Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999

Vol. 507 No. 3

Other Questions. - Army Apprenticeship School.

Paul Connaughton


30 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Defence if he has satisfied himself that there has been fairness in the approach to apprentices affected by the move of the apprenticeship school to the Curragh; if these apprentices are now behind in both their technical and military training; the action, if any, he will take to remedy the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9292/99]

There were 28 apprentices at the Army Apprentice School in Devoy Barracks prior to the closure of that barracks. Of these, 18 attended the Dublin Institute of Technology, either at Bolton Street or at Kevin Street, for the purpose of completing their final "off the job" training module which consisted of ten weeks. These 18 apprentices are variously training as motor mechanics, carpenters and electricians. They commenced their attendance at Dublin Institute of Technology in late January and completed it at the end of March. The remaining ten apprentices, who are training in electronics-communications, have relocated to the School of Signals on the Curragh. They will now complete their training in the middle of the year 2001.

In 1998, the average cost of training an apprentice had reached the level of £100,000 per annum and this was clearly unsustainable. At the outset, when the closure of the apprentice school was announced, I gave an undertaking that every individual student would be given the opportunity to complete his or her training. I am informed by the military authorities that the new arrangements have worked satisfactorily and that the standard of instruction provided has been excellent. All the students will, as promised, complete their apprenticeships.

It is envisaged that, in future, Army apprentices will attend at FÁS and-or regional technical college courses for their formal "off the job" training. This is already the long established position with Naval Service apprentices. The apprenticeship needs of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps are kept under constant review. Apprentices will continue to be recruited for specific trades and crafts, as and when required, in response to individual service needs.

Did the changes – the fact that the apprentices must travel to Dublin to complete their apprenticeships – involve extra cost on the apprentices? Did any of the teachers at the Army Apprenticeship School take up the option of going to the Curragh to continue their profession with the apprenticeships? I understand there were eight teachers involved. Did they all take the retirement option?

To answer the second part of the question first, two of the teachers are now teaching in the Curragh training school. The other eight are at a distance from me in the sense that negotiations continue with the Department of Education and Science as to the options they wish to take. I understand a voluntary early retirement scheme and other options are being put forward as well as the opportunity to teach in other institutions. These are matters which are the subject of continuing debate between the Teachers' Union of Ireland and the Department of Education and Science. My Department is at a distance from this but naturally, because they were in Devoy Barracks, I am anxious to see a reasonably quick resolution to the outstanding matters that affect those teachers.

There would obviously be some costs involved for individual apprentices arising from the change. That ,of course, would have to be put in the context of the opportunities of all other apprentices in the country who are students in colleges. It would not be much different.

Irrespective of the company in which he or she was employed, it would be fair to expect any person on apprenticeship rates of pay, who had to travel to further their education, to receive remuneration in respect of the cost. If such is the case for these apprentices, the Department of Defence should ensure the amount of money involved, however small, should be given to the apprentices.

I assure Deputy Wall that I will have that matter examined. As I said originally, I want to put it in the context of the initial circumstances in that the cost per student provided by the State for the training of apprentices was astronomical and could not be sustained. Changes had to be made, and they were made. I will see if there is a way I may be able to cushion the apprentices.

The question asked whether any of the apprentices are behind in their technical and military training as a result of the decision. Is this the case? Has the Minister taken action to compensate those students or to make sure they are not unduly delayed because of the decision? I understand a number of apprentices were badly affected by the decision.

As I said in my reply, the outcome of the change has been highly satisfactory from every point of view. I met some of the student apprentices concerned and their parents. I cannot guarantee it would not take one or two months to complete training in certain cases. The guarantee I gave was that they would be in the position to complete their training. The situation appears to be satisfactory. The Deputy should bear in mind that I changed something which had gone very wrong. It was impossible to do that without breaking an egg somewhere.