Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 18 Feb 2010

Vol. 702 No. 4

George Mitchell Scholarship Fund (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am happy to introduce to the House the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund (Amendment) Bill 2010. This Bill amends the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund Act 1998. It is a short Bill and I believe it is a relatively straightforward piece of amending legislation.

Before outlining to the House the provisions of the Bill, it is important to highlight the general background to, and context for, the legislation.

In 1998, in recognition of the pivotal contribution made by United States Senator George J. Mitchell to the Northern Ireland peace process, the Irish Government established the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund and in 1999 agreed to contribute an endowment of IR£2 million to the fund. I wish to recall at the outset, in regard to the Northern Ireland peace process, that throughout the journey we have benefited from the continued support of our friends in the United States.

The Government considers that the agreement reached two weeks ago at Hillsborough provides the basis for the future stability and success of the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland. It is a considerable achievement, and the completion of the devolution of policing and justice in a matter of weeks will be a very significant step forward. The stable and efficient operation of the Executive and the Assembly is clearly what the people of Northern Ireland want. In these challenging economic times, this agreement should enable the Executive and the Assembly to deal with the pressing issues and concerns of the people in Northern Ireland such as jobs, investment, health care and education.

The Government will continue to work closely with our Northern Ireland Executive colleagues to co-operate on these issues in the North-South Ministerial Council and to drive forward joint initiatives, including in the area of education. In the current economic position, North and South, it is more important than ever that we eliminate duplication at home and collaborate to compete internationally.

The George Mitchell Scholarship Fund Act was enacted in December 1998 and it empowered the Minister for Education and Science to establish the fund in the United States and to enter into an agreement with persons to manage and control the fund. The 1998 Act provided for the creation of a scholarship fund to enable students from the United States to pursue a postgraduate year of study and-or research at certain universities and other institutions of higher education on the island of Ireland. Under the 1998 Act, the contribution of the Minister for Education and Science to the fund was the one-off endowment of IR£2 million.

The US-Ireland Alliance established a prestigious, competitive scholarship to enable American university graduates to pursue a year of study here. The alliance is a non-partisan, non-profit making organisation comprising members from both Ireland and the United States and is based in Arlington, Virginia, in the United States. A detailed agreement for the management of the fund was signed by my Department with the alliance in March 1999 and the endowment of IR£2 million was paid into the fund in April of that year. The alliance continues to manage the fund and run the scholarship programme.

The endowment made by the Irish Government into the fund was to fund two scholarships of US$11,000 per year and to meet the administrative costs associated with running the programme. The US-Ireland Alliance also secures additional funding from other sources which has enabled the programme to offer a further ten scholarships annually. The costs of these scholarships have been met through an endowment made by the British Government in respect of two scholarships per year and through other contributions and-or sponsorship received by the alliance, including from the Government of the United States.

The first Mitchell scholars began their studies in autumn 2000. In 2001, the nominal value of the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund, containing the Irish Government's original endowment of IR£2 million, decreased due to losses on investments made during a difficult investment climate in the United States.

In 2003, a decision was made, in consultation with my Department, to "rest" the fund for a period by not making any disbursements in respect of scholarships from the income generated from the fund with a view to re-establishing the original value of the fund. This was facilitated greatly by a decision of the United States Government to support the US-Ireland Alliance with significant financial contributions over several years. Thus the alliance was enabled to safeguard the burgeoning reputation of the scholarship programme and to continue awarding the full quota of scholarships.

In fact, since 2003, the full quota of 12 scholarships has been funded from other resources raised by the US-Ireland Alliance. In that same period, the only expenses paid from the fund have been the costs of the annual audit of the accounts and investment advisory fees for the fund. All of this information is provided in the annual report and audited accounts for the fund that are laid before each House pursuant to the provisions of the 1998 Act.

In 2007, a decision was taken to secure the long-term viability of the George Mitchell Scholarship programme by increasing Ireland's contribution to the fund for the programme by €20 million. This sum is to be paid over a number of years, conditional on matching funding being raised by the US-Ireland Alliance. Such matching funding must not include funding from public funds in Ireland or Northern Ireland. It is envisaged that the increased future investment income from the additional funding of up to €40 million, inclusive of matching funding, will primarily meet the cost of bursaries for the successful students and the administration of the scheme.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund Act 1998 in order to enable the new financial and necessary accounting arrangements to be put in place by creating an amended legal framework that is appropriately broad and enabling.

It is intended that the Bill will be complemented by, and also provide legal underpinning for, a detailed new funding and management agreement between the Minister for Education and Science and the alliance. Such a new agreement is necessary to give effect to the provisions of the Bill and to provide for the putting in place of appropriate governance structures. Following very detailed negotiations, the terms of a draft new agreement in that regard have been agreed between my Department, with Department of Finance approval, and the alliance. This new agreement specifies detailed management and reporting arrangements in regard to the fund. The new agreement will be executed when this amending legislation has been enacted.

A provision of €2 million is included in my Department's Estimates for 2010 in respect of the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund. When the amending legislation has been enacted and commenced and the new management and funding agreement between the US-Ireland Alliance and my Department has been signed, my Department will arrange for an appropriate payment to be made in accordance with the terms of the legislation and the agreement. The amount of the payment to be made in 2010 will have regard to the matching funding already raised by the alliance.

This additional funding further emphasises the Irish Government's deep and abiding gratitude for the key role that Senator George Mitchell played in the Northern Ireland peace process. The Government also believes that the additional endowment demonstrates our clear support for the development of our special relationship with the United States.

We strongly believe that, from a strategic viewpoint, the Irish Government's additional endowment will achieve several significant outcomes as well as helping to secure the long-term viability of the programme. The additional funding will enable the US-Ireland Alliance to strengthen further its support for and promotion of United States-Ireland and North-South relations.

The Mitchell scholarship programme ties in well with the objectives of the strategic review of Ireland-United States relations, Ireland and America: Challenges and Opportunities in a New Context, launched in the early part of 2009. The strategic review highlighted that there are some 10 million Americans under the age of 18 who, while not Irish, have an interest in Ireland. They, along with our own young people, will shape the future contours of our relationship with the United States. We must work proactively to maintain their interest in and link with Ireland.

