at the committee's meeting in June, 1975, indicated that the "second choice" candidate was contemplating taking High Court proceedings against the County Laois VEC. The candidate subsequently lodged a statement of claim in the High Court and, since the case became sub judice, accordingly, my Department was precluded from taking any further action in the matter pending the hearing of the claim.

Now we move to the present time —from June, 1975, to early this year. The claim was heard in the High Court on 16th and 17th February, 1977. The plaintiff sought:

(a) A Mandatory Injunction directing the first named Defendants (the County Laois VEC) that they shall take all necessary steps to appoint the Plaintiff (Mr. Phelan) to the position of Principal of the Portlaoise Vocational School and submit his nomination and appointment for the sanction and approval of the Minister for Education, and if sanctioned and approved, that they shall appoint him to the said position.

(b) If necessary, a Mandatory Injunction directing the first named Defendants (the County Laois VEC) to rescind and revoke any purported appointment of the second-named Defendant to the said post.

(c) Damages for breach of Statutory Duty.

(d) Further and other relief.

(e) Costs.

Reserved judgment on the claim was delivered on 28th February, 1977, and, while I understand that a certified copy of this judgment is not yet available, my information is that the judgment was generally to the following effect: (1) That Michael Parsons is not principal or acting principal of the school and (2) that the committee is bound forthwith to take such steps as may be necessary to have an appointment made to the position of principal of the school.

The general tenor of the High Court judgment was considered by the County Laois VEC at their meeting on 7th March, 1977. Two motions were proposed and seconded at the meeting: (1) "That the name of Mr. Liam Phelan be now submitted to the Minister for Education for sanction to post as Principal, Portlaoise Vocational School". (2) "That an advertisement seeking applications for the position of Principal of Portlaoise Vocational School be inserted in Dublin daily papers of 9th and 10th March, and in the local papers in the week ending 12th March".

On a vote, the second motion was carried by eight votes to five; the first motion was defeated by the same margin. On becoming aware of this decision my Department officially informed the committee by letter dated 8th March, 1977, that the post should not be advertised pending consideration of the legal issues involved arising from the High Court judgment. Subsequently, having obtained legal advice in the matter, my Department issued a letter to the VEC on 6th April, 1977, conveying sanction for the committee's proposal to advertise the post.

The present position, accordingly, is that an advertisement has been placed in the public press by the County Laois Vocational Education Committee inviting applications for the post of Principal in Portlaoise Vocational School. In the advertisement the points rating of the school was given as 1419 and the qualifications stated to be required are as follows:

(a) Candidates must be fully qualified post-primary teachers with a capacity for organising and administration and a minimum of five years' satisfactory teaching experience, preferably in the vocational education service.

(b) A knowledge of Irish of the standard of the Department's Céard Teastas Gaeilge.

(c) Qualifications and conditions of service are set out in memo. V.7. of the Department of Education. In addition to salary and other allowances at the usual rate, the post carries an annual allowance of £1,170 (under review).

(d) Application forms and terms of appointment may be had from the Chief Executive Officer.

Completed application forms must be returned to reach the administrative offices of the vocational education committee not later than 5 p.m. on Friday, 29th April, 1977.

That is the end of this current action. I anticipate that after the closing date for the receipt of applications the normal procedure will be followed for the selection of the teacher for this post and that a proposal in this regard will be made to me in due course by the vocational education committee. It will be a matter for me to decide at that stage whether the proposal which will be made to me may be approved or not. Because of the duties involved, I cannot visualise a more inappropriate time than this stage of the procedures for the filling of the post for the introduction of this motion. I do not know what could have motivated Deputy Lalor to put it down at this time and how his sense of judgment and timing could have so deserted him in doing so. I shall be acting in an objective and completely impartial manner in discharging my statutory duty when the relevant proposal comes before me from the VEC and it would not be proper for me, nor do I think that it could be expected of me, to make any statement just now which might be interpreted as being in any sense prejudicial to my subsequent objective approach to the matter. I do not, therefore, intend to comment further on it.

My comments on this motion will be brief. I support the motion for an inquiry as set down in the name of Deputy Lalor. I was slightly angered by the Minister's remarks just before he sat down. The Minister said that there was no more inappropriate moment for this motion and that he did not know what had prompted it. Injustice prompted it and the Minister should not look around for another reason. From listening to the Minister, who is a man of some character, I gathered that he was ashamed of what he was reading. It was obvious to me that he wanted to rush through it as quickly as possible because he did not like the brief because there was a smell about what had happened and he did not want to be associated with it.

In view of what Deputy Lalor said about the imminence of the interviews for this position, I ask the Minister for an assurance out of respect to this Parliament that this discussion will not in any way affect the interviews for this position in Laois. Will the Minister give an assurance that he will write to the interview board and state that a discussion in the national Parliament will in no way prejudice the case for an applicant for the position of headmaster of Portlaoise Vocational School?

Will the Deputy repeat what he wants me to do?

I wish the Minister to write to the people who are interviewing the applicants for the position of headmaster of Portlaoise Vocational School stating that this debate should not in any way influence them or prejudice them in their interviewing of applicants.

