Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 19 Apr 1994

Vol. 441 No. 5

Private Members' Business. - Dunboyne (Meath) School Project: Motion.

I move:

"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——

That is nonsense.

——when this money could have been saved by the acceptance of the wishes of the parents in this area and the Department could have secured a site at a nominal price from the Diocese of Meath. It is interesting to note that the unit cost of the school choice of the Minister will be much higher than the unit cost of the school choice of the parents. This will place further long term burdens on the taxpayer.

I have outlined the clear preference of the parents in that area in terms of the choice of school for their children. The Constitution clearly enshrines the right of parents to decide the type of education their children receive. The Labour Party manifesto of November 1992 stated clearly that it envisaged parents having an important role in the education of their children. The Minister was chairperson of the Labour Party at the time this manifesto was issued. It states that "Control of our education system must include a meaningful role for parents".

What more meaningful role could one give parents than to assess their preference for a type of school and, having listened to their opinions, to deliver on them? Has the Minister become such a slave to ideology she is prepared to suppress parents' wishes and choices to satisfy this thirst?

What is the Fine Gael policy in this area?

Are the young people of this nation to become pawns in the realisation of the ideological aims of one of the partners in Government? Can the Minister tell us whether it is now Government policy that voluntary secondary schools are to be abandoned? Have voluntary secondary schools, like some of our teachers, become "surplus to requirement"? Bearing in mind the statement made by the Minister in the House today, subsequently withdrawn, that she would allow parents a say in education, this was very regrettable and is in line with the decision she has taken in this case.

What of the Fianna Fáil Party in this débâcle? The Fianna Fáil manifesto of November 1992, page 7, promised "more democracy and openness with a genuine role for all the partners in education, including parents". Indeed, Deputy Mary Wallace of the Meath constituency indicated very clearly to the parents in Dunboyne that she goes along with those sentiments and disagrees with the imposition of a community college on the people of Dunboyne. I am delighted to note that Deputy Wallace is present. I wonder whether she will contribute to this debate and indicate clearly where she stands. More importantly, when it comes to voting time tommorrow evening, I wonder whether she will go with the parents in the Dunboyne area or with the Fianna Fáil Party and their partners in Government, and with the ministerial decision. The division in the House tomorrow evening at 8.30 p.m. will decide where Deputy Wallace stands in that respect.

In an article in the Meath Chronicle of Saturday, 19 March 1994, Deputy Mary Wallace is quoted as saying at a vocational education committee meeting:

Deputy Mary Wallace pointed out that while the public representatives would carry out the wishes of the parents in the area in campaigning for a voluntary-run community school for the village, the vocational education committee had to obey the Minister's directions.

Local democracy.

What a lovely way out for Deputy Wallace, talking out of both sides her mouth simultaneously; on the one hand saying "I must go along with the Government" and on the other "I will abide by the wishes of the parents in that area". It is up to Deputy Wallace to clarify for the people of the area and this House exactly where she stands.

Deputy McGrath need not worry; I will be clarifying my position.

What of Deputy Hilliard of the Meath constituency who has also indicated his unwavering support for the wishes of the parents? When it comes to voting in this House tomorrow evening, I wonder whether Deputy Hilliard will renege on those promises too. What of the Fianna Fáil position in relation to community colleges versus community schools, versus voluntary secondary schools? I note that Deputy Wallace is the sole backbench member of the Fianna Fáil Party present in the House.

It would be interesting to know what is the Fine Gael position.

I clearly indicated what was the Fine Gael position — we were not concerned about what type of school there was in any particular area, we would go along with the wishes of the parents, the wishes of the parents were sacrosanct in our minds.

Is that clear?

I was wondering about past performance.

The Deputy in possession without interruption.

Perhaps Deputy Ray Burke is now the Fianna Fáil spokesman on education. I read in an article published in The Irish Times of 9 April 1994, by Denis Coughlan that Mr. Burke sought the approval——

I am quoting from the article, a Cheann Comhairle.

The Chair merely intervened to point out that our Standing Orders provide the manner in which Members are referred to in the House.

I am sorry, Sir, I was quoting from the newspaper article, my apologies. The article said:

Mr. Ray Burke sought the approval of his parliamentary party colleagues for a motion which committed Fianna Fáil to ensure that Government policy "would recognise the role of the religious in Irish education". Mr. Burke worried that the White Paper would adopt "a totally secular route" which, he said, would not recognise where we are at in Ireland at all.

I wonder if Deputy Burke is happy with the imposition of this school on the people of Dunboyne or will he, in the course of this debate, set out clearly what is his thinking and perhaps even that of the Fianna Fáil Party on this issue. We might even have Deputy Seán Haughey who, in a much heralded recent speech — not delivered after all — expressed dissatisfaction with the recent education decisions taken by this Government. I wonder whether Deputy Haughey will come into the House and indicate where the Fianna Fáil Party stands on this issue, or is the Fianna Fáil Party in free fall, allowing the tune to be called entirely by the Labour Party? Is it prepared to stand aside on these educational issues allowing its minor partners in Government to call the tune irrespective of the consequences for future generations? I look forward to a representative of the Fianna Fáil Party indicating clearly where it stands on this issue.