There is perhaps no more fundamental or sustainable way to engage that interest than by giving these young people the opportunity to study in Ireland. We know that people who have studied in Irish institutions, and who have had a positive experience here, go on to become privileged friends of Ireland. The young Americans who study here will be advocates and agents for the strong United States-Ireland relationship among the next generation. We recently put in place a new framework for the promotion of Ireland as a centre of international education. As part of this the Minister has established a high-level group on international education which is currently developing an action plan to enhance Ireland's performance in this area. The high-level group will be examining where our priority markets will be and what co-ordinated activities we should be undertaking in those markets. The United States will clearly be one of our most important strategic partners in this regard. We have indicated to Enterprise Ireland, to which we have given responsibility for promoting and marketing Irish education, that this is a priority for the Government and that we want to lead from the front in strengthening links with the United States.

There is no doubt that the Mitchell scholarship programme will be a key plank in our efforts to develop education links with the United States. It will allow high-calibre students from American universities to participate as Mitchell scholars in a broad cross-section of postgraduate courses at universities on the island of Ireland, which will increase the profile of Irish institutions internationally. Since 1999 the programme has attracted 117 high-calibre students from American universities. The programme is successfully competing to attract participants with a number of other highly prestigious and influential scholarship programmes such as the Rhodes scholarships scheme that is operated by the United Kingdom to bring American students to Oxford University. As well as the direct financial spin-off benefit to the Irish economy, these Mitchell scholars are likely to occupy positions of influence in the United States in the future, whether in politics, business or the professions. We hope their period of study on this island will create an enduring legacy of goodwill towards Ireland amongst the scholars and be of significant benefit to Ireland in the future.

I shall now outline the main features and provisions of the Bill. Section 2 amends section 1 of the 1998 Act by adding a number of new definitions relating to key terms used throughout the Bill. Section 3 amends section 2 of the 1998 Act. In essence, it provides legal underpinning for several core provisions relating to the fund that are contained in the funding and management agreement between the Minister and the fund manager.

Section 4 amends section 3 of the 1998 Act. The 1998 Act made provision for a one-off payment of IR£2 million by the Minister into the fund. Section 4 amends section 3 of the 1998 Act to provide that the Minister shall pay a total Irish Exchequer additional funding sum not exceeding €20 million into the fund. Payments by the Minister will be subject to matching funding having been raised by the fund manager and subject to a maximum payment of €4 million in any financial year.

Section 5 amends section 5 of the 1998 Act by substituting an amended provision for that section. This arises as a consequence of the enhanced annual, operational and financial reporting obligations being imposed on the fund manager in section 3. I shall refer to those obligations in more detail on Committee Stage. Section 6 provides for the Short Title, collective citation and commencement. Molaim an Bille seo don Teach.

I propose to share time with Deputy Deenihan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

On behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I welcome the Bill. When the original legislation was brought to the House in 1999, following the multi-party talks and the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement, there was cross-party support for the Government's initiative. That cross-party agreement remains in place in the context of this legislation, which effectively extends the funding the State is making available for this programme.

However, the decision to extend the funding was taken by the Government in 2007. In other words, it has taken three years to bring an amendment to the original legislation before the House. That says much about the dearth of progress made by the Department of Education and Science in legislative matters.

Three years is quick for that Department.

That is true, it is not bad by the usual standards of the Department. Nevertheless, it is extraordinary that it should take three years to put on a legislative footing a proposal that enjoys cross-party support. In future, decisions of Government should run parallel with amendments to primary legislation. This is not an extensive Bill and it could have been put together in half a day. That it took three years raises many questions for the Department of Education and Science.

The Bill proposes a substantial increase in funding for this initiative, to €20 million from the original allocation of IR£2 million in 1999. Therefore, the Bill is deserving of some scrutiny before it passes all Stages. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the extraordinary work of former Senator George Mitchell in chairing the multi-party talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which was the starting point for the new political dispensation on this island and between these islands. I applaud the Government for bringing forward the idea of celebrating his work through scholarships for high-calibre United States students who choose to study in this country. That was a good idea and it is right that we should extend it now.

We should bear in mind that higher education is a global business. The programme is good for Ireland and for the United States citizens involved. It affords us an opportunity to sell the country and the opportunities that exist here at a time when we need friends in the world as never before. It is absolutely right that Ireland should give something back in return for the extraordinary contribution of financial support, mentoring and direct political intervention from successive United States Administrations. That commitment was epitomised in the extraordinary public service of Mr. Mitchell in his work on behalf of the United States Government and all Irish-Americans through his extremely constructive role in the multi-party talks.

For far too long the political engagement between Ireland and the United States has focused on the politics of Northern Ireland and on seeking to resolve the historical problems there. We now have an opportunity to offer a new generation of young United States citizens with an interest in Ireland an opportunity to be welcomed by this country. These high calibre students will eventually become ambassadors for Ireland as we seek to work through the greatly difficult economic times we are experiencing. It is also important for our institutions and universities. I have spoken to many university presidents who tell me the presence of international students in courses is important to our own higher education establishments because it offers an opportunity for an exchange of ideas and to see the products of other higher education systems, a positive thing. We must extend this across the entire spectrum of international higher education.

An idea the Minister might take on board that did not exist in the legislation in 1999 is that the Government might specify, through the Department of Education and Science, the kind of graduates we want to come to Ireland for the foreseeable future. It might be an idea to say that, as a policy objective, for the next few years we might focus on business or economics graduates from the US.

Or ethics graduates.

Ethics graduates or even communications graduates given the current turmoil. That provision does not exist in the 1999 legislation so the Minister might consider specifying the areas in which scholars would be qualified when they come.

The Minister might give an indication of how many additional scholars will come to the country in light of the additional funding. In recent years there have been ten or 12. Are we talking of 20 or 24 scholars? The Government must be clear and give us a breakdown of the additional numbers who will come as a result of this additional funding.

Will the Minister give us a breakdown of numbers of scholars who have come to attend the two universities in Northern Ireland and the seven universities in the Republic and whether any of them have gone to our institutes of technology? We have a responsibility to see where these scholars can go throughout all of our colleges, North and South.

The matching funding is key in the delivery of the public funds that the State is making available. Is there information concerning whether those private funds have been obtained so the public funds can be used for the purposes as set out under the Act?

The US-Ireland Alliance should be applauded for the exemplary work it has done since this legislation first came before the House. It has provided a professional service in selecting high calibre US students to come here. We are now moving, however, to a new period, where the financial sums involved are considerable. The €2 million funding that provided in 1999 will now be €20 million, with a maximum of €4 million each year. With that, accountability must take centre stage.

