I commend the Minister for introducing the part of the Bill which deals with persons found guilty of any offences for which he or she would be liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to £1,500 or imprisonment for a term of six months or both, and on conviction and indictment to a fine of £5,000 or imprisonment for two to three years or both. It is not intended that these penalties will relate to basic offences in relation to candidates as sanctions in this area already exists. That is a step which, unfortunately, was forced upon the system, and the Minister was correct to include that in the Bill.
On the various headings with which I was dealing in relation to teachers, the teaching profession has done an enormous amount of good in the fields of education and developing local communities. We cannot overlook the fact that teachers must continue in the educational process. Because the educational system is becoming more exposed to information technology and technology in general, the teacher training centres are essential to this part of their development. As a result, they can pass on to the pupils a greater degree of information and education with regard to the use of technology in life after school and in education.
This was brought to the fore in Kilkenny city recently which was runner-up in the Telecom Éireann technology town competition. Without the help of teachers the £1 million which the city received could not have been spent in communities. When all the programmes were rolled out, it was clearly underlined that teaching the community was an essential part of the process of spending that money. Therefore, I suggest that the further investment announced by Telecom Éireann of £10 million in the educational system generally and the £240 million announced by the Minister must go towards the education of teachers and putting in place a mechanism which will, in turn, educate young people in technology.
Most of the issues I dealt with to date relate to mainstream education. In this regard, I compliment the Minister on the vision, dynamism and leadership which he has brought to the Department since his appointment.
Education is an escape route from poverty and we should do everything possible to ensure that children are given equal rights and opportunities within the system. Furthermore, we should introduce skills based instruction at a very early age in an attempt to maintain interest and encourage involvement in areas where this is perceived necessary. However it is done, education is the foundation from which we can build a better society: it is also a ladder to a better life which should be available to all. The cost of not providing a comprehensive educational programme will be far greater than the cost of ensuring that the best we can provide is available to all.
The measures will affect only those in mainstream education and that is a comment on the administration of education in the State. We must now examine the quiet revolution which is taking place in education at community level. I instance, for example, the Fr. McGrath Centre in Kilkenny city, which has made a submission to the Department for funding to education in its community. I encourage the Minister to take a detailed look at that submission because it is the blueprint for educational needs in any community. It is a model for educating the community which can be used as part of a support mechanism for mainstream education.
The organisation in Kilkenny offers a net to young people before they fall out of the system. Community leaders, themselves only educated in the university of life, are now turning their skills to help young people stay within the mainstream educational system, and they are encouraging them through homework clubs and other mechanisms. These clubs break down the barriers between a young person who is embarrassed about admitting his or her inability to cope with homework and they offer a softer approach to mainstream education.
Access to technological education and technology has been provided by this centre. Through technology, marginalised adult groups, particularly parents who have never experienced employment, are now in a position to return to a more friendly environment with their peers to experience technology, to improve their selfesteem and their chances of future employment. It breaks the cycle for young people and their parents. It offers them a way out of the poverty and unemployment traps.
Centres such as the Fr. McGrath Centre should be encouraged by the Department. The centre should be examined as a model, as I said, it should be encouraged by the Department by way of proper funding and inclusive mechanisms which would make it part of the existing system.
As an extension of what is happening at community level, I suggest another method which is being undertaken by young Irish filmmakers in Kilkenny. Again, this is a group which was brought together by local initiative. It is administered by a returned exile from Australia, who is giving his vast experience to the young people of the city. Again, it is a poorly funded organisation. When one examines the workload and success rate of the group, it is clearly a model which the Department of Education should examine.
It offers young people the opportunity to shoot film by themselves. The group has already received great credit for itself and the city by filming "Under the Hawthorn Tree", which was picked up by Channel Four. The young people shoot films, act in them and put them together. This exposes them to a technology which will benefit them in later life.