Having reviewed the Labour Party manifesto, which has been reneged on and having reviewed the Fianna Fáil manifesto and found that that too has been ignored, I want to turn the attention of the House briefly to the Programme for Competitiveness and Work published in February 1994 about the time the decision was taken in relation to the Dunboyne school, but before the ink had had time to dry on this document the Minister had reneged on commitments given therein. I refer Member to page 68, paragraph 6.45 which says:

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.

We are in the ironic position in which the promises of the Labour Party have been reneged on as have those of the Fianna Fáil Party. Indeed, the promises made jointly by the coalition partnership of Fianna Fáil and Labour have been reneged on. Is this the great injection of trust into politics, the catch cry of the Labour Party before the last general election? Is this the gift being bestowed on the electorate by the first ever Labour Minister for Education?

I refer the Minister to the report of the National Education Convention which states on page 9:

Here the keynote is consultation in partnership as distinct from rule by diktat or prescriptive imposition.

Why has the Minister decided so blatantly to ignore the wishes of these parents, but, then, rule by diktat is something at which this Minister appears to be good. Then there was the Minister's recent proposal to establish a group to advise on sex education without any representation from the teacher unions, from the mangement boards of the schools or of the parent's representative bodies. Are they not decision, such as the one the Ministers has made in relation to Dunboyne, which promoted an article in the Sunday Independent of 10 April 1994, written by Eilish O'Hanlon which said:

There you have it in a nutshell, Niamh Breathnach is too keen on pursuing her own all-encompassing mini revolutions in Irish education to care whether teachers and parents, let alone bishops, are being carried along with her. It could yet prove to be her undoing.

In another article published in the Sunday Independent of 27 March 1994, Eilish O'Hanlon wrote about the Minister's refusal to appoint the boards of the regional technical colleges and said:

The Minister has chosen confrontation before compromise, rule by diktat before rule by democracy.

The National Parents Council — post-primary — the umbrella orgnisation for eight parent groups has deplored the Minister's decision about the Dunboyne school, stating:

The Dunboyne Post-Primary School Action Committee wishes to express concern at the violation of parents' rights to choice of school by the decision taken by the Minister for Education, Ms Niamh Breathnach, T.D. This decision imposed a community college on parents who had requested a community school and were given to understand that such would be granted. Choice in education is a basic parental right — recognition of this right is crucial if minority or cultural views are to be respected. This right is sacrosanct to parents. The concept of parents as partners as expressed in the Green Paper is merely a hollow aspiration if the voice of parents is not listened to and their specific request not acceded to by the Minister for Education. It is feared also that the exercise of democracy has been abandoned in favour of an ill-thought out, speedy autocratic solution.

Surely the Minister cannot talk about involving parents in education and yet blatantly disregard their preferences in relation to schools. It will probably be said in this debate that adult education in the Dunboyne area would be neglected or non-existent if a community school was to be built in the area. That is a misconception. A study of the volume of adult education which is conducted in second level schools will show that 40 per cent of all adult education takes place in community schools, despite the fact that there is such a small number of community schools. Let there not be any misconception of misinformation on that front.

In bringing this motion before the House I hope the Minister will be magnanimous and brave enough to recognise the rights of parents and, establish once and for all, through a further plebiscite, what the wishes of the parents in the Dunboyne area are and, having listened to an assessed those wishes, that she will be courageous enough to allow them have the choice of school they have requested.

Earlier today the Minister told us she would like to be remembered as the Minister who opened the gates of schools and let the parents in. In the early sixties I put into practice those sentiments in a school a few miles outside Carlow town. I do not know whether to conclude from that that I should be Minister now but maybe the future holds something for me.

That is somebody else's fault, not mine. Ask the boss.

Do not side-track me on that issue. What the Minister said is important because parents are important in education and they have to be seen to be important. There is no point talking about the importance of parents if their decision is ignored. That is why it is more important to allow parents inside the Marlborough Street thinking than inside the gates of any particular school because the Minister will decide the type of education their children will get. I believe the Minister should seriously reconsider the position of the Dunboyne school in view of the fact that the parents have spoken so clearly and so eloquently in favour of their choice.

Some teachers in vocational and other schools feel they have been slighted when it was suggested that their teaching of religion was not up to standard. I compliment the many lay teachers in all schools who, down the years, have kept religion alive but unfortunately, that is waning at this stage. This choice is not a reflection on lay teachers in other schools who have done so much. It is a choice the parents have made, and it is one I welcome. It would be no harm if religion was considered important for parents and children. The media would be delighted to see this as a Church-State confrontation but it no such thing. This is a question of parents rights.