I welcome the fact the legislation provides for an annual reporting mechanism and a much clearer distinction between the private investment fund and the other administrative fund. In these new times, we have an obligation to squeeze as much as we can from the administration budgets in the semi-State sector or the Department of Education and Science. Every euro we commit to this new fund is used for the purposes as set out.

Will the Minister set out during the debate how much of the funding available goes to the administrative side? As we move into this new financial underpinning, it is crucially important those issues of reportage, accountability and ensuring administration are kept to a minimum and are surveyed by Government, which will have a duty of due diligence when the legislation is ultimately passed.

On behalf of Fine Gael and my colleagues, we welcome this as an important step in the right direction that will recognise the Irish-US connection that has been worth so much to this country. That connection must flourish and this is one of the steps we can take that will give us new ambassadors for this country across the world.

In these turbulent times in the House, it is good to have something positive to support and Fine Gael is fully behind this initiative.

The US-Ireland Alliance established this programme some time ago. I note the presence today of Trina Vargo in the Gallery and acknowledge her contribution to this programme. She played a significant role in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement and served with Senator Ted Kennedy for some time as foreign policy adviser.

The purpose of the alliance is to generate a new generation of Americans and to develop a new relationship with Ireland that is pro-business and into arts and culture that will take advantage of the goodwill in the USA towards Ireland. It works well to do that. If we look at the effects of the Rhodes scholarship between Britain and the US, and the fact that President Bill Clinton benefited from that scheme, along with others in his Administration, we will recognise the significance of this scholarship for Ireland. I have been in contact with people involved in both business and education in America going back to the 1970s and 1980s and I can see considerable potential for furthering this relationship, especially through academic means.

The tenth cohort of Mitchell scholars is currently studying in Ireland. As Deputy Hayes pointed out, the best and brightest young Americans, the future leaders in business, politics and law, are coming to this country, something we must welcome. Hundreds of American universities have been introduced and exposed to our level of education. Often those who have not been successful in obtaining a scholarship have come anyway and paid their own way. A number of successful applicants have completed PhDs here as well.

This money is long overdue, because it was some time before the Government contributed towards this fund. It will be mostly spent in Ireland, in our universities and hotels and on buses and will be spread across the country. The Mitchell scholars this year will attend Listowel writers' week, a demonstration of how we all benefit from this scheme.

Senator George Mitchell always supported this scheme and I am proud that it was former Taoiseach, John Bruton who encouraged the Senator to chair the talks in Northern Ireland. That was a significant step on the part of the Government of the day, of which Deputy Quinn was a member. Fine Gael is extremely supportive of Senator George Mitchell and the Bill before the House.

In the future, our relationship with the USA must be based on partnership and must centre on the areas of education, the arts and business. I am extremely impressed by the work of the US-Ireland Alliance, which has been to the fore in the context of redefining the special relationship between Ireland and the US. I applaud its efforts in that regard. I urge the US-Ireland Alliance to continue what it is doing but also to expand its efforts as a result of the increased funding with which it will be provided. When graduates who benefited from the George Mitchell scholarship fund begin to become involved in business, at various levels, throughout America, I am sure new sources of funding will become available to the US-Ireland Alliance.

I wish to share time with Deputy Morgan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Like previous speakers, I welcome the Bill which is a positive and constructive step. I accept that it has taken somewhat longer to appear than many on both sides of the negotiations might perhaps have desired. However, a difficult labour is no blot on the arrival of a new child and we welcome the legislation nevertheless.

The Bill before us builds on the work done by a departing generation of Irish-American politicians. Such politicians maintained a tradition which dates back to the 1850s and Clan na Gael, Clan na hÉireann, etc., which maintained support for Ireland in the context of its subservient position vis-à-vis England and the Crown. No one gave as much in respect of this tradition as the late Senator Ted Kennedy and other members of his family. The work he and others did culminated in the extraordinary contribution of Senator George Mitchell in presiding over the entire peace process. The Senator was present when the ceasefire was announced and he worked through the long nights of negotiation that led to the advent of the British-Irish Agreement.

The unresolved political relationships between the North and the South on this island and between Dublin and London defined what Irish America could do for Ireland in those dark days. Such days are now over. The US-Ireland Alliance and the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund form the platform on which a new relationship is being built. The wording used by the alliance does not refer to supporting the old sod, rather it refers to a relationship of equality and mutual benefit between Ireland and the United States.

I echo the comments on my friend and colleague, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, in saluting the extraordinary work done by Trina Vargo — who is present in the Gallery — in promoting the idea of the US-Ireland Alliance and in succeeding in encouraging so many people to come on board and support it. Such work is never easy to undertake and persistence and determination are required characteristics for those who do seek to undertake it. Fortunately, Ms Vargo possesses both.

I wish to focus on the work of the Mitchell scholarship programme and put a number of questions to the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Haughey. I appreciate that the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, is otherwise detained. It is extraordinary that 117 students have come to Ireland under the programme since 1999 and that the majority of them were funded from sources other than the Irish funds. The US-Ireland Alliance was successful in raising money from the sources to which I refer. In many cases, people who failed to obtain Mitchell scholarships decided — as a result of what they saw in respect of Irish universities — that they wanted to come here in any event.

Some 300 applications for Mitchell scholarships are made each year and 70 universities receive visits from the US-Ireland Alliance in the context of what is on offer at Irish universities. As the Minister of State indicated, 10 million people who have no connection to Ireland — the old sod — whatsoever, who do not wear shamrock on 17 March, and who did not take compulsory Irish dancing lessons in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or elsewhere have expressed an interest in coming to this country to study. These individuals have done so based on the image of Ireland presented to them rather than from what they learned at the knees of their grandmothers. It is this kind of new relationship — based on realism and idealism — which we must nurture and develop. I wish to concentrate on outlining how that might happen.

The Minister of State indicated that his Department will be setting up a centre of excellence to establish Ireland as a centre of international study. Due to the fact that the time for debating the Bill is limited, we may return to explore that matter further at a later date, particularly in view of the fact that I am not at all impressed by what the Department is attempting to do. Giving to Enterprise Ireland — based on what the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, witnessed while on a trade mission to China — the responsibility for promoting this country as the type of centre to which the Minister of State refers will not provide us with the best way forward.

