"That Dáil Éireann, noting the commitments given in
(1) the Fianna Fáil manifesto of November 1992, which on page 7 promises "more democracy and openness, with a genuine role for all the partners in Education, including parents";
(2) the Labour Party manifesto of November 1992, which on page 9 says that "control of our education system must include a meaningful role for parents"; and
(3) the Programme for Competitiveness and Work of February 1994, which on page 68 says that “a central concern of the reform of the Education system will be the constitutional prerogatives of parents in relation to the education of their children”,
condemns the lack of consultation by the Minister for Education in recent decisions about new school building projects, in particular in Dunboyne, County Meath, and calls on the Minister for Education to hold a plebiscite among parents in the Dunboyne area to establish their choice of new second level school."
Fine Gael is now stating clearly it supports the rights of parents to decide on the education they wish for their children. This right is enshrined in the Constitution and Fine Gael will always defend it whatever the parental choice, be it a community college, a community school or a voluntary secondary school. Fine Gael recognises the value and commitment of each type of school and is not expressing a preference for any school type in this motion but rather emphasising the supremacy of the rights of parents.
A campaign for a new school was conducted in an efficient and enthusiastic manner by the Dunboyne Post-Primary School Action Committee. The village of Dunboyne experienced a major population explosion in the 1970s. By the early 1980s there was a general desire among the parents in the locality that a second level school be provided. At that time children attending second level schools were brought by bus from Dunboyne to schools in the surrounding areas. The Dunboyne Post-Primary School Action Committee was established in 1983. It met the Minister for Education of the day, former Deputy Gemma Hussey, and outlined the case for a second level school in Dunboyne. It continued to lobby politicians and to make its case strongly. In 1985 it received a commitment from the Minister that a second level school would be built in Dunboyne.
This sanction was progressed a step further in 1986 by the then Minister for Education, former Deputy Cooney, who gave the go-ahead for either a voluntary secondary school or a community school. A site was offered by the Diocese of Meath for either school in a letter dated 27 October 1986 to the Secretary of the Department of Education from Bishop Michael Smith. In 1987 there was a change of Government and the incoming Fianna Fáil Government put this project on the back burner. It was around this time that the Dunboyne area was put into the greater Dublin area for post-primary education purposes.
The Minister for Education of the day, Deputy O'Rourke, commissioned two studies of school services in that area, each called the Bannon study, the second of which was published in January 1992 and recommended that there be a second level school for Dunboyne. It should be noted that to date the first Bannon study remains unpublished although its contents are widely known and speculated on in the area.
Correspondence continued between the school action committee and the Department of Education. There continued also a steady stream of correspondence between public representatives in the area and successive Ministers for Education.
On 10 February 1992, Mr. Liam Murphy, diocesan adviser on post-primary education in the Diocese of Meath wrote, on the authorisation of the bishop, Dr. Michael Smith, to the Department of Education, offering: "I am to confirm that a site adjacent to the community centre is available, subject to the terms hereunder"— those terms being that, if it was to be a voluntary secondary school, the diocese would provide the site free of charge and if it was to be a community school the Department could purchase this site from the Church authorities and that this would be the local contribution to the total cost of the project.
The Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, in the second paragraph of a letter to Deputy Mary Wallace on 30 April 1993 concerning the second level school in Dunboyne stated:
Currently my Department is looking at the suitability of a site adjacent to the Dunboyne Community Centre. Details in relation to the site have been requested from the local authority and from those involved in the building of the adjacent centre. However, before the matter can be progressed further it is necessary to ascertain whether the school is to be a community school or a secondary school as this will determine whether the site has to be purchased by the Department. The matter of the type of management structure for the new school is currently under consideration but may ultimately only be determined when the White Paper on Education is published.
I will be pursuing the matter and will keep you informed of any developments in the situation.
The Minister had only two types of school in mind for Dunboyne at that time. The Department wrote to the secretary of the Dunboyne community centre seeking details about the suitability of the site on 23 April 1993 and a response was sent to the Department on 29 April 1993 indicating that no difficulties had been encountered in the building project there. In the Dáil debate of 7 December 1993, Deputy John Bruton raised the question of the provision of a second level school at Dunboyne. The Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Liam Aylward — column 1830 of the Official Report — said:
A site adjacent to Dunboyne community centre and in the ownership of the diocese is considered a suitable location for the proposed new school. ...It was expected that the new school would be a community-type school and accordingly an offer was made to the Catholic Bishop of Meath, Dr. Smith, for the purchase of the site. In response to the offer for the site, Dr. Smith seemed to indicate his preference for a diocesan secondary school. Departmental officials met the bishop subsequently and he confirmed this interest.