My colleague has quoted from Labour policy documents, Fianna Fáil policy documents and agreed Government documents. Talking about the rights of parents is only of benefit in a debating society if you do not put what is written into practice; in this case it means listening to the parents in Dunboyne. We should not allow this issue to be treated as a Church-State confrontation, a ploy used by some people to sell newspapers. When we recall the dreadful murder of Jamie Bulger we begin to wonder what part religion played in the education of the young boys who killed him. Even though some people may regard religion in schools as going back to the Ice Age, I have no hesitation in saying that if there was more religion in schools and our lives there would be more respect for life. There is a religious conflict in the North but if religion was alive there, there would not be so many brutal murders.

What will counteract the effect of films? Even in what is regarded as a normal film, we can see a person being bashed to death. We must have moral standards. I am not in favour of nondenominational or multinational schools which probably do not teach pupils anything about religious and moral standards.

In view of the fact that 70 per cent of the parents in Dunboyne have made a decision and that only 10 per cent are undecided, I appeal to the Minister to reconsider the position. There is no point talking about the role of parents, there is no point wanting to be remembered as the Minister who opened gates if she has closed her mind against the majority decision. The Minister is intelligent enough to listen to a simple plea. The fact that a site is available leads me to believe that she will agree to build a community school in Dunboyne. I welcome the parents' decision and I hope the Minister will accept it.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Brian Fitzgerald.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann congratulates the Minister for Education for involving all the partners of education in the preparations for change in our education system and, in particular, the role of the National Education Convention which was an outstanding example of such involvement and was furthermore an innovation in Irish education in terms of openness and consultation and notes

—the recent Position Paper on Local Structures which includes proposals for a meaningful role for parents in education through representation in such structures and

—the greatly increased budget for capital buildings for second level education

—the decision of the Minister to sanction a second level school in Dunboyne after an 11 year campaign and

—the Minister's concern that this school will cater for the full range of abilities and provide for adult and continuing education."

The amended motion before the House refers to the National Education Convention. This is my firm belief in the consultative process and the convention is a prime example of my willingness to consult with the partners in education on the major educational issues of the day. The report of the convention describes it as:— ... a very significant dimension of the wide ranging consultative process on the Green Paper" ... and contains the following observation:

The National Education Convention provided a forum for mature reflection and focused debate by representatives of many of the agencies involved. It set out to encourage participants to clarify viewpoints; to question, probe and analyze varying perspectives; to foster multi-lateral dialogue and to improve mutual understanding between sectional interests.

At the conclusion of the convention, I undertook to publish a position paper on local education structures. I have since done so. I should mention in this connection that the position paper clearly recognises and affirms parents' role as partners in the education process and copperfastens this by providing for parents' representation on the proposed educational structure.

The record shows that since my appointment as Minister for Education I have been ever conscious of the need for consultation and have consulted widely on various issues, but decisions have to be made and in the final analysis it is I, as Minister, who has to make them. It may not be possible always to please all the interest groups but I cannot allow that to deflect me from doing what I think is best in any particular set of circumstances.

The current issue in Dunboyne centres around whether the area should be served by a community college or a community school. In this context it might be helpful to outline some of the history of the community college concept. The term community college originated in the late seventies when vocational education committees sought to put forward an alternative model to the community school which was increasingly being seen as the only option for green field schools. During his term of office — 1979-81 — the former Minister for Education, Mr. John Wilson, gave a commitment that vocational education committees would get a fair share of green field schools and the term community college came into popular use. A definition of what it was emerged from its being put forward as an alternative to a community school. An "authentic" community college would therefore be the sole post-primary school for its area; a green field school or an amalgamation of existing schools; and a school with a large enrolment capable of providing a broad comprehensive curriculum.

One of the priorities in the Programme for a Partnership Government is to provide all communities with proper school buildings. Since taking office, I have doubled the capital expenditure for second level school buildings from £19 million to £38 million this year. I mention this to illustrate the seriousness which I and this Government place in the commitments made to the people by this Government in the Programme for a Partnership Government. This increase has allowed me to give the go ahead to 38 major building projects in 1994, including five community schools and six community colleges. In addition seven community schools and four community colleges are in course of priority architectural planning. It is interesting to note that of the total moneys provided for 1993 and 1994, 33 per cent goes to the vocational sector while 41 per cent goes to the community-comprehensive sector.

I would like to deal now with the background to the Dunboyne case. The request for a post-primary school in Dunboyne goes back many years. In September 1982, 12 years ago, the parent-teacher association of the Dunboyne primary schools organised a meeting of parents to ascertain the level of interest in the area for a post-primary school. A committee was elected to examine the situation. The committee reported in July 1983 that there were sufficient children in the area to warrant a post-primary school. In June 1985 the then Minister approved, in principle, the provision of a post-primary school to cater for up to 40 pupils, initially, with provision to be made for further extension if required. The timing of the school would be dependent not only on the availability of capital resources but also on the availability of pupil places in existing schools in the south Meath, North Kildare and northwest Dublin areas. A site owned by the parish was stated to be available for a new school. This site had originally been acquired by the Servite Order who intended building a school. When these plans fell through the site was acquired from the order by the parish. A community centre was built in 1988-89 on part of the site which it was hoped would be available for use by the new school when such was provided.