Having served as Minister for Enterprise and Employment in the 1990s, I remain to be convinced that the Department — which is now the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment — sees education or culture as part and parcel of job creation. There is evidence to suggest that its real focus is on jobs which involve people who wear overalls and who work on industrial estates or in high-tech plants and software factories. I am not so sure that this should be the basis of Enterprise Ireland's focus.

There are people who are actively working against the Department of Education and Science in the context of attracting students to this country. What is the position with regard to someone who was unsuccessful in his or her application for a Mitchell scholarship but who comes here in any event? I am aware of the case of a Canadian citizen in my constituency who is studying medicine at Trinity College. She is paying €31,000 in fees for the privilege. Her husband accompanied her to Ireland and he currently has a job. However, he will not be in a position to continue to work when his 12-month contract reaches its end.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is continually blocking the efforts of the Department of Education and Science to facilitate students such as the woman to whom I refer. There must be joined-up thinking on the part of Government in respect of facilitating students — some of whom may have been accompanied by spouses or dependent children — to remain in this country. I am aware of cases involving postgraduate medical students whose spouses cannot obtain visas in order that they might come here to live with them. These people were never informed, not by the Department of Education and Science but rather the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, that this would be the case. If we want to pursue the idea of promoting Ireland as a centre for international educational excellence, we will be obliged to take action with regard to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which is putting in place serious barriers in respect of what we are seeking to achieve.

When we emerge from our current economic crisis and begin to build a new, export-led, value-added economy — unlike the boom-bust, property-speculative model which obtained in the past ten years — we will be obliged to look to our strengths. Culture and entertainment are two of those strengths. This was recently evidenced by the awards given to graduates from Ballyfermot College who are involved in movie animation. Is the Minister of State aware that Enterprise Ireland has failed, on a number of occasions, to sustain and support a cultural initiative to showcase Irish talent on the margins of the Oscar ceremonies, where we have enjoyed such high-profile success, held each year in California, which is the centre of the movie business? I suspect that he is not so aware because this matter would not necessarily be part of his brief. Why is that the case? It is because Enterprise Ireland does not report to the Department of Education and Science. I accept that the Departments of Education and Science and Enterprise, Trade and Employment enjoy a particular relationship. With respect, however, that is not the kind of relationship we need if we are to achieve the outcomes we are seeking.

The Bill is a welcome step. It is, however, only a step. It represents not the end, but rather the commencement of a journey. We must add to the cohort of people who will be doing the kind of work to which I refer. We need to find more people like Ms Trina Vargo in the United States. We need to build on her commitment. We must also build on her experience of working for so many years with the late Senator Ted Kennedy and with that old Irish-American support bloc, which — with the arrival of President Barack Obama and the shift in the population base of the United States to the south and west — no longer reflects the "mother mo chroí" relationship we had with America in the past.

We must recognise that Irish-Americans have moved out of the ghettos of the past and are now part of mainstream America. They are part of an America that has distant connections with the greenery of Ireland. It was that greenery which encouraged people to visit this country in the past. We must understand the changed cultural and political relationship that now exists between Ireland and the United States. It is a relationship of mutual benefit and this scholarship should be a foundation upon which we can add and build. The total of 12 scholars coming each year is pretty small when one looks at what the Rhodes scholarship does for 200 students and other areas through which such scholars could come to Ireland. Excellent scholars coming to our universities and centres of higher education will provide a competitive edge and a standard of excellence from another jurisdiction of education with which we are not familiar.

With those few words, and I could say much more, I commend the Bill. We will table a few amendments on Committee Stage. The Department of Education and Science should not take the Bill as the end of a process after two or three years of negotiation. I seriously and formally ask the Minister of State, given his two-hatted responsibility, to take up the question of the relationship between Enterprise Ireland and both the educational goals of the Department of Education and Science and the US-Ireland Alliance because the current relationship is not doing all it possibly could. It could create work, employment and production possibilities in the cultural field where we can play to our strengths and the United States can play to theirs.

I thank Deputy Quinn and the Labour Party for sharing time with me.

The Bill seeks to make an extra investment of €20 million in the Mitchell scholarships programme which every year brings approximately 12 students to Ireland to study. No one is disputing the benefits for research and development that such students bring to our universities, nor is there any disagreement over the great work undertaken by Senator George Mitchell during the peace process. However, I have small reservations about the Bill in the context of massive cuts to our education system. It is estimated that by the end of next month, March 2010, as many as 1,200 special needs assistants will be sacked from our schools. Some school buildings are falling apart and students face massive increases in the student registration fee, which they are struggling to pay. In light of such massive cutbacks, I cannot in good conscience give unqualified support to a Bill which seeks to make such a large investment in such a small programme.

For George Mitchell scholars, tuition, flights and accommodation are all supplied free of charge, and scholars are also provided with a living expenses stipend of $12,000, which is approximately €9,000. As well as this, each scholar is given a €1,000 stipend to be used for travel throughout the island as well as in Europe. This may not seem like a huge amount but is it something we can really afford in such a depressed economic climate?

Postgraduate courses in Ireland vary in cost, from approximately €1,600 for ICT courses, to €4,000 for research degrees, to as high as €10,000, usually for business courses. These are huge costs, particularly in times of recession when people are out of work and grants and social welfare payments are being cut. Severe cuts have been made to third level education in particular in recent months. The budget for 2010 introduced measures for an overall reduction of 4% in provisions for institutes of technology and universities. This will see students having to deal with diminished practical and tutorial supports, shorter library opening hours, overcrowded lecture halls and limited access to laboratories. The recent fiasco at Dublin Institute of Technology, whereby laboratories were cancelled, student services were severely curtailed and libraries services cut, shows just how bad an effect a cut such as this will have.

The budget also introduces a 5% cut to the student maintenance grant. It is estimated that approximately 60,000 students per year avail of this grant. With the cost of going to college estimated at approximately €7,000 to €8,000 per year, this will mean that thousands of students literally will not be able to afford to go on to higher education and will end up on dole queues.

Perhaps the programme could be improved if it were expanded with a view to bringing over more students with specific research and development goals with direct benefits to Ireland. I am not sure of what direct economic benefits those 12 students per year would bring although I accept that potential indirect benefits exist. The University of Notre Dame brings over 100 students to the island every year and Boston College has a similar programme. These universities do not receive any funding from our Exchequer.

