While not commanding the total attention of the entire House, I welcome this Bill. We should recognise, however, that in the process of accelerated legislation on which we are all agreed, there is a downside as well as an upside. It has not been possible for the Government for reasons we fully understand to introduce the kind of Bill which would have been desirable, making adequate and due provision for the structure and organisation of the two universities. In that respect the Bill is defective. I will make some suggestions in my brief remarks as to how that defect could be partially remedied within the tight time scale and by a very small amendment to the existing text.
With regard to the principle of the Bill, it may have been a mistake to have two rather than one university from the point of view of destabilishing the rest of our structure. It would be unfortunate if we end up with seven universities. It would diminish the credibility of our university system by having a university for every 500,000 people. I hope that will not happen.
Having said that, we accept these two universities. Our job now is to establish them in such a way as to ensure their credibility, their strength and capacity to do the job we are asking them to do. Two things are required for a university, starting from scratch, to achieve credibility. There must be independence of its structures and of the body which governs it. It must be independent, above all, of the State. Secondly, the university should be adequately endowed in order to have within the range of its curriculum the basic sciences and subjects upon which it has to draw for the purpose of its teaching and to have sufficient resources to undertake research in these areas, rather than being confined narrowly to teaching alone. An institution which only functions to teach without any provision for research in the basic sciences upon which it has to draw is one which could have difficulty in establishing itself adequately in the academic world here and outside our borders.
These are the two things with which I am concerned. The second concern is one we cannot deal with here. I merely appeal to the Minister to make sure the resources available are adequate to the universities in question to build up in the way any university must have a range of disciplines, such that nobody can challenge its universality, and the resources necessary to undertake the research to back up its teaching.
In relation to the question of the independence of the body, there is something we can do. Because the proposal put forward only involves a change of the name and no attempt has been made to change the structure set out previously in the 1980 Act, we are left with universities whose basic structures are not appropriate to a university. All the members of the governing body are to be appointed by the Government on the recommendation of the Minister. I know of no precedent in these islands, or even in the US where independent academic institutions exist free of State interference, for this procedure. Such a provision would make it unnecessarily difficult for these universities to establish themselves. On Committee Stage I will propose a brief amendment of four or five words which will achieve the necessary result. There is no reason why the Minister or the Government should have this function except in relation to the members they appoint directly. By deleting a couple of words the formality introduced in the 1980 Act of the Government doing the appointing will be removed. All of the other appointments are made following nomination or an election by various bodies. Let this be made crystal clear by removing the Government element from the appointments which are elective or made by outside bodies. The Government should certainly appoint their own members, whatever number it should be. I shall come back to this point in a few moments.
I would like to point out that the National University of Ireland, established in 1908 following agreement between the Irish Parliament Party and the British Liberal Party — one party totally departed and the other somewhat diminished in status — and the Irish hierarchy — quite undiminished in status — made a number of provisions. For example, provision was made for the academic staff to be represented on a reasonable scale. Indeed, it has to be said that in the Senate of the National University apart from the four Government nominees out of a total membership of 35 there are no other nominees from outside the system itself. All of the others come from within the system.
What is now being proposed is that this university be left with a structure under which 17 of the 23 members would not come from within the institution but be imposed from outside by the Government or various outside bodies. That is extraordinary retrogression, unintentional I accept because I am sure the Minister would have wished to have a more appropriate structure. What I am suggesting is that we make a gesture and remove the Government role in appointments, other than in relation to the ones they make themselves, and modify the ratio of Government appointments to academic appointments.
I am proposing, therefore, an amendment that the number of Government appointments be reduced to four, which was regarded as adequate by the British Government in 1908 for the National University of Ireland, from a figure of nine at present and that the number of academic appointments be increased to eight. Eight out of 23 is a very low ratio. No one in 1908 would have thought this number adequate.
I do not want to attempt to disturb the structure too much or start unnecessary arguments. A number of bodies have nominating powers. If one were to raise that issue now we would never get finished. Therefore, I am confining myself to proposing two amendments, the first of which proposes that we remove the role of the Government in relation to appointments other than in relation to the appointment of their own nominees. Secondly, I ask the Minister to consider a change in the ratio between Government nominees and the academic nominees to bring it nearer what it should be for a modern institution in the 20th century.
I hope the Minister will consider these two amendments. They are quite simple and would, I think, be greeted with enthusiasm in the universities in question and by the whole university sector. They would bring things a little nearer to what they might be. We will have to leave to future legislation an adequate university structure which we cannot hope to deal with in this brief debate today. I hope the Minister will take account of these two modest amendments which I hope have been circulated by now, neither of which would disturb the overall structure of the Bill in question.
Let me give another example to show how this legislation is a step backwards. Reference has been made to the 1980 legislation but in 1908 the British Government thought it appropriate to say that one of the Government nominees should be a woman. In 1980 a Fianna Fáil Government were not even prepared to make that concession. This shows how far back we had gone in 72 years. However, this is a matter which can be dealt with pending the introduction of an adequate structure. I will be very surprised if the Minister does not appoint at least one woman when she comes to making her appointments. Therefore, I doubt if the defect in the legislation to which I am referring would have any great practical effect. I think we can rely on the Minister to ensure this. Nevertheless, I urge that she should not allow this matter to be put on one side.
Having created the universities, modified the structures so that they are seen to be independent by people outside this country, having seen to it that the Government have only an appropriate limited role and not a total role in the appointments as it would appear prima facie to people outside from the 1980 legislation, and having modified the ratio between academic and Government appointments, I hope she will come back to this subject and bring in legislation to establish appropriate structures for these two universities. They deserve it. The work they have done and the stage they have reached is such that they do not need tutelage by Government which was thought appropriate in 1980. Even at that time I thought it excessive but I will not go back over that matter now. To have a university whose entire governing body would be appointed by the Government would lack a certain credibility. I hope the Minister will be able to take those two points on board. I do not want to detain the House any longer. The less time we take the more we can get through today.