The question of the timing of the provision of a new school was discussed on a number of occasions and deferred on the basis that places were available for pupils from Dunboyne in a number of schools in the surrounding areas, mainly, Maynooth vocational school, Dunshaughlin community college, Coolmine community school, Blakestown community school, Riversdale community college, Dominican convent, Cabra——

Not in Cabra.

——and St. Declan's secondary school, Cabra. It became evident in 1991 that some pupils from Dunboyne were having difficulty obtaining places in schools within a reasonable distance.

They are having difficulties in Cabra and in the Navan Road area.

It was decided in August 1991 to engage the service industries research centre in UCD to undertake an independent study of the Castleknock — Blanchardstown — Dunboyne areas to determine if new post-primary schools were required and, if so, the required size and appropriate location. The consultants concluded finally that new schools should be provided in Hartstown, Dunboyne and Castleknock. The recommendations of the consultants were accepted and a new school was opened in Hartstown in September 1992. That new school building is now nearing completion.

At a meeting with a deputation regarding Dunboyne in June 1993, I was pressed to open the Dunboyne school in termporary accommodation in September 1994 because of the difficulties some pupils from the areas were having in obtaining places in existing schools.

I subsequently asked my Department to examine the enrolment situation and report back to me. I had previously asked that the site owned by the parish would be examined regarding suitability for a new school and that assuming it was suitable, it would be valued by the Valuation Office and an offer made for its purchase. When an opening offer for the site was made to the Catholic Bishop of Meath, Dr. Smith, he seemed to indicate that he would be interested in being involved in the provision of a secondary school under diocesan management.

He wrote to the Minister.

He confirmed his interest in such a development at the end of September 1993. The matter was subsequently referred to me to take a decision on an opening date for the new school and the type of management the school should have. I should mention that the significance of the type of management of the school with regard to the site is that in the case of a community type school the site would be acquired by the Department whereas with a secondary school the diocesan authorities would be responsible for the provision of the site. Having considered all the factors involved in detail——

The Minister ignored the views of parents.

——I decided in February 1994 that the school should be a community college under the aegis of County Meath Vocational Education Committee and that it should commence operations in September 1994. I was particularly anxious that the new school should open in September 1994 in view of the fact that the local community had been waiting for a school of their own for several years and because a significant number of children from the area were having difficulty obtaining places in existing schools for September 1994.

Where a decision has to be taken on the type of management structure to be applied to a new post-primary school erected in an area which previously did not have such a school the features of each particular case are taken into account. The wishes of parents of the area in question form one such feature for consideration. Their views will normally be communicated to me, as Minister, through a local committee of parents and education bodies such as the vocational education committee.

The Minister did not discuss it with them.

I have stated my commitment to parental involvement in education and illustrated this with examples of participation at the highest level, but it is also important to recognise that no single partner in education can have a monopoly of decision-making in relation to issues of education, be these partners, parents, teachers or any other group.

The Minister has a monopoly.

In any decision the involvement of the partners is important but ultimately a decision must be taken that reflects the general good of society.

Where there are conflicting views on what represents the best and most appropriate type of management for a green field school it rests with me as Minister to take the final decision.

A community college every time.

The main criteria I and my Department use in deciding on the management structures for green field second level schools are: the requirement that the school be capable of providing a comprehensive curriculum with suitable subject choices for a wide range of pupil aptitudes, abilities and choices——

As are community schools.

——the need for the school to be open to all the children of the community and to be capable of gaining the support of a wide spectrum of the community it proposes to serve, irrespective of religious denomination, social class or financial means——

As are community schools.

——the desirability that the board of management should, so far as possible, be fully representative of educational, religious, parent and teacher interests——

As are the boards of community schools.

——the requirement that, given the considerable expenditure of public moneys on the capital and current costs of a green field school, I, as Minister, must be satisfied that those involved in running the school are ultimately accountable to me through my Department as regards expenditure of State funds and for the implementation of educational policy in the widest sense——

As are community schools.

——the need for a green field school, catering as it does for rapidly developing urban areas, to be flexible in its ability to adapt to changing needs in the educational area and to respond to community needs as regards, for example, the provision of adult education programmes——

We told the Minister that.

——and the desirability that such a school should, subject to the overriding claims of the school itself, be available for community use outside school hours.

As are community schools.

I met with a deputation from Dunboyne in June 1993, which included representatives of the local action committee, to discuss the provision of a second-level school in Dunboyne. I also received correspondence from this group concerning the matter, including the issue of the preferred type of school for the area. The primary concern expressed by the action group was that a school would be in place by September 1994 — they did not indicate undue concern about the type of management structure the school would have.

It was not discussed.

