University College Galway (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]

Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

Cuireann sé áthas orm deis a bheith agam an Bille seo a chur faoi bhráid Thithe an Oireachtais. Tá an phráinn agus an ghéarchéim a bhaineann leis an gceist seo sáraithe de bharr go bhfuil fear den scoth a bhfuil dea-cháilíochtaí aige, an tOllamh Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, tofa le bheith ina chomharba ar uachtarán reatha an choláiste. Tá mé thar a bheith cinnte go ndéanfaidh an tOllamh Ó hÓgartaigh obair iontach ar fad mar cheann ar an gcoláiste. Cé go bhfuil an fhadhb phráinneach réitithe, níl an fhadhb fhadtéarmach réitithe. Tugadh stádas speisialta do Choláiste na hOllscoile, Gaillimh sa bhliain 1929. Bhí amhras ann faoi thodhchaí an choláiste ag an am, ach socraíodh go gcoinneofar ann é ar an mbunús go mbeadh freagracht faoi leith náisiúnta ar an gcoláiste ó thaobh oiliúint trí mheán na Gaeilge de, ní hamháin an Ghaeilge í féin, ach ábhair eile nach í freisin.

Cé go ndearnadh leasú ar Acht Choláiste Phríomh-Scoile na Gaillimhe, 1929 sa bhliain 2006, tá sé fós mar aidhm ag an ollscoil ceannródaíocht a thabhairt ina bplean forbartha maidir le hoiliúint trí mheán na Gaeilge a chur ar fáil. Mar a deir Acht an Choláiste Ollscoile, Gaillimh (Leasú), 2006, "the governing authority of the College shall ensure that one of the principal aims for the operation and development of the College set out in each strategic development plan prepared after the commencement of this section is the provision of education at the College through the medium of the Irish language". Ar ndóigh, tá sé sin á dhéanamh ar bhealaí éagsúla ag an ollscoil. B'fhéidir go bhfuil sé imithe i léig beagáinín le sé bliana anuas, ach tá sé á dhéanamh. Tá trí ionad Gaeltachta ag an ollscoil ar an gCeathrú Rua, i gCarna agus i nGaoth Dobhair thuas i dTír Chonaill.

Go dtí an bhliain seo, bhí sé leagtha síos ag an ollscoil ina gcuid rialacha féin go gcaitheadh Gaeilge a bheith ag an uachtarán. Mar sin, níor tháinig an cheist seo aníos riamh. Nuair a tháinig athrú ar an riail sin i mbliana, dúradh nach raibh aon ghá Gaeilge a bheith ag uachtarán an choláiste agus go bhféadfadh sí nó sé feidhmiú go praiticiúil ó lá go lá go sásúil gan aon Ghaeilge a bheith aici nó aige. Is ionann é sin agus a rá nach bhfuil duine amháin, in aon áit ar domhain, le sár-Ghaeilge a bheadh ard-oilte leis an jab seo a dhéanamh. Is léir go bhfuil a leithéid de dhaoine ann mar go bhfuil duine le sár-Ghaeilge faighte. Nach gcuireann sé iontas ar an Aire - caithfidh gur cheistigh sé é seo - go bhfuil rud éigin teipthe sa chóras oideachais, agus muid ag múineadh na Gaeilge sna scoileanna ar fad ó luath sna 1920í, mura bhfuiltear in ann teacht ar dhuine amháin ard-oilte leis an jab seo a dhéanamh?

Tá seacht ollscoil sa tír. Go deimhin féin, tá an tAire i mbun tuilleadh ollscoileanna a n-ainmniú faoi láthair. Tá suas agus anuas le 20 forais oideachais tríú leibhéal eile sa tír. Ní raibh sé mar dhualgas ach ar cheann amháin de na hinstitiúidí sin go mbeadh an Ghaeilge ag an uachtarán. Táimid ag iarraidh go leanfaidh muid an dualgas sin. Ní dóigh liom gur éileamh iomarcach é. An bhfuil Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh tite siar mar thoradh ar an nGaeilge a bheith ag a cuid uachtarán? An bhfuil míbhuntáiste éigin ag an gcoláiste de bharr an riachtanais sin? An bhfuil teipthe ar an ollscoil? Tá sé follasach, tar éis go raibh Gaeilge ag chuile uachtarán ó 1929 i leith, agus daoine ardcháilithe a bhí iontu, go bhfuil éirithe thar cionn ag an ollscoil. Tá sé sa chéad 250 ollscoil ar fud na cruinne, rud atá dochreidte i gcathair chomh beag le Gaillimh. Tá fás agus forás ar an ollscoil. Mar sin, ní léir cén bunús a bhí leis an bpolasaí seo a athrú.