I pointed out earlier on how untimely this motion was. I am sure Deputy Lalor did not think deeply enough about it before putting it down. It has been put down and has been accepted by the Chair and in view of what Deputy Wilson has said I am willing to write to the chairman of the VEC and whoever else is involved to tell them to ignore in their interviews of each candidate anything that is said in this House tonight.

Mr. Burke, the former Minister for Education, stated in this House that a person who did not have qualifications at the time the original interview was held and the original appointment was advertised could not by the passage of time gain those qualifications because they were time qualifications. I would like that to be recorded as it was recorded before in this House.

I did not particularly want to take part in this debate but the goings on convinced me that I should say something. One of the sad things is that this is going on since 1974. Anybody who is familiar with the workings of a school will realise that that is a long time. When we are at school we tend to regard the five or six year period of our post primary education as a long period. In retrospect it looks very short. We must remember that since this thing started people have finished a full group certificate course and others have finished a full intermediate certificate course in this school. It is sad that our elders and who are regarded as our betters should not have solved this problem long ago in the only way that it should have been solved, that is, by applying the rules laid down by the Department of Education, and manfully adhered to by the former Minister for Education, Mr. Burke, now our Commissioner in Brussels. The facts of the situation were stated by Deputy Lalor and repeated by the Minister for Education. It seems that an unqualified man was recommended for the post and was rejected by the Minister. A qualified man was placed in second position. I note with interest that this man's qualifications were in science and mathematics and I should think that not merely were his qualifications acceptable timewise but the very subjects which he had were particularly suited to a vocational school where the bias should be, and usually is, towards the practical, towards science and towards technology.

"Subject to the sanction of the Minister" are the important words wisely written into the memo in times gone by. The actions of the committee, the attempt to appoint somebody else, were not agreed to by and did not receive the sanction of the Minister. When the present Minister for Defence, then Deputy Oliver J. Flanagan, returned from an extended trip to the United States and Canada, he made a statement at Dublin Airport that he agreed with the system of patronage in political life which obtained in the United States. Provided that the people had the necessary qualifications Deputy Flanagan said he would give positions to people who belonged to his own political party.

That evening the present Minister for Foreign Affairs was speaking in Trinity College and when a student taxed him with this he said that there was no place in the future Fine Gael Party for people who held those views. In the intervening years I always thought that Deputy Oliver J. Flanagan, now Minister for Defence, was the more honest of the two when one considers what happened in other spheres, particularly in judicial spheres, since this Government took office. I had a kind of respect for Deputy O.J. Flanagan but he fell down in this case when he attempted to have somebody appointed who did not have the basic qualifications for the job. All kinds of stratagems and devices and all kinds of attempts were made to justify the selection of a man whom the rules, the Department and the Minister for Education regarded as being unqualified for the position.

Acting principal, principal in charge, and all kinds of titles were thought up to justify what Deputy O. J. Flanagan was trying to do. Each time the old lady in Marlboro Street said no, but the committee, led by the Minister for Defence, came back and said they would have their way. This man, who was arrogating to himself the procurator-generalship of the County of Laois, intended seeing to it that the Minister for Education and the Department, regardless of what they thought, would be set at naught. Then the case went to the High Court where, in effect, the decision was that in their shenanigans, the committee were doing wrong. Consequently, an order was made that the appointment be made in accordance with the rules laid down by the Department.

That is the position we are at now. I referred to the harm that can be done in a school. In his brief Deputy Lalor referred to the disruption, the discontent and the effect this sort of situation can have on the studies of the pupils. That is the most important point. Anybody who understands schools knows that a spirit exists in schools, that schools have their own kind of life, albeit artificial, transient and temporary, but it is that kind of spirit that enables reasonable study to be undertaken. Obviously this situation has not been the case in Portlaoise since this whole shameful exercise started.

I would agree with Deputy Lalor when he says that the committees are important. They are important for many reasons, some of which I will refer to later. The previous holder of the office of the Minister for Education refused to abolish that committee or to suspend it. I can think of a possible reason for this other than the purely political one—that the principle of a local committee having responsibility in education was somewhat in danger. But this principle was not put in danger by the Department of Education. It was put in danger by the majority of the Laois VEC, led by a man who holds an important post in our Government. This is the sad part of the affair. This is irresponsible for a man who holds high office, particularly when that office is one in which it is important to have rules and regulations and, what is most important, that these be obeyed. I do not think there is any Department of State in which the principle of laying down regulations and obeying them is more important than in the Department of Defence. Consequently, the man concerned must stand condemned.

I shall refer now to the importance of the committees in general. Not merely in our society but in all societies recently there has been a movement towards the community, towards devolution in political, social and economic circles. As the degree of sophistication and expertise in the people improves throughout a country, this movement gathers power. It is very sad that an abuse of power at local level should in any way interfere with that movement. In our society there is a strong concentration on the local community. The idea in giving to the vocational education committees the powers they hold was for the purpose of enabling local people who knew local needs and who knew the local scene to exercise that power and exercise it better than people who were removed further from the scene.