I am most anxious that the school will commence operations in September in view of the fact that a significant number of parents in the Dunboyne area were unable to obtain places for their children in existing schools. To this end a principal teacher has been appointed to the new school and a successful enrolment day took place on Saturday, 9 April last. It appears the site owned by the parish will not be available for the new school. I regret this. County Meath vocational education committee is pursing the question of obtaining an alternative site for the permanent school building.

The new school will open for September 1994 and plans will be put in place to provide a permanent school building as soon as possible. The new building will be designed, built, furnished and equipped to the highest possible standards and will provide an excellent educational environment. It will be a facility of which the local community can be proud in coming years.

The first enrolments in the new school took place on 9 April. On that day 60 students were enrolled. Not alone were they enrolled but they were accompanied by the 120 parents involved and there have been further enrolments since. This speaks for itself even if it has gone unreported in the media which so diligently pursued this issue.

I hold the community college concept in high esteem. The thousands of students and their parents, who are receiving their education in the community colleges are receiving top quality education, fully approved by my Department. Furthermore, the religious education of all students in such colleges is fully catered for by having fully qualified teachers of religion, a requirement that does not exist in some of the other models of second level schools. Any suggestion that a community college would provide an education inferior in quality or insensitive to parents wishes is simply wrong and a slur on the thousands of parents, teachers and students who are presently involved in community colleges.

Who said that? That is rubbish.

Community colleges throughout the country have been very successful. I have outlined the background to the establishment of community colleges and from what I have said, Deputies will be aware that there is nothing new in the community college concept. They have been functioning satisfactorily for years. This is particularly true in the case of counties Cork and Dublin where several of the community colleges operate. In these cases, the vocational education committees have entered into discussion with the Church authorities and have agreed a model agreement under which the schools operate. There is no problem with these arrangements which operate to the satisfaction of both the vocational education committees in question and the Church authorities. It is clear the Church authorities have no problem with community colleges, either in principle or in practice, and they play an active part in the running of these schools.

I want to reassure the parents of Dunboyne about the educational provision being made for their children. They should give their wholehearted support to the new school and I ask them to do so. It would be a great pity if any initial negative attitudes to the school were to damage it in any way. I say to the parents: "This is the school for your children; as one of the essential partners in its operation you have a most vital interest in securing its successful future; you should row in behind the management, the principal and other staff to ensure that your school is a resounding success".

I am glad to have had this opportunity to clarify the position in relation to Dunboyne and I am sure the House will agree that I and my Department are making every effort to provide a badly needed resource in the Dunboyne area.

It is regrettable that Fine Gael has decided to use the people of Dunboyne as a political football in an attempt to improve its falling ratings. It is even more regrettable that the people of Dunboyne are being presented as ungrateful by appearing to refuse a vocational education committee second level school. This is unfortunate because the vast majority of people from Dunboyne are delighted that the Minister has taken swift and positive action by giving the go-ahead for the school for which they campaigned for many years. Deputy Bruton, who is from the parish of Dunboyne, failed to deliver even though he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education and Minister for Finance during that period.

Some of the statements issued by people who should know better were, at worst, inaccurate, and, at best, economical with the facts. The veiled attacks on vocational education committee run colleges were scandalous creating an impression that such colleges were inferior and, by implication, less religious than other second level schools. The attack on the Labour Party was disgraceful. It was claimed that we were attempting to take religion out of schools by supporting a vocational education committee run school in Dunboyne. That was even more disgraceful because not alone was it an attack on the Labour Party, it was an attack on the very fine teachers, parents and boards of management throughout Ireland who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that all children are given an equal opportunity in our community colleges, and none more so than the hundreds of children and parents who were educated in community colleges in Maynooth and Dunshaughlin. At present there are approximately 150 children from Dunboyne attending those colleges.

What must these children think — that they are receiving an inferior education, that they are less Christian or religious? Of course they are not. People who oppose the community college in Dunboyne, small in number though they are, should in future think and act in a more compassionate, tolerant and Christian way before handing out statements. It is time the facts relating to the Dunboyne school were put on record. If some people have a wider agenda, I suggest they find a different playing pitch. This debate is not about ideology. It is about a parish looking for a school and getting it, thanks to a Labour Minister for Education.

On 25 May 1993 I, like other public representatives, was invited to attend a public meeting in Dunboyne about the building of a second level school. This meeting of several hundred people gave the clear message, that the people of Dunboyne wanted a second level school and that the type of management structure was not an issue. I defy those Deputies from Meath who attended that meeting to contradict that. On 22 June 1993 a delegation from the post-primary committee, with the public representatives, met with the Minister for Education and conveyed in a constructive and forthright way the views which were expressed at the public meeting the previous month. At no stage did they express to the Minister that they wanted a particular type of school or that they would refuse or object to a community college.

They were not asked for their opinion.

They simply wanted a school to which they could send their children in September 1994. The Minister was advised that she should purchase a site in 1993 and consider temporary accommodation for 1994.