Iarraim ar an Aire an Bille seo a scaoileadh ar aghaidh go dtí Céim an Choiste ionas gur féidir linn an cheist seo a chíoradh tuilleadh. Nuair a bhí ionadaithe ó Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh istigh ag an gcoiste Gaeilge, níorbh léir domsa ag an am go raibh aon argóintí fónta curtha ar aghaidh acu ar son an bheartais a bhí tógtha acu. Tá mé oscailte le héisteacht leo arís. Creidim go bhfuil sé áiféiseach bheith ag caint ar aidhmeanna na straitéise 20 bliana don Ghaeilge - ina measc go mbeidh 250,000 cainteoir laethúil Gaeilge sa tír seo agus go mbeidh méadú mór ar líon na ndaoine a deireann go bhfuil an Ghaeilge acu - agus ag an am céanna bheith ag baint an bun ón nGaeilge seachtain i ndiaidh seachtaine.

I dtaobh na Gaeilge de, ní mholfainn an dá Rialtas a bhí againn le sé bliana anuas. Ba mhaith liom moladh a thabhairt do rud amháin fónta agus tairbheach atá déanta acu, áfach. Tá mé sásta a rá go gcreidim go bhfuil an polasaí oideachais Ghaeltachta atá curtha i bhfeidhm le gairid tairbheach. Tá an coincheap an-mhaith, ach an t-aon locht a bheadh agam air ná go bhfuil sé á cur i bhfeidhm sách sciobtha. Guím chuile rath ar an Aire agus an straitéis seo á cur i bhfeidhm aige. Agus an infheistíocht sin ar fad á déanamh, tá sé beagáinín contráilte go bhfuil lucht an Rialtais ag rá go bhfuil siad ar son na straitéise, ach ag an am céanna ag rá nár cheart dúinn bheith ag súil go mbeidh duine amháin mar cheann ar ollscoil amháin as na hollscoileanna ar fad sa tír a chaitheadh Gaeilge a bheith aige nó aici.

As I have said in Irish, this is a simple Bill. There are two sections to it. The change is absolutely minor. The effect of the Bill is to replace a section that was in the statutes of the college that has required the president of the college since 1929 to be competent in the Irish language.

The problem is that the college has done away with that requirement. The Oireachtas should show its disapproval of the short sightedness of that decision by amending the existing legislation as I have proposed, to make it a condition that the president of the National University of Ireland Galway must be proficient in the Irish language. As I pointed out, there are 20 third level colleges in the State, including seven universities. As such, NUI Galway represents 5% of the total number of institutions, which is not out of line with the percentage of regular speakers of the Irish language.

It is fitting that one president, out of all 20 institutions, should be required to have fluency in Irish and it is especially fitting that it should be the head of NUI Galway. The college has three Gaeltacht centres which do their daily business in Irish and whose internal memoranda are always in Irish. Fortunately, the current president is a fluent Irish speaker and was brought up in an Irish-speaking household. However, under existing provisions, a situation might arise in the future where a person is appointed to the university who could not go to any of those centres and speak the first official language. Proficiency in the language is also important for the president's dealings with the public. In fact, Galway city council sought and was granted bilingual status for the city. The tradition has always been that the president of NUI Galway spoke Irish on public occasions, as well as English when needed. As it stands, however, a future president might be appointed who would not be required to be able to do so. It is surely an indictment of the education system if we cannot find one person capable of both running the college and speaking the two official languages. In fact, what happened, as we predicted, is that there was no difficulty in recruiting a president who is a fluent Irish speaker. The problem I am seeking to address by way of these provisions is that if the law is not changed, we do not know whether the same effort will be made on the next occasion to ensure the incoming president is an Irish speaker.