My party and I have some reservations about the Bill. I welcome new ideas and innovations to our universities and our knowledge sector. I welcome anybody who wants to come to study in Ireland and I welcome the all-Ireland approach that this programme has taken. However, I question whether now is the right time to make such a big investment in such a small programme. That said, if our reservations find no resonance with other opinions in the House then Sinn Féin Deputies will not oppose the passage of the Bill. I acknowledge the historical role played by George Mitchell and the huge debt we owe him for his extremely important work during the peace process.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund (Amendment) Bill 2010. As previous speakers stated, the fund was established in 1999 to provide scholarships for US postgraduate students to attend certain universities and colleges in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Ireland has a very special and unique friendship with the United States of America. More than 36 million people, or 11 %, of the US population reported that they were of Irish ancestry in a community survey in 2008.

For generations, the Irish have been emigrating to the US. Living in County Clare and close to Shannon International Airport, I value very much the importance of our transatlantic relationship with the US. In my constituency of Clare, this relationship has fostered and played a pivotal role in the tourism and industrial development of the region. Many US companies work in the Shannon free zone and a total of 65 US companies are based in the region.

Recently, the US Government copper-fastened its commitment to Shannon Airport when it extended pre-clearance facilities to Shannon Airport, the first airport in Europe to have such a service. On 1 March it will build on this relationship when the first pre-clearance facilities will commence for business and corporate jets and Shannon will be the first airport in the world to have this facility. Corporate jets make approximately 500 or 600 crossings per week and it is hoped this will bring much business to the airport. Last night, I met the US ambassador, Dan Rooney, and he thinks it is a very exciting project that will forge closer links between Ireland the US.

As other speakers stated, there is no doubt that the doors along the corridors of power in Washington have always had a céad míle fáilte for the Irish. The election of a President with Irish links, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, ensured the US Government would always take a special interest in this country and we have forged closer links though the years. Many other US Presidents have had Irish ancestral links, including the incumbent, President Barack Obama, whose ancestors hail from Offaly in the Taoiseach's constituency.

One of the key figures in ensuring that the Irish were never forgotten in Washington was John F. Kennedy's brother, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who passed away last year. His understanding of the Irish question and his efforts to secure peace in Northern Ireland were vital. As other speakers did, I welcome to the House his former foreign affairs policy adviser, Trina Vargo, who is now president of the US-Ireland Alliance. She worked closely with the Clinton Administration and we must recognise Bill Clinton's role in the peace process and that of his wife, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who continues to contribute.

Mr. Clinton's right-hand man was George Mitchell, who chaired the all-party peace negotiations which led to the signing of the Belfast peace agreement on Good Friday of 1998. He received worldwide acclaim for his contribution and in January 2009 the newly elected US President, Barack Obama, appointed him special envoy to the Middle East. This is a daunting task but he is not a man who fears to take on a difficult job if he can help to alleviate the plight of minorities. I wish him well in his efforts. From his days in Northern Ireland, Mr. Mitchell has became a person we have all come to like and respect. His contribution to Northern Ireland has been recognised through the establishment of and support for the George Mitchell scholarship programme.

I have met Mr. Mitchell on several occasions, the most recent of which was when he officially opened the Doonbeg golf course. He is chairman of the Doonbeg advisory board and maintains close links with County Clare. Although he does not play golf, he officially opened the American golf course in Doonbeg, County Clare. That course continues to prosper and the club has forged close links with America.

Education and the opportunities which it affords are very important to Mr. Mitchell, who has stated: "No one in America should be guaranteed success. But everyone should have a fair chance to succeed". This scholarship fund gives students a chance to succeed in this country as well as deepening our relations with America. The programme has already brought more than 100 students to Ireland and receives more than 300 applicants annually. I understand 12 students will come to Ireland on the programme this year. The purpose of the programme is to educate a new generation of Americans about Ireland. As Deputy Quinn has noted, it is important that we maintain our special relationship with America. Europe is a big place in which Ireland is a small country and attitudes towards us have changed somewhat. The programme's participants will be the future leaders of America and will help to maintain close links between our two countries. Furthermore, when the students come here to study, they are visited by their families and friends, thus contributing to our economy. This is important given that the number of US tourists coming to Ireland has dwindled in recent years for a number of reasons, including the current recession and the presidential election. However, I was glad to hear reports that US tourism is on the increase once again. One indication of the great interest shown in Ireland by American tourists is the number of carriers which fly to this country.

The programme's students attend universities around the country and they are our greatest ambassadors when they go back to the US. Ms Trina Vargo travels with the students to visit many of the fine attractions we can offer, including the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.

The Bill before us aims to provide a legal basis to the 2007 decision to increase the Government's contribution to the scholarship programme by €20 million. This funding is conditional on matching funding from the US-Ireland Alliance but I have no doubt the money will be raised by Trina Vargo and her colleagues. I am satisfied that the accounting procedures which are being introduced will ensure copies of the accounts are laid before this House.

St. Patrick's Day is coming around again and the Taoiseach will be paying his annual visit to Washington. These visits are not just about exchanging the shamrock because no other country in the world has such an opportunity to meet the US President and persuade US companies to invest here. I support this Bill and I believe that we should be promoting, forging and building on our unique relationship and mutually beneficial with the United States.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I have inquired more times than any other Deputy into when it would be brought before the House. It pays tribute to an important person, George Mitchell, and all that he did for this country.

I am in a unique position in that my brother went in the other direction in the 1960s to study in Ohio and Pittsburgh. He was in America when the late John F. Kennedy was elected President and, sadly, when he was assassinated. That era helped to cement a new bond between the Irish, Irish-Americans and Americans in general. It was an extraordinary time for a young Irish student to travel the length and breadth of the United States. My brother stayed in family homes and hitch-hiked because he did not have any money but he had a wonderful time nonetheless. Thanks to him I understand better than most how this programme can and will benefit its participants. It will form the basis of friendships they will never forget.

I commend the more than 100 students who have already graduated from the programme and join other speakers in welcoming Ms Trina Vargo. It is sad that the late US Senator Ted Kennedy did not live long enough to see the Bill being debated in this House. He gave a massive commitment to this country and its emigrants in their time of difficulty.