Why would she need to purchase a site if it was to be a vocational education committee college?

Deputy McGrath might learn something if he would listen because it is obvious that he is getting nothing but misinformation. The Minister was advised that there was a site available for a second level school owned by the people in the trusteeship of St. Fintan's Trust which is administered by the Bishop of Meath. When the Minister got a report from the Valuation Office, her Department made an initial offer for the site to the Bishop of Meath——

How much?

At that time Bishop Smith indicated that he had a preference for a diocesan secondary school. On 8 October 1993 the Bishop confirmed this in correspondence with me. He indicated that it was the preferred option of the people of Dunboyne. This was the first indication I had of such a view as certainly it was not indicated at the public meeting of 25 May. Nothing happened until a letter was sent to the Minister on 15 December 1993 by the chairperson of the Post Primary Action Committee, a copy of which was sent to me. That letter stated: "It is our feeling, and we are very much in touch with the opinions of this community, that a voluntary secondary school would command the broadest support in the area." That is, of course, a diocesan secondary school. This again was a new departure from the views expressed at the public meeting and at the meeting with the Minister. I met the committee on 10 January 1994 and challenged them about their letter and the Bishop's response to the Minister's offer. They expressed the view that they wanted a school and did not have a preference as to the type of school and that the Minister should decide. I requested that this be put in writing to the Minister. They refused to do this.

I received a letter from the committee on 19 January 1994 outlining some of the issues raised at the meeting of 10 January. Again, no reference was made to a particular type of school. They just wanted a school. On 9 February 1994, the day the Minister announced the school for Dunboyne——

The Deputy announced it.

What is wrong with that?

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Remember what happened to the factories for Clonmel.

There are three further minutes.

Will I get extra time because of the interruptions? Under the management of the vocational education committee Deputy Bruton issued a statement: "I will readily accept any management structure, community, comprehensive or diocesan, as long as work starts on the building of the school this year". Perhaps Deputy Bruton will now explain his double thinking and double standards to the House because he has failed to do so to the people of Meath.

I will. The people of Dunboyne should be allowed to decide that issue.

When the Minister's decision was discussed at a public meeting on 21 February 1994 it was obvious there was much confusion caused by people opposed to a vocational education committee-managed school. However, the vast majority of people were more concerned and angry about the proposal to have the temporary accommodation based at Hartstown while the school was being built. I relayed that message to the Minister and was extremely pleased that the Minister took it on board and agreed to base the temporary accommodation in Dunboyne. This news was received with great joy which subsequent events have confirmed, that is the enrolment of 60 children on the first day of enrolment.

It must be acknowledged that the vocational education committee has played a major role in the implementation of the Minister's decision. The appointment of a principal — whom we all wish well — the acquisition of a site from Meath County Council for the temporary accommodation, the arrangements for enrolment and the efforts to clear up the confusion caused by misinformation confirms that the Minister was correct in her decision which eliminated miles of potential red tape.

It is regrettable that the Bishop of Meath has refused the site which was always recognised by the people of Dunboyne as the site for the second level school. This site is adjacent to land which the Land Commission gave to the parish in 1934. However, I am happy to say that the vocational education committee is presently in negotiations with another landowner.

I appeal to those objecting to this college — and this includes the mover of the motion — to consider the only people who should be considered, the children, and put their full weight behind the college. To do otherwise could seriously affect the confidence of the children who will attend from next September onwards and who are at present attending the community college. What is needed now is compassion, tolerance and understanding. We should be more Christian in our attitude towards the people of Dunboyne and allow them to get on with their lives and celebrate their victory in achieving their cherished goal, a second level school in their village to which to send their children. If others have a different agenda, I suggest they take their views elsewhere. Our children's education is not something that people should play politics with.

A little democracy might help.

I regret that we have to debate this issue but undoubtedly it has aroused a great deal of feeling and contention. Those of us who have been involved in education particularly regret what has happend in the past few months. I looked forward to seeing the Minister for Education in action and from my background in Education I appreciated the difficult job she faced. The early indications were that she did not come into the job with answers for everything. She was prepared to listen and not just apply formulae and expect to get pat answers. She was prepared to consult, listen and create opportunities for discussion.

There is a time for listening, for policy making, for discussion and for action, and in this case the Minister got it all mixed up. She has the benefit of the Green Paper deliberations, the National Education Convention and a number of advisory groups; but while those consultative processes take place she has turned consultation on its head, resulting in a row about something which should have been joyous. The Minister has put down an amendment to the motion, part of which lauds herself for sanctioning a second level school in Dunboyne after an 11 year campaign. That should be lauded but, unfortunately, she has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in this case and we now have a stand-off instead of a joyful occasion for the people of Dunboyne.

This is not a debate about the Church versus the State as may have been the case in the media. The fundamental question we are debating here is the right of parents to choose the type of education they want for their children. The debate is not about the narrow view of who controls what, although it must also throw open that question because many would say the Minister's decision preempted a debate on the future direction of education.