The 20 year strategy for the Irish language is a strategy for growth. For too long we have been talking and hearing about the death of the language. What is actually happening is that we are seeing growth in usage of the language in urban areas. People in middle class areas of Dublin, surveys show, have the most positive attitudes to the language and make up its fastest growing support base. It is a similar story in Galway city. Indeed, one of the most extraordinary developments in the past 20 to 30 years is the growth of interest in and usage of the language in urban Ireland. There are highly qualified people in every discipline who are fluent Irish speakers, capable of carrying on their everyday business through the language.

I urge the Minister to accept these proposals. I am always worried when preparing a Bill, given that I do not have huge resources at my disposal, that I will make some drafting mistake, typographical or otherwise. However, any such errors can be amended, as happened with the Electoral (Amendment) Bill I brought forward on a previous occasion in this House. That legislation did require some debate and amendment in committee, which is something to which I am always open. It would send a strong signal of our serious intent in regard to the Irish language if the Bill I am introducing were to go forward to Committee Stage.

Molaim an Bille. Tá súil agam go mbeidh tacaíocht leathan le fáil aige ar fud an tí. Níl ach dhá alt sa Bhille - is Bille gearr atá ann. Ba mhaith liom a rá, mar fhocal scor, go bhfuil a fhios agam go bhfuil an spéis ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Catherine Connolly, labhairt ar an mBille seo. Mar a tharla, bhí cruinniú poiblí eagraithe aici don oíche anocht i nGaillimh agus bhí uirthi dul chuig an gcruinniú sin. Bhí an díospóireacht seo le bheith ann an tseachtain seo chaite ach tharla rudaí i rith na seachtaine sin, agus cuireadh rudaí bun os cionn. Mar sin, ní raibh sí in ann a bheith i láthair anocht. Creidim go bhfuil tacaíocht fhorleathan don chur chuige atá agam agus bheadh súil agam, fiú gan an Rialtas, go nglacfar leis an mBille seo ar an Dara Chéim agus go mbeidh deis againn é a phlé ag an gcoiste maidir le leasuithe is gá a dhéanamh agus an Bille seo a achtú.

Given that only Deputy Peadar Tóibín is presenting, will the Minister agree to allow him to speak next, after which I will call on the Minister to respond?

A Aire, tá sé go maith go bhfuil deis agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Tá mé ag iarraidh labhairt freisin maidir le scolaíocht agus an Ghaeilge ina iomláine.

Tá fadhb mhór ann mar gheall ar an nGaeilge agus oideachas sa tír seo. Ní hamháin go bhfuil mise á rá sin: aithníonn go leor daoine agus an Roinn féin an fhadhb sin. Ceapaim go bhfuil ar a laghad trian de na múinteoirí atá ag teacht amach as an gcóras gan a bheith in ann labhairt as Gaeilge ar chor ar bith. Bhíos ag caint le múinteoir amháin i scoil Ghaeltachta agus dúirt sí liom gur chuir sí iarratas amach ag iarraidh múinteoir i gcomhair post agus fuair sé 70 iarratas. As an 70, ní raibh duine amháin sásta obair a dhéanamh, nó múineadh trí Ghaeilge. Bhíos ag labhairt le múinteoir eile i scoil Ghaeltachta a dúirt go raibh 13 múinteoir sa scoil. Nuair a d’iarr mé air an méid a bhí in ann Gaeilge líofa a labhairt, dúirt sé go raibh ceathrar in ann é sin a dhéanamh. Táimid ag caint faoi scoileanna sa Ghaeltacht, agus múinteoirí nach bhfuil in ann labhairt i nGaeilge le páistí faoina gcúram atá ag iarraidh labhairt as Gaeilge leo. Is é an scoil ceann de na suímh is tábhachtaí sna Gaeltachtaí mar gheall ar an nGaeilge. Muna bhfuil an scoil ag baint úsáid as an nGaeilge, bí cinnte nach mairfidh an Ghaeilge sa todhchaí ar chor ar bith.