The Bishop of Meath followed up this discussion with a letter to the Department outlining his preferences for the type of school for that area and stated: "My wish is that a mixed diocesan post-primary school be built in Dunboyne... I will make the site available for such a school." This letter was acknowledged on 5 October 1993 and the final sentence read: "We will be in touch with you again on the matter shortly."
On 22 June 1993 the Dunboyne Post-Primary School Action Committee, accompanied by local Dáil representatives, met the Minister for Education to press the urgency of sanctioning a school. The question of the type of school was not discussed at that meeting nor referred to by any of the participants. At this meeting the Minister undertook to buy the site in Dunboyne and this was a clear indication to all present that the Minister would provide either a voluntary secondary school or a community school for this locality.
If it was intended to build a community college the Minister would have indicated at the meeting that she would ask Meath Vocational Education Committee to procure a site for that purpose. Her statement that she was interested in this site indicated clearly that her option was either for a voluntary secondary school or a community school. Any subsequent statements by the Minister or by Deputies acting on her behalf on radio programmes or elsewhere that no indication was given of the type of school to be built in Dunboyne are totally misleading and downright deceptive.
On 7 July last year the Dunboyne Post-Primary School Action Committee met officials of the Department of Education to outline clearly that a community school was the choice of the vast majority of parents in the area. This leads me to the major question about who should make the decision on the type of school to be provided in any locality. Before answering this question the Minister should look at Articles 42.1 and 42.2 of the Constitution which states:
1. The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable rights and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.
2. Parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes or in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State.
The Constitution gives parents freedom of choice in terms of the education of their children and imposes on them the duty to provide the education they deem most suitable for their children.
This freedom of choice has been recognised for some considerable time. We could cite many examples where parents had their choice of school established in their area. In 1986 the parents in Ashbourne had to make a decision on the type of school which should be provided in their locality. It was agreed that a public meeting should be called at which the parents were addressed by representatives of the different types of schools — Sean Ó Beachain represented the Coolmine community school, Liam O'Donnell, the chief executive officer of Meath vocational education committee, represented the vocational school sector and Liam Murphy represented the voluntary secondary school sector. At the end of the meeting the participants voted overwhelmingly in favour of a community school. This decision was conveyed to the Department of Education which honoured the wishes of the people — a community school is at present being built in Ashbourne.
The Minister seems to be confused about who she met to discuss the school in Dunboyne and the discussion she had with them. On 1 March last in reply to question on this matter put down by me the Minister said: "I spoke to public representatives, members of the vocational education committee and to some parents". However, one week later, on 8 March, in reply to written Parliamentary Questions Nos. 177, 178 and 179 tabled by me, the Minister said: "I did not personally meet members of County Meath vocational education committee to discuss proposals for a new school in Dunboyne". There is a contradiction between those statements; on one hand the Minister says she met members of County Meath vocational education committee but on the other she says she did not. Will she clarify with whom she met and how she reached her decision? What is the real story? Which statement is true? The Minister must clarify the matter tonight.
Towards the end of January last a rumour circulated among Labour Party activists in Dunboyne that the Minister had ideological problems with either a voluntary secondary school or a community school. To clarify the situation the Diocesan adviser, Mr. Murphy, sought a meeting between the Minister and the Bishop of Meath. Within two days of the Minister agreeing to the meeting an announcement was made on local radio that a community college had been sanctioned for Dunboyne. This announcement was made without prior notification to the Dunboyne Post-Primary School Action Committee, which had had protracted discussions and correspondence with the Department of Education, or to the Bishop of Meath, who also had volumes of correspondence from and numerous meetings with the Department on this issue. The Minister was blatantly discourteous to these people who were going about their business and exercising their democratic right.
Letters were issued to the action group and the bishop the day after the announcement was made on radio. It is interesting to note that there were three factual errors in the text of the very short letter sent to the Bishop of Meath. This indicates clearly that the letter was prepared hastily and rushed out to compensate for the void which had been left in the handling of this matter.
In 1987 a poll was carried out of 1,100 households in the Dunboyne area to assess people's preference in the choice of secondary school. They were given a choice of two schools — a community school or a vocational education committee college. Seventy per cent of those questioned expressed a preference for a community school while 20 per cent expressed a preference for a vocational education committee college and 10 per cent were undecided. That preference was reinforced by the decision taken by the 600 people approximately who attended the meeting in Dunboyne on 21 February last, after the announcement was made by the Minister. It was unanimously agreed at the meeting to write to the Minister requesting her to change her decision in favour of a community school for Dunboyne. The Minister choose to ignore this request.
It is appalling that £500,000 of taxpayers money can be frittered away to satisfy the ideological drive of the Minister for Education——