The Minister was in a quandary when making the decision about the school in Dunboyne. She had to decide whether to opt for a traditional voluntary Catholic school for which the local bishop offered a site, a community school, or a community college under the aegis of Meath vocational education committee? From the reports I received her decision was the more unexpected one. She decided that the community college "would be the most sensitive decision". The Minister is a sensitive person, but if that is a sensitive decision, I would hate to see an insensitive one.

Much of the publicity which ensued focused on the row between Church and State because of its public nature. The bishop took umbrage at the decision, the way it was made and what he saw as the implications beyond this one issue. He accused the Minister of pre-empting the impending debate on the new kind of management structure that emerges by favouring one type of school and said that she appears to be making important decisions on the control of schools before the issues are thrashed out in advance of the White Paper and the drawing up of the Education Act.

The chairman of the secretariat of secondary schools maintained that the Minster overturned a decision of her officials in favour of a community college. He asked was it now the policy of the entire Government not to sanction any more secondary schools. His view was that the decision in respect of the Dunboyne school was taken on the basis of Labour Party ideology or policy and as the decision was announced by the local Labour Party TD it is easy to see how a person could arrive at the conclusion.

The Fianna Fáil manifesto promised more democracy and openness with a genuine role for all partners in education, including parents. The November 1992 Labour Party manifesto states that the control of our educational system must include a meaningful role for parents. Big deal. The rights of parents in respect of education does not depend on the whim or agreement of either of those terrible twins in Government, the Labour Party or Fianna Fáil. Irish people have a constitutional right in relation to education. That is why parents' views must be taken into consideration and not because it is included as a vague well meaning part of a party manifesto.

Article 42 of the Constitution lays down the following constitutional framework for State policy in education. It states:

The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.

The threehold right of parental choice to provide education in their homes, in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State is clearly stated. Moreover, the State is prohibited from obliging parents to send their children to schools established by the State or to any particular type of schools designated by the State where this would violate the lawful preference and conscience of the parents. The State is obliged to provide free primary education for children and to endeavour to supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate education initiative. It is only when the public good requires it that the State provides other educational facilities or institutions, and where it provides such other educational facilities it must have due regard for the rights of parents. The State, as guardian of the common good, is obliged to ensure that children receive a certain minimum moral, intellectual and social education.

Article 44 of the Constitution envisages legislation providing State aid for schools and directs that such legislation should not discriminate between schools under management of different religious denominations. Furthermore, a child attending a school receiving public money cannot be obliged to receive religious instruction at that school against parental wishes. It appears that the State is not merely authorised but required to give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative.

While undoubtedly the courts would uphold the right of the State to maintain minimal standards in educational institutions aided by the State, it does not follow that the State is entitled to dictate, for example, the precise method of entry into private secondary schools, the precise course content of State-aided education or that schools receiving State aid must prepare students for particular examinations. Those are matters for agreement between parent and educator.

In 20th century Ireland no statute has been passed dealing with the subject of secondary education. Therefore, the phrase "legislation providing State aid for schools" in Article 44 of our Constitution rings hollow. There is no such legislation. Some time ago the Minister for Education threatened to withhold funding from private fee paying secondary schools which conduct entrance examinations to determine the allocation of places. She made the point, with which many will agree, that allocation of places by an examination based on academic performance discriminates against those coming from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. Up to that point her analysis is rational, even if some people disagree with parts of it.

However, the conclusion which she drew from her analysis was misconceived. The State is not entitled to use its economic muscle on secondary schools in receipt of constitutionally required State aid to force them to implement State policy or to become types of schools designated by the State. The issue of parental choice and the limitation of State dictated policy goes much further. The protection afforded by the Constitution to the rights of parents and those engaged in the provision of private and corporate education extends to the question of teacher selection. If parents have an inalienable right to determine their children's education and who educates their child, a person to whom parents delegate such a decision must retain a similar right. Thus, a proposal that local education authorities would have the right to appoint or dismiss teachers in schools funded by the State would be repugnant to the Constitution. Although it is open to the State to prescribe certain minimal qualifications for teachers, it is not open to it to impose on private education a system which restricts private education over and above such minimal qualifications.

Teacher unions are anxious to impose their view of teachers' rights on the employment decision, but teachers and the schools that employ them operate within a constitutional framework which gives parents and educators, including religious denominations, very definite constitutional rights of freedom of choice.

Another issue of great significance is that of boards of management. If the State is obliged to endeavour to supplement and aid private education it would seem to follow it is not entitled to make State aid conditional on delegation of managerial functions to bodies outside the control of those providing private education. If parents wish to send their children to be educated at a school run by a private individual or by a religious order and are willing to vest the managerial role of that school in an individual, a religious order or a group of trustees it is not competent for the State to withdraw public funding from such a school on the grounds it does not conform with a management model reflecting other interests stipulated by the State, such as representation by local education authorities, teachers or specified arrangements for direct representation by parents.