Bhíos ag caint le príomhoide agus dúirt sé liom go raibh múinteoir nua sa scoil aige. Dúirt an múinteoir “tar anseo” le páiste, chuaigh an páiste chuige agus dúirt an múinteoir, “no, that means go into the corner.” Seo múinteoir atá tar éis teacht tríd an gcóras iomlán. An fhadhb atá ann ná go mbaineann na scrúduithe a dhéanann na múinteoirí sna hollscoileanna leis na hollscoileanna agus nach bhfuil baint acu leis an Stát. Is é an ollscoil an breitheamh go huile is go hiomlán maidir leis an gcaighdeán agus tá sé sin ag déanamh an-chuid damáiste don Ghaeilge sa tír.

Is fáinne fí é. Nuair a théann múinteoirí isteach sna scoileanna gan chaighdeán sár mhaith acu, titeann an caighdeán atá ag na páistí. Nuair a éiríonn na páistí níos sine agus nuair a thosaíonn siad ag déanamh staidéir agus iad ina mac léinn sna hollscoileanna, bíonn caighdeán níos lú acu agus ag an nglúin sin. Caithfidh go mbeadh an Rialtas lán sásta díriú air seo.

Baineann sé leis an bhfadhb atá againn aistritheoirí a fháil don Aontas Eorpach. Nílimid in ann na poist sin a líonadh ag an mbomaite mar níl daoine ag baint amach an caighdeán chun na poist sin a líonadh.

Mar gheall ar na Gaelscoileanna, is í an fhadhb atá ann ná go bhfuil 25% de thuismitheoirí ag iarraidh a bpáistí a sheoladh chuig Gaelscoil ach níl ach 5% de na páistí ag fáil Gaelscolaíochta. Tá saghas bearna ollmhór idir an líon daoine atá ag fáil na seirbhíse agus an líon atá á éileamh. Níl aon chóras ann inar féidir le scoil athrú ó chóras amháin go córas eile. Ní féidir le scoil lán-Bhéarla athrú go scoil lán-Ghaeilge. Tá córas ann inar féidir le scoileanna Caitliceacha athrú go scoileanna il-sainchreidmheacha, ach ní féidir leo an bogadh sin a dhéanamh mar gheall ar theanga.

Tacaímid le Bille Theachta Uí Chuív atá os comhair na Dála, cé gur sop in áit na scuaibe é. Cuireann an Bille seo ceal ar Acht a thug an Teachta Ó Cuív isteach nuair a bhí sé ina Aire le freagracht as an nGaeltacht. Ba é Acht an Choláiste Ollscoile, Gaillimh (Leasú) 2006 a lagaigh na riachtanais oifigiúla maidir leis an nGaeilge go mór. Anois tá an Teachta ag iarraidh fáil réidh leis an reachtaíocht ar thóg sé isteach. Aontaíonn Sinn Féin le haon ghníomh a láidríonn an Ghaeilge. Molaimid an Teachta Ó Cuív as a bheith in ann admháil go raibh an tAcht ar thóg sé isteach lochtach agus as a bheith sásta é a leigheas. Ní thuigimid cén fáth gur gá Bille nua a thabhairt isteach in áit Acht 2006 a leasú arís nuair nach bhfuil ach líne amháin sa bhreis sa Bhille nua seo. Bhí an plé sin againn inniu. Ba bhreá liom a fháil amach cad is cúis leis seo.

Fuair an Bille leasaithe ar thóg an Teachta Ó Cuív isteach in 2006 réidh leis an riachtanas fostaíochta Gaeilge agus Béarla a bheith ag duine le hearcú ag an ollscoil. Bhí Sinn Féin go mór i gcoinne an Bhille seo deich mbliana ó shin ach achtaíodh é. Thuigeamar ag an staid sin an damáiste a dhéanfadh é seo don Ghaeilge. Tá sé ríthábhachtach go bhfuil Gaeilge ag uachtarán Ollscoile na hÉireann, Gaillimh. Tá stádas faoi leith ag an ollscoil le fada chun an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn agus tá dualgais bhreise uirthi an teanga a chothú. Is rud tábhachtach é sin.