It is interesting to note that the technology used by these young people is of the same standard as that which one would find in any Spielberg production, yet this group is motivated by a self-help ethos in the city. It is not recognised sufficiently by the various Departments or mainstream education, yet it is contributing in a positive way to the development of young people's creativity. It offers them an exciting new departure in employment when they complete their education. I encourage the Minister to examine this particular aspect of education.
As an extension of that, there is a third level facility in Kilkenny. Local politicians have been criticised for many years for not providing a third level facility. Again, the self-help ethos and encouragement by the local community and business people to get out there and do it for themselves has led to a link by way of the Outreach centre with NUI Maynooth and the Carlow Regional Technical College. I encourage the Minister to explore this whole area of Outreach centres. I offer the Kilkenny experience as a pilot project where the Minister, instead of being fearful of the funding required to keep such a development going, should see it as a positive move in the development of our educational infrastructure. It is positive in the sense that it offers local people an extension of education from second to third level. It offers people who are marginalised the opportunity to get out of their present situation and come back into education.
Kilkenny offers the ambience of a university city and infrastructure which the Department could match with funding and encourage that project to go ahead. I appreciate that the officials are frowning on the development of Outreach centres, but it is the new way of education and does quite a lot for the local community. It not only helps to develop the local community but, by the involvement of people in third level facilities and outreach centres, students in those centres will encourage others to go from second to third level education. It keeps young people at home and helps to develop local industry. It is an attraction for outside investors and raises the esteem of the local people.
This is a self-help project funded locally. As a local group we have not ignored the possibility of funding people who cannot fund themselves. It is a project that has reached out to the marginalised, but it has yet to be properly recognised by the Department. I suggest the Minister use the project in Kilkenny as a pilot project and fund it properly. Through the information age link with Telecom, technology has been introduced in that centre. By imposing technology on an outreach centre, the Minister would have first hand experience of the extent to which the service is taken up by the local community and local groups. We have reached out to places such as the NUI in Maynooth and Carlow Regional Technical College, into which heavy State investment has been made. As well as benefiting those areas, the outreach mechanism will bring great benefits to Kilkenny.
There is great potential, through Cork and Queens University, to expand the courses available. By way of fibre-optic cable and other technological advances, it is possible to reach out to America and beyond. Courses could be introduced in places such as Kilkenny and a proper third level structure could be developed which would be beneficial to the local community. That would be sound investment by the Department. Rather than frown on such an initiative, the Department should take it on board and make it part of the development process in education for the future.
On the infrastructure available in Kilkenny through education, I compliment the Minister on investing £2.5 million in infrastructure through St. Kieran's College in Kilkenny. The go-ahead for the gaelscoil in Kilkenny will benefit the region greatly. I draw to the Minister's attention the neglect of the infrastructure in County Kilkenny in the past 20 years. Schools such as Grennan College, the vocational school in Kilkenny and the Loretto school are overcrowded and need to expand. There are sensible projects before the Department and I encourage the Minister to consider each of them because the buildings have been neglected. Ormond College in Kilkenny is a listed building. The roof is leaking and the building needs immediate attention, yet there has not been any response from the Department. That is unacceptable given that there has been a 20 year span of neglect in this area. I encourage the Minister to consider that matter.
In a city the size of Kilkenny which is expanding rapidly and has much going for it in terms of economic development, the Loretto school will have to be extended. The school which houses 730 pupils was built for about 400. We are thankful for the investment made by the Minister since coming to office, but considerably more investment is required.
A link-up with the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs is required in terms of the development of the county. Family resource centres are funded by the Department. There was a promise of funding of £120,000 over a three year period for Clogh resource centre. The Department of Education and Science should link up with such centres in terms of technology and the provision of courses because they could be operated as an educational base.
The Tánaiste yesterday met a group from Castlecomer. I encourage the Tánaiste and the Department of Education and Science to establish an education and skills centre in Castlecomer to assist in solving the unemployment problems there. It would also strengthen the infrastructural needs of the county.