The rights of parents are vindicated by the Constitution and the Minister has ignored that constitutional imperative. In this instance, she has ignored the wishes of the parents. The announcement of the decision to sanction the building of a vocational education committee community college in Dunboyne was greeted with shock. It was extraordinary that parents and children should have to protest outside Leinster House in the rain to highlight their case. It seems incredible that the overwhelming wishes of a community should be ignored by the Minister. The preference was expressed to the Minister, and to officials of her Department, before the decision was taken and at a subsequent public meeting on 21 February when the unanimous decision was to ask the Minister to change her decision in favour of a community school but she has set her face against that.

This afternoon the Minister said she must ensure her Department is spending with regard to the long term good of the community and I agree with that objective. She said she listens to all arguments and makes the best decisions for the community, but in this instance if she was of a different gender perhaps I would call her paternalistic.

The Minister stated her commitment to parental involvement in education and illustrated it with examples of participation at the highest level and I agree with that. She said it is important to recognise that no single partner in education can have a monopoly in relation to issues of education, be they parents, teachers or other groups. The Minister went on to say that in any decision the involvement of the partners is important, but ultimately a decision must be taken that reflects the common good of society.

I described the Minister's approach as paternalistic because in this instance it would appear that the view of the community conflicts with her view, that the decision must reflect the common good of society. The parents' wishes are at odds with those of the Minister, although they might applaud the fact they have eventually got a school. It is regrettable there is a need for this debate. Unfortunately, this is a one issue debate, but there are many other issues to be debated in education. Arguing over the type of school is like confining discussion of our best strategy in the World Cup to who Jack Charlton should hire to drive the bus or what colour the seats should be. That does not mean that this issue is not important for the people of Dunboyne.

Difficulties in respect of management control of Church owned schools or the nature of a local tier of education administration are not the big questions in education, but they tend to absorb most attention, especially that of the media in this case. The most important issue is not about who holds the power within the system, but in deciding what the output of the system should be, what type of education we want and what is needed for young people. I do not think it is the intention of the Minister, or that of the Fine Gael Party, to deflect attention from that debate. I support this motion because we must uphold the constitutional imperative which dictates that parents count, but in this instance the Minister has ignored them. I wish to share the remainder of my time with Deputy Jim Higgins.

I am sure that is satisfactory.

This is not a Dunboyne or a Meath issue.

The Deputy without interruption.

It is a national issue in that the Minister is setting the norm in relation to what type of post-primary arrangement will apply in the future. What is happening in Dunboyne is unseemly. It is unfortunate that a Minister at the start of her ministerial career and who handled the business of the education conventions with a degree of skill should walk on a landmine on the Dunboyne issue. The symbolism of this issue extends beyond Dunboyne.

The Minister made a decision.

For the sake of a peaceful tenure of office, of democracy, of the wishes of the people of Dunboyne and the parents of Ireland the Minister should reverse her decision as it was wrong. I have been vice-chairman of a vocational education committee and a member of one for seven years. The Minister may smile. She knows it is a good journey from the Montessori to the vocational system. Having taught in a vocational school for seven years and being aware of its weaknesses and strengths I am a strong supporter of that system. I am a member of the Teachers Union of Ireland. Having taught in a secondary school, a Protestant grammar school, and latterly in a community school, I am aware they all have strengths and weaknesses. I am not opposed to the principle of a community college but from the point of view of democracy the ideal is the community school.

That is a shame.

Is it the case that the Minister does not approve of community schools? Are they undemocratic?

That is a shame.

The Deputy without interruption.

I know of successful mergers of two secondary schools and one vocational school in a community. They buried their prejudices, worked for the common good, and had a new beginning on a new campus. Three teachers unions and two religious organisations who had been vying for a shrinking pupil population merged in a community school in which I taught and that merger was successful. I do not believe that a fairer structure is possible in respect of school management than one of a board of management comprising two parents, two members of the vocational educational committee, two religious and two teachers. That represents equality of participation. I am sick and tired listening to the Minister and her predecessors mouthing about parent participation and parent power. In this instance the Minister has turned on its head the participation, power and wishes of parents. The acid test, which the Minister fudged, is if she is prepared to have a plebiscite in Dunboyne to give parents a democratic say about whether they want a community college foisted upon them with the assistance and help of the Minister's colleagues or does she want to comply with what we suspect to be the parents' wishes, a community school. The Minister said no to that.

A decision has been made and the children are registered.

The Minister is giving the thumbs down to the wishes of parents.

There will be a school there in 1994.

The Minister has turned the Constitution on its head. It is a case of the Minister, irrespective of the parents wishes, saying she knows what is best for the children of Dunboyne from now into the next millennium. If that is not dictation, the heavy hand and turning on its head trust in politics and participation at all levels, I do not know what is. The Minister is embarking on a dangerous path and I urge her before she goes much further to take note of that because she will pay the ultimate price.

Debate adjourned.