Is féidir liom mo pháiste a sheoladh chuig an nGaelscoil ag an mbunleibhéal. Anois, i gceantair éagsúla, is féidir páistí a sheoladh chuig meánscoileanna Gaeilge. Níl aon ollscoil le Gaeilge sa tír. Níl an deis ann oideachas iomlán a dhéanamh i nGaeilge. I mo thuairim, is é sin ceann de na baic is mó atá ann mar gheall ar an gcaighdeán a bhaint amach. Má táimid ag iarraidh go mbeadh státseirbhísigh in ann dul i dteagmháil le saoránaigh na tíre ina dteanga féin, ba cheart go mbeadh na státseirbhísigh tar éis dul tríd an gcóras oideachais iomlán trí Ghaeilge. Ba cheart don Rialtas díriú isteach ar ollscoil lán-Ghaeilge a chothú sa tír. Ba bhuille mór don Ghaeilge an cinneadh fáil réidh leis an riachtanas Gaeilge d'uachtarán na hollscoile sna blianta atá caite. Ní raibh cosaint reachtúil ann le chur i gcoinne a leithéid. Buíochas le Dia gur ceapadh Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh mar uachtarán i mbliana, mar bhí baol mór ann go mbeadh duine le beagán Gaeilge sa ról. Is gá dúinn an teanga a chur chun tosaigh agus daoine a ceapadh le hardchumas teanga acu, go háirithe iad siúd a bheadh poist shinsearacha feiceálacha acu.

Ba mhian liom mo dhíomá a léiriú inniu freisin. Guím gach rath ar an Aire nua, an Teachta Josepha Madigan. Le cúnamh Dé, beidh an t-ádh uirthi na rudaí cearta agus cuí a chur i bhfeidhm. Ach tá fadhb ann leis an gceapachán freisin. Níl an fhadhb ag Teachta Madigan. Baineann sé leis an Taoiseach féin. Ba cheart go mbeadh cáilíocht, taithí nó suim éigin ag polaiteoir sula mbeadh sé nó sí ceaptha i ról áirithe mar Aire. Má chuirtear an t-ainm "Josepha Madigan" agus an focal "Gaeilge" isteach i Google, is féidir a fheiceáil cé mhéad torthaí a fhaightear. Ní thagann aon toradh ar ais. Is droch rud é sin. Is leathanach bán folamh atá ann. B'fhéidir go mbeidh sí go maith sa ról, níl a fhios againn go fóill. Feicfimid. An fhadhb atá ann ná nuair nach bhfuil suim, motivation nó spreagadh éigin ar duine an Ghaeilge a fhoghlaim, is léir nár ghníomhaí Gaeilge é nó í i ndairíre. Muna bhfuiltear ina gníomhaí Gaeilge, ní féidir dul i dteagmháil le muintir na Gaeltachta ina dteanga féin agus a bheith in ann na rudaí casta a phlé, agus tá go leor rudaí casta ag baint leis an ról sin. Ní féidir le duine nár ghníomhaí Gaeilge é nó í na rudaí sin a phlé ar chor ar bith. Ba cheart go mbeadh an Rialtas ag díriú isteach ar an bhfadhb seo i bhfad níos mó.

Chuala mé go raibh an tAire i gContae na Mí inniu mar gheall ar a phlean nua oideachais don Ghaeltacht. Cuirim fáilte ollmhór roimh an bplean sin agus roimh an airgead nua atá á chur ag an Aire isteach san earnáil sin. Is céim mhaith í. Táimid ag fanacht uirthi le fada, ach ceapaim gur céim chun cinn í. Is gá dom a rá gur rud ceart é sin.

Níl Gaeilge líofa agam agus nílim abálta an díospóireacht a fhreagairt as Gaeilge. Nonetheless, I thank both Deputies for their contribution to the debate. I absolutely understand their passionate commitment to the language, which I greatly admire. I note Deputy Peadar Tóibín's concern about Ministers appointed to posts who do not have a record of interest in the Irish language. If that was the qualification then I might not be in this post myself. I have had the privilege to introduce the first ever policy for the Gaeltacht. I believe this policy is innovative and valuable. We are putting serious resources behind it. We want to create an immersion model within the Gaeltacht to make sure that the beacons we have in Gaeltacht schools are protected and that we have more schools that have the deep commitment to the immersion to the language, which the Deputies have rightly said is not there. Even in schools within the Gaeltacht there are some teachers who do not have that.