I do not think that the antics of the majority of the VEC in Laois will destroy people's belief in the effectiveness of vocational education committees but one is shaken badly by this kind of action. It has been said that the fact that in the US, for example, education was controlled locally was harmful, that the people who held power in the local community, particularly in the black/ white situation, perpetuated their power through the schools and the education system generally. Therefore, there is a danger where there is not a strong central power.

One of the reasons I suspect for the proviso that all these appointments be subject to the sanction of the Minister is to prevent the possibility of such abuse. But here we have a committee led by a man who should be giving an example, a man who is now in a position of power, who will be sending down orders to various towns and expecting these orders to be obeyed, who will, if he is doing his job properly, be the jealous guardian of the rules and regulations of the Department of Defence, and this man is flouting rules and regulations and challenging his own colleague, the former Minister who, to his credit, would not yield to Deputy Flanagan.

In a recent issue of the magazine of the Teachers Union of Ireland there is a cartoon depicting two candidates for a position with a vocational education committee. They are standing on two blocks while written on each block are the words "political influence", with one block being higher than the other. This is an obvious reference to what the TUI think of a situation such as the one that obtains at Portlaoise. I have here a letter, dated 20th May, 1975, which is subscribed by Maurice Holly, General Secretary of the Teachers Union of Ireland and which was sent to the then Minister for Education, Mr. Richard Burke. It is regarding the post of principal in Portlaoise Vocational School and reads as follows:

Dear Minister,

I wish to inform you that my Executive Committee discussed this matter at its meeting on the 17th May.

The members of the Executive Committee requested me to commend the Minister on his endeavours to uphold Memorandum V.7 to which the Union is a party. They would urge that the Minister should continue to do so. Further they would request the Minister to ensure that County Laois Vocational Education committee does not succeed in its efforts to set aside Memorandum V.7.

Clear words do not need interpretation. There are no clearer words than those contained in that letter to indicate that the TUI were behind the Minister for Education at that time and were in total opposition to the Laois Vocational Education Committee and their chairman, Deputy Oliver J. Flanagan, now the Minister for Defence.

The Minister for Education is a decent man. He is honest. From the way in which he made his case he has indicated that he is ashamed of the activities of his colleague. However, there is no point in his trying to make this whole matter respectable by setting up now something which abides by the rules but which avoids the issue which began back in 1974.

All local effort, all committee work, all new management in primary schools as well as purported new management in secondary schools will be looking at what happens here. They will want to know exactly how they stand vis-á-vis Department regulations. The Minister for Education has in his hands the power to validate way ahead of time the actions of all local groups by seeing to it that the rules and regulations within which they work are strictly adhered to. I am grateful to the Minister for the undertaking which he gave to me when I started my brief contribution.

Deputy Lalor's motion states:

That Dáil Éireann calls on the Minister for Education to hold an immediate public inquiry into the conduct of the County Laois Vocational Education Committee which according to a High Court decision was and is in breach of its statutory duty in relation to its failure to appoint a qualified Principal for Portlaoise Vocational School.

This motion refers to the recent High Court decision. The terms of the judgment are that Laois VEC should proceed immediately to fill the vacant position and appoint a principal of Portlaoise Vocational School. It is proper that this position should be filled immediately and I am glad to see that this is being done. It is essential, especially in the interests of the pupils attending this school, that the most suitable and best qualified person should be appointed now. We have been discussing the events which have occurred since April, 1974, and three years have now passed since the commencement of this business. There are many people who may be interested in obtaining this appointment and I am sure that the appointments committee will select the best candidate available. Portlaoise Vocational School deserves the best possible principal. Irrespective of the questions one wishes to raise, I would ask Deputy Lalor if he really believes that the public inquiry to which he refers would be in the best interests of Portlaoise Vocational School. Will it be to the benefit of the pupils now attending that school who will be sitting for examinations in June? I do not think it will serve any useful purpose.

Who messed it up? The Deputy cannot have a foot in both camps.

One Deputy at a time.

It is important that the best candidate now available should be appointed.

He was not appointed.

I believe that a public inquiry as outlined in this motion would not serve the interests of the children attending this school. This matter has dragged on for a considerable time. We must consider the present and the future. A public inquiry would reopen further sores and there are sufficient sores at the moment. The High Court has made a decision and recommended that the appointment should be made immediately and the advertisements are at present in the newspapers.

The appointment could have been made a fortnight ago.

Deputy Enright is in possession.

There are seven people on this committee and it is important to recognise that there will be independent people there. There will be one member from the IVEA and I believe he will be impartial and will pick the candidate whom he considers most suitable.

What will the others do?

I am confident that he will pick the best candidate for this position. There will be two officials from the Department of Education and I am sure that they will also select the best possible candidate, bearing in mind the interest of the pupils.

The Deputy does not know the history of this matter.

I am convinced that the representatives of the Department will be fair and impartial and will pick the most suitable candidate.

They did that before.

I am confident this will be the position and that the person selected will be the best candidate.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 27th April, 1977.