I would like to see the number of programme participants increased beyond 12 annually because the more ambassadors we send from this country, the better. If these young people become involved in politics, they will offer a significant advantage for the Irish nation. I completely understand why Deputy Morgan raised the issues of support schemes, buildings and the lack of funding but this is above those issues. I live in a Border area and I remember when it was not safe to travel through Northern Ireland. On many occasions when I was there I wondered whether I was wise. I used to travel regularly to Donegal. I went to Donegal the other night and I felt absolutely safe going home. That is something we must attribute to the likes of Ted Kennedy.

Deputy Crawford would not go to Limerick and feel safe.

No, that is a different story. I wonder why that is. Perhaps we are getting some of the facts about it now.

What Ted Kennedy and others did for us in the Senate and White House is unreal. Possibly the greatest single thing the United States did for us was the visit by President and Mrs. Clinton to this country. We were on the Government side of the House at that time. As a Border Deputy I was given the opportunity by the then Taoiseach, John Bruton, as were all other Border Deputies, to be personally involved in welcoming the US President and his wife, Hillary, to this House. Their commitment to the peace process was beyond question. What they did and how they brought people together was extremely important.

It was through such visits that George Mitchell became involved in the peace process. He brought people together who had literally fought for years. He showed them hope when they could not see any hope. He persuaded people to get involved with each other. That was the start of the peace process. The Troubles, which were still a feature of Northern Ireland in the early 1990s, resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 people. Compared to Haiti that might not appear to be a lot of people but it left a major mark on a small island. George Mitchell can never be forgotten for the work he did at that time. It is great that he was recognised and that he continues that type of work elsewhere.

I welcome the fact that Senator Hillary Clinton is the US Secretary of State and will be involved in Northern Ireland. When the Hillsborough talks finished recently it was great to hear her commitment to bring more industrialists to this country. That has been extremely important to Ireland. It is clear from some of the notes I received from Ms Trina Vargo and others that they consider Ireland is a different place today. Although we are in some financial difficulty, it is a much better country. However, there are still problems of unemployment in Border areas and in Northern Ireland, which is extremely dependent on the public service. Anything US companies can do to help will be extremely welcome.

I pay tribute to Abbott Ireland which, approximately 30 years ago, came to Cootehill on the border between Cavan and Monaghan to set up a babyfood plant. It has expanded and provided tremendous work and wealth in that area. It also has plants in Sligo and elsewhere. That company came here for the long haul. It did not come here just to get tax breaks, as some have said. That was said one night in Washington in the presence of George Mitchell and President Clinton, but it was not the case. Abbott came for the long haul and did the work.

My colleague, Deputy Brian Hayes, has already spoken in detail on the Bill and I will not go into the legalities of it. It is extremely important that we fund the process being set up by the Bill and ensure the money is properly spent because that has not always been the case in the past in some areas; we must utilise the scheme to the best advantage. The Bill will allow young people from the United States to come to this country to study for a number of years. It is important that those who are involved in organising the scholarships know they have a guaranteed future. I am sure Ms Vargo is happy with that. She and others have put considerable work into the scheme.

The Minister of State made it clear that this country's contribution to the fund will be increased by €20 million. That sum will be paid over a number of years and is conditional on matching funding being raised by the US-Ireland Alliance. Such matching funding must not include funding from public funds in Ireland or Northern Ireland. It is envisaged that the increased future investment income from additional funding of up to €40 million, inclusive of matching funding, will primarily meet the cost of bursaries. It is extremely important that this commitment is included.

Ms Vargo outlined to us how well the scheme is working. Many Mitchell scholars have come to the Dáil, some of them might even have worked here as interns. She said that Ireland has been welcoming to the Mitchells, as is only right. That has been a huge part of the success of the programme. We all want the scholars to go home saying, "That was the best year of my life." That is good for Ireland. I am pleased to hear that former scholars have been reunited at a later stage and are facilitated to keep in touch. This group of students who have received friendship and education in colleges in this country, North and South, can and will be future ambassadors for this country.

I welcome the Government's commitment. However, I am a little surprised that some of those who are involved with me in the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and others from the Government side, have not seen fit to comment on the Bill. It is important that not only is this an all-party issue, but it is seen to be so——

They cannot even make it to the Joint Committee on Education and Science.

——and that we are enthusiastic about it.

I am delighted to speak on this important issue. I have taken a deep interest in working to improve Ireland-US relations. For many years I have attended the annual Saint Patrick's Day celebrations in New York city. In the interests of transparency I add that my trips were not made at public expense. I congratulate Ambassador Rooney on his outstanding work since his appointment, also his chief of mission, Robert Faucher, and all the staff at the American Embassy. They play a critical role in the continuation of American investment, which as Deputy Crawford correctly indicated, is evident in the number of pharmaceutical and high-tech medical companies along the western seaboard that have invested heavily in this country. That investment is critical.

Emigration from the north west has been a sad feature of life in the region for many decades. We thought it had ended in the past decade, but now, thanks to Fianna Fáil incompetence, involuntary emigration is likely to resume on a significant scale once again.

I know and understand from meeting with Irish emigrants in the New York region and from meeting with successive generations of Irish Americans that the celebration and honouring of Irish culture and tradition is important to them. Keeping up economic, tourism, social, political, educational and personal links between our two countries in an important activity that I fully support. The Irish diaspora consists of 54 million people and that offers huge potential. Many links have been established, such as in the educational sector. Prior to that we had the INTERREG programme, cross-Border funding for community development and activities in the Six Counties and the six southern Border counties. I congratulate INTERREG on its sense of vision and determination and for the regeneration that is evident in many of the community developments in the six southern Border counties, which has benefitted every county. Many excellent organisations are working in the education sector to provide young Irish and US citizens with the opportunity to follow academic studies and to gain practical work experience. Among these many fine organisations I would like to compliment the Washington Ireland Program, in particular. This organisation works to provide six-month programmes for personal and professional development. It brings outstanding Protestant and Catholic university students from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to Washington for summer internships and leadership training. The programme begins and ends with practical service in Northern Ireland and Ireland. I have met a number of them. They worked on Capitol Hill and they have played a critical role in the past ten years.

I would like to add to the sentiments expressed by other contributors regarding the importance of giving full and generous recognition to the work of George Mitchell in helping to bring peace to the country. George Mitchell did outstanding work and made a massive contribution to the peace process. I fully support the notion that an appropriate way to recognise and honour his contribution to the peace process is by way of a scholarship programme for US students to carry out postgraduate study and research in Irish universities. President Obama appointed George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East and I wish him well in that challenging role.