We are committing real resources to upskill teachers and provide immersion courses at third level so that teachers who are coming out would have full immersion in their own qualification. Similarly, there are Master's courses that will ensure that teachers who are in schools can acquire the skills they need. I strongly dispute the contention that we need the leader of policy in any sphere to be themselves fluent in Irish in order to develop and execute policies that protect and create centres of excellence for Irish that can be a model for growing the language and the love of the language in the State. I believe that this is the fundamental principle of what we are debating: does the leader of learning in an institution have themselves to be fluent in order to develop a strategy that delivers the policy objectives we are trying to secure?

My understanding of the history of this issue is that there never was a statutory requirement in this regard. It was always the universities' statutes since 2006 and it was not an Oireachtas-----

On a point of information teachers had to have Irish. That is every staff member up until 2006 had to have Irish, without exception.

The Deputy has made his point.

I have it here. Neither the Universities Act 1997 nor the University College Galway (Amendment) Act 2006 requires that the President of NUIG have a proficiency in the Irish language.

It is not the 1997 Act, it is the 1929 Act.

The original provision stated that it shall be the duty of the Seanad of the National University of Ireland when making an appointment to any office or situation in the college to appoint to such office or situation a person competent to discharge the duties thereof through the medium of the Irish language provided a person so competent and also suitable in other respects is to be found among the persons who are candidates or otherwise available for such opportunities. As the Deputy said, that referred to any office or situation. Also, there was no obligation that everyone should have Irish. Where there were two equal candidates, the obligation in the Act was that the candidate with Irish should be selected. That was the provision that was changed by the 2006 Act.

I agree with the thinking behind the change in the 2006 Act given the problems that would otherwise be created in recruiting across the whole spectrum of college activity. The goal of protecting Irish by way of that sort of provision has not been successfully reached and I can see why the changes were made. The changes were made in the context of the absolute obligation on the college more broadly to create an environment in which it was the lead proponent of the development of the Irish language as a university. It was being given a unique responsibility and the President had an obligation to execute it. The college had to put strategies and policies in place and it was subject not only to internal monitoring but to monitoring by outside agencies, as the Deputy said himself. I understand the record of the college is very strong in meeting that external scrutiny.

The question to which we are driven back is whether we should show our disapproval, as Deputy Ó Cuív said, of the college authority in making a decision, which was its decision to make under the legislation, that it should not insist on Irish when looking for a President. It is important to bear in mind that, in its wisdom, the Oireachtas decided in 1997 and again in 2006 that this should be a decision of the board of the college itself. Bearing in mind its absolute responsibility to promote successfully the Irish language, it was within the board's discretion to make a decision on whether the interests of the college were best served by making this a requirement. In its exercise of the authority the Oireachtas gave it, the college decided it should not apply the rule. It made a selection which gave the college a broad field of competition. As Deputy Ó Cuív has recognised, the college succeeded in selecting someone with very strong Irish and a very strong tradition in the language. Had the college excluded people who, like myself, had Irish and a strong interest in the language but not the opportunity to be fluent at the time the competition was opened, it would have narrowed the field.

It is the college that should make the judgment, not the Dáil, the Members of which are not engaged on a daily basis in executing the policy responsibilities the board is given. The Dáil was right to give the board that responsibility and it made its decision with its eyes open. Many of the members of the board cannot be questioned in their commitment to the Irish language, but they made this decision. Deputy Ó Cuív is asking us to remove that decision-making power from the board that has been charged with this responsibility and to take it back onto ourselves. That is not right. The board of the college must make a decision in the context of its broader responsibilities, which include providing a quality education for the entire region. I am aware of the quality of the education the college delivers because it has been a critical element of the success of enterprise agencies in developing the medical technology sector in the region and the strong IT performance of Galway city and its environs. Many other really strong creative sectors have been delivered on foot of the good educational work of the National University of Ireland, Galway, Ollscoil na Gaillