I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to bring this Bill to the House, Bille tábhachtach don choláiste agus don Ghaeilge. Athraíonn an Bille seo Acht atá ann ó 1929. Ins an Acht sin, there was a requirement to appoint candidates competent in the Irish language to offices or positions in the university. The Bill replaces this requirement with an obligation to ensure that the strategic development plan of the university contains a provision for the delivery of education through the Irish language. The president and the governing authority of the university are obliged under this provision to ensure that this aim is implemented.
The existing legislative obligation on the university to give preference to candidates who have demonstrated competency in the Irish language has no modern relevance in either promoting the Irish language or in supporting a modern university to build excellence in teaching and research across the full range of academic disciplines.
As Deputies appreciate, the role of universities in the modern knowledge age has transformed quite dramatically from the period in which the existing legislation was prepared back in the late 1920s. Our universities are now central to our future social and economic progress. We require each of our higher education institutions to develop the capacity to meet our national innovation and skills needs in a dynamic global environment. In doing this, our universities are required to compete nationally and internationally for access to research funding and strive for constant quality improvement as they look to build internationally recognised strength in key areas of research and teaching.
The Government is supporting them in this. At the end of 2005, we announced a €1.2 billion investment in higher education over the next five years. The aim is to support our institutions in producing high quality skilled graduates at third level and cutting edge research and development at fourth level. These will be the essential foundations for Ireland's continuing social and economic progress in the 21st century. The money to which I refer is in addition to the core funding also given each year which exceeds €1 billion.
Knowledge is international and intellectual capital is highly mobile in nature. The quality of higher education in Ireland is now measured against the highest standards across the world. In competing internationally, it is counter-productive in the extreme to place limitations on the ability of one of our key institutions to attract the best available international research or teaching talent.
It is in that context the requirements set down by the 1929 Act are no longer relevant. They represent an outdated and unfair impediment on NUl Galway in seeking to develop international standard excellence in research and teaching. If NUl Galway is to develop to its full potential in the 21st century knowledge era, it needs to be free to attract and appoint the best academics and researchers.
The Bill presented today has been prepared in close consultation with my colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The proposed amendment will replace the original provision with a commitment that the university, in its strategic development plan, will include in its statement of objectives and priorities a commitment to the provision of university education through the Irish language. This ensures the language will retain its core role at the centre of NUIG's educational mission while ensuring that NUIG is also free to realise its full potential in contributing to national economic and social development.
The commitment of the academic community, president and governing authority of NUIG to the Irish language remains as strong as ever. The university is rightly proud of its historic organisational commitment to the promotion of the language. That continuing commitment is reflected in its current five year strategic plan up to 2008 and is growing stronger as the university seeks to develop new structures and approaches to support the sustainable development of Irish medium teaching and research activities. The development of Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, a centre where Irish will be the medium of instruction, and the activities of the university education centres in the Gaeltacht Árus Uí Chadhain in An Ceathrú Rua, Áras Shorcha Ní Ghuairim in Carna and lonad na hOllscoile in Gaoth Dobhair are evidence of this.
The university is also strategically committed to supporting teaching in Irish, to introducing incentives for staff to produce quality academic material in the Irish language and to supporting a bilingual communication culture on campus. The legislation before the House will underpin these strategic commitments.
This Bill is also brought forward against a wider background of legislative commitment to the Irish language. The Official Languages Act provides a strong statutory framework for the delivery of services through the Irish language across the public sector. The provisions of the Act cover all third level institutions. This requires correspondence to be responded to in the language in which it was written, information to be provided to the public in the Irish language as well as the bilingual publication of certain key documents. NUI Galway has a draft scheme in place indicating its plans for the implementation of the Act, complementing the programme of commitments set out in its strategic plan.
The Government will continue to support NUI Galway and all of our other higher education institutions in fulfilling their responsibilities and commitments to the Irish language. In that context, my Department and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs are committed to working together to progress the development of national policy on the development of third level education through lrish, building on the recommendations of a recent inter-agency working group on this subject.
NUI Galway will strongly welcome this legislation. It reflects the unique historical commitment of the college to the promotion of the language while providing it with the necessary freedom to compete successfully in the national and international recruitment markets. It is an important modernising Bill for NUI Galway. It underlines the strong commitment of the college to the promotion of our native language and reflects the progressive position of the language in the wider legislative and public policy context.
Ní thogfainn an Bille seo os comhair an Tí dá mba rud é gur cheap mé nach mbeadh NUIG chomh láidir is a bhí ariamh ar son na Gaeilge agus ar son an teanga a chur chun cinn san ollscoil agus sa tsochaí mórthimpeall. Ó 1929 ar aghaidh, níos luaithe, agus ó shin, tá an-chuid oibre déanta ag an gcoláiste. Creideann siad go láidir sa Ghaeilge, agus tá mé féin, mar Aire, mo Roinn agus an HEA lán-sásta cabhair a thabhairt dóibh agus do na hinstitiúidí eile leanúint ar aghaidh le tacaíocht a thabhairt don Ghaeilge agus féachaint chuige go gcomhlíonann siad a ndualgais dár dteanga dhúchais agus náisiúnta.
Aithním ag an am céanna go bhfuil athruithe tar éis teacht sna hinstitiúidí tríú leibhéil agus sa chóras oideachais sa tír seo, ós rud é go bhfuilimid níos idirnáisiúnta ná mar a bhí ariamh. Má táimid chun bheith i measc na gcoláistí den scoth ar domhan — sa chéad trian de na coláistí— caithfimid daoine den scoth a mhealladh go dtí an tír seo chun múineadh agus taighde a dhéanamh. Téimid amach go dtí an tSín agus an Ind agus beimid á rá leo go bhfuil an t-oideachas in Éirinn níos fearr nó chomh maith le hoideachas atá ar fáil in aon áit eile.
Tá bac ar Ollscoil na Gaillimhe faoi láthair sa tslí nach féidir léi daoine den scoth — b'fhéidir, an duine is fearr — a mhealladh go dtí an coláiste ós rud é go bhfuil uirthi an duine is fearr a bhfuil Gaeilge aige a fhostú. Níor mhaith liom go mbeadh an bac sin ar choláiste ar bith, ach go háirithe ar NUIG, atá ag iarraidh níos mó a dhéanamh ó thaobh taighde agus múinte de. Ag an am céanna, áfach, aithním go bhfuil daoine buartha faoin nGaeilge sa choláiste agus go laghdófar an méid a dhéantar ar son na Gaeilge.
Ní tharlóidh sé sin, mar tá mé lán-sásta ón méid atá ráite ag an uachtarán agus an gcoláiste. Tá sé scríofa acu sa phlean straitéise atá leagtha amach ag an gcoláiste gur ceann de na príomhaidhmeanna atá acu ná an Ghaeilge a fhorbairt agus a chur chun cinn sa choláiste agus lasmuigh. Mar sin, tá mé sásta an leasú seo a thógaint ós comhair an Tí. Ní thógfainn é muna mbeinn sásta go mbeidh siad in ann leanúint ar aghaidh le taighde agus múinteoireacht den scoth, mar a dhéanadh an coláiste i gcónaí. Beidh siad in ann daoine a mhealladh ón taobh amuigh agus ón iarthar agus, ag an am céanna, a ndualgais a chomhlíonadh ar son na Gaeilge. Molaim an Bille don Teach.