It as important that this scholarship programme be adequately funded. The primary purpose of the Bill is to make provision for a new allocation of funds of up to €20 million, with no more than €4 million to be provided in any one year. This new funding requirement is designed to replenish the original allocation from some years ago. Without going into how this has arisen, it is clear that the investment policy to be followed in respect of this new funding must be prudent, with emphasis on protecting the value of the capital sums being invested. Given this new taxpayer money will reinvigorate the programme, it is necessary that the Government has much tighter control on the investment options used in future in order that the endowment amounts continue to be available to fund scholarships.

If the Government was put in control, it would only lose more.

I would not disagree entirely and that is a concern.

In Washington participants gain first-hand experience of a mature political process and are exposed to a culture of diversity. Students gain invaluable practical experience by completing internships in US government, media, business and non-profit organisations. At the end of the summer, participants return to Ireland with enhanced professional and interpersonal skills, as well as a new confidence in their ability to work together to make a difference.

The Washington Ireland Program offers its participants a unique opportunity to understand and develop their leadership abilities through an intense leadership programme and they also participate in a leadership project that allows them to put into action the skills they have developed. This equips graduates of the programme with the skills they will need to overcome challenges presented in their future careers. More than 380 young adults from Ireland have graduated from the programme, representing 25 different universities throughout the UK and Ireland. Many graduates are emerging in important careers in politics, law, business, communications, education and community organisations. As they move into critical leadership roles, they retain their connection with the programme and continue to give back to their local communities through an active alumni network.

I would like to make a few brief observations on other sections of the legislation. Section 3 deals with maintaining both an investment and a separate matching fund account, the production of an annual report and audited accounts. Somewhat surprisingly, the Bill also provides that public money must not be classified as matching funds. I welcome these provisions. It can hardly be a surprise to anyone that an organisation in receipt of Irish taxpayer funds should have to produce annual reports, audited accounts or should have separate investment, operational and matching funding accounts etc.

In particular, the clear definition of matching funds from the private sector is important, given that the US-Ireland Alliance drawdown of further Irish taxpayer funds is dependent on the generation of private sector matching funds. Matching funds are critical given the opportunity for students' development and trade between the US and Ireland. Many Irish companies operate successfully in the US and generate many thousands of jobs. The programme will be dependent on private sector matching funds even though €20 million in funding for the programme over five years is considerable.

I also welcome the provision in the legislation that a copy of the annual report and audited accounts should be placed before the Oireachtas. This provision will bring clarity to the issues of salaries and expenses incurred by the US-Ireland Alliance in the operation and administration of the fund. I am convinced such clarity and transparency will be of further assistance to the role of the organisation. This funding is being allocated to run an educational endowment programme that honours the work and the achievements of George Mitchell. In these circumstances, it would be best that this would be the primary purpose and activity of the alliance. There is risk that any contribution the alliance makes to current political issues may detract from the value of the programme.

It is paramount to take advantage of the development of the educational programme. The reassurance provided regarding audited accounts and the investment programme and the clarification of private investment funding for the continuation of the programme are important. The Washington internship programme is similar in many ways. The fund will be renewed and if private sector funding is properly channelled in an open and transparent way, it will be ensured for decades to come that scholarships will benefit those who otherwise would not get the opportunity. I compliment everybody involved and, in particular, George Mitchell on his outstanding work for Ireland.

Second Stage is due to conclude at 2.50 p.m. but I understand the Minister of State is ceding some of his time to colleagues.

If the House is agreeable.

I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate it.

I would like one minute to make a contribution.

I have tabled three amendments on Committee Stage but I am withdrawing one. If the House agrees, I propose that Second Stage be extended to 3.10 p.m. to facilitate the Minister of State's reply.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome Ms Trina Vargo to the House. She is not supposed to wave but many strange things have happened in the Chamber this week and, therefore, nobody will worry about that. I worked with Trina in the US Senate while George Mitchell was a member. We both worked as staffers. The work she has done since setting up the US-Ireland Alliance has been amazing. It is good that she is present and I congratulate her on her work.

I do not have a difficulty with the Bill. This great programme has worked well for some time and I am glad the Government is funding it. The figure of 119 students caught my eye because I have been involved in recent years in bringing American students to Dungarvan, my home town and it has been a rocky road. I was interested in Deputy Quinn's comments about attracting US education institutions to invest in Ireland and the job the Government is doing in this regard. My experience has not been great and I have been through this process dealing with countless Departments trying to obtain State aid for an American institution, which has made it clear it wants to spend millions of dollars in this country. The level of help provided by different Departments has been poor.

In two weeks, 26 undergraduate students will travel to study in Dungarvan. The level of funding we have received to date from local or national government is €5,000. The students are coming to study for three months. The idea is that the number of students will double to approximately 50 or 55 next year. The number of faculty members will increase from six to ten next year. That is pretty significant for a town like Dungarvan. Throughout this process, I have been curious about the mantra of encouraging innovation and attracting niche ideas to Ireland. In the past couple of years, massive amounts of money have been provided in the budget to deal with this kind of stuff. I got involved in the process. The Mercyhurst College authorities explained the area in which they want to get involved. We are in competition with three other European countries. Mercyhurst College wants to base its intelligence studies campus in Europe. Frankly, there was not a great deal of interest shown. I met representatives of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Higher Education Authority, the Department of Education and Science, IDA Ireland and the Office of Public Works. I brought officials from Mercyhurst College to Dublin to meet these people. At the end of that process, they displayed a level of frustration I had not seen before. Certainly, no real effort was made to seriously examine what these people are willing to bring to Ireland. It is a niche area.

It just did not happen. We had to do it all on our own. We had to do everything from scratch without Government assistance. The students in question are coming to Dungarvan, County Waterford, in two weeks' time. One of the problems that is encountered when a third level institution like Mercyhurst College comes to Ireland and seeks to apply for grant assistance is that it has to have a co-ordinated relationship with an existing Irish third level institution. In some cases, the US college or institution does not want such a relationship. Graduates of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst College are employed by bodies like the CIA and the FBI. These studies have a massive business application. This growing knowledge-based industry is booming around the world. Mercyhurst College is one of the leaders in this area in the United States. I expected that somebody in a Department would latch on to the college's booming, innovative and leading-edge involvement in this sector, but that did not happen. When I balanced that against all the talk about encouraging innovation and attracting niche industries to Ireland, I was in no doubt that it was just a bunch of baloney.

The other thing I discovered is that when it comes to attracting a US college or university to this country, there is no co-ordination between the various Departments. Deputy Quinn is absolutely right about that. I know that from my own experience. Although the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, returned my telephone calls and pointed us in the right direction on two separate occasions, I cannot say that about four other State entities. The telephone call we made to the Department of Education and Science was not even returned. I remind the House that the people in question are willing to spend millions of euro in this country. As far as I can see, nobody in the Irish Government is responsible for co-ordination between IDA Ireland and third level institutions in the US who want to spend money in this country. Nobody is squaring the——

There is nobody in charge.

There is nobody in charge of dealing with all the various entities. Nobody is speaking to these people to attract them to Ireland.

Nobody understands what they want to do, to build or to achieve in Ireland. It was a miserable process, frankly. I have to say that has been my experience. I accept we are talking about the success of the US-Ireland Alliance and the George Mitchell funding, but there is something wrong at Government level when it comes to attracting US universities and colleges that want to spend money in this country and have a track record of success in the area they are trying to market.

I appreciate the generosity of Deputies Quinn and Deasy, and the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, in allowing me to speak on this issue for a minute or so. As a representative of a Border constituency, I have to travel through Northern Ireland most weeks of the year. I agree that we should acknowledge the huge contribution made by successive US Administrations to bringing about the peace being enjoyed in Northern Ireland at present. The former US President, Mr. Clinton, and others in his Administration were pivotal in bringing about that peace. I refer specifically to the former US Senator, George Mitchell, who was sent to Northern Ireland and patiently stayed to bring together all sides. He succeeded in what was an almost impossible task, which required the patience and wisdom of Solomon. When the history of that period is written, George Mitchell's achievements will have a central role. It is right, proper and most appropriate that a scholarship should be established in his name to attract young Americans to experience what this country has to offer. Perhaps a reverse procedure will be put in place over time. As my minute is almost up, I will conclude by saying that as a Deputy for the Border constituency of Donegal South-West, I support this scheme. If I were to find any fault with the proposal, it is that we could be far more generous. I suggest that €2 million is a very small price to pay for what has been achieved in Northern Ireland. George Mitchell's central role in that achievement will be always remembered.

I thank all the Deputies for their contributions to this constructive debate. With the exception of Deputy Morgan, who gave it qualified support, all Deputies have welcomed the Bill. I welcome the cross-party support for the legislation this afternoon. As Minister of State, I wish to be associated with the remarks of several Deputies about the role of the president of the US-Ireland Alliance, Trina Vargo. I thank her for her work and wish her every success in her future endeavours. Similarly, I agree with what was said during the debate about the former US Senators, George Mitchell and the late Ted Kennedy. Having had the honour of meeting Ted Kennedy, I was deeply saddened by his death last year. Ireland lost a great friend with his passing.

A number of issues were raised during the debate. Deputy Hayes, supported tacitly by Deputy Quinn, wondered why it took three years to bring this legislation before the House. I remind the Deputies that agreement on the terms of the new funding and management agreement had to be reached with the US-Ireland Alliance. It was important to get the agreement right, in view of the scale of the Government commitment. Following protracted negotiations, the terms of the new agreement were finally decided on in 2009.

Deputy Hayes also asked how many additional scholars will come to Ireland. The purpose of the additional funding is to secure the long-term viability of the programme and to meet the cost of the 12 scholarships that are currently offered. In recent years, the cost of these scholarships has not been borne by the original Irish Government endowment. It is planned that in future, the annual income from the endowment will fund the cost of the 12 scholarships and the administration of the scholarship scheme.

Deputy Hayes also looked for a breakdown of the number of scholars who go to Northern Ireland and to the Republic of Ireland. Detailed statistics on the various years can be provided separately to the Deputy. In 2009, for example, three of the 12 scholars went to Northern Ireland, with the other nine staying in this jurisdiction.

The Deputy also asked how much matching funding has been raised. I will have to confirm the present position in that regard with the US-Ireland Alliance. I understand that the current figure is in excess of $1.5 million.

Deputy Hayes also asked how much funding is used on administration by the alliance. In response to that, detailed information is provided in the annual accounts laid before the House each year. For example, in 2008 a total of $33,237 was expended, comprising $5,490 on administration and $27,747 on investment advisory fees. These fees are modest because the US-Ireland Alliance decided in recent years to minimise the drawdown on the fund. In the early years, administration costs exceeded US$100,000. I am sure Members appreciate the improvement.

Deputy Arthur Morgan was critical of the aims of the legislation. This is a pity although I respect his right to raise the queries. He pointed out the large investment in the scheme compared to the cutbacks elsewhere in education. The €20 million payment will be made over a period of years and is conditional on matching funding being raised by the US-Ireland Alliance. A limit of €4 million has been put on the amount the Exchequer will pay in any one year. This is a strategic investment and there will be a direct financial benefit to the Irish economy. Another benefit is that Mitchell scholars will be likely to occupy positions of influence in the US. We expect their period of study in Ireland will create an enduring legacy of goodwill towards Ireland and be of significant benefit in the future.

Deputy Quinn and others pointed out the changing nature of the relationship between Ireland and the US. This was captured very well in the policy document published in 2009, Ireland and America: Challenges and Opportunities in a New Context. The Government fully subscribes to the views put forward on the changing and developing nature of the relationship. Deputies Quinn and Deasy referred to education in Ireland in an international context. Regarding the work of Enterprise Ireland, Deputy Quinn is aware the Government decided not to proceed with the establishment of Education Ireland because of concerns at the growth of the number of State bodies. Instead, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, produced a new framework for the promotion of Ireland as a centre of international education. As part of this, a high level group has been established. It is currently developing an action plan to enhance Ireland's performance in this area. The group includes representatives from the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Enterprise Ireland and a range of State bodies. It is intended that the work of the group will enable us to develop a focused and coherent approach to international education. The presence of the principal players on the group will enable us to address problems and issues in this area in a co-ordinated manner.

When will the group report?

In the mid-year. Work is being done in this area and the issue is appreciated by the Government, as is the need to develop policy in this area. I thank the Deputies for their contributions and I look forward to further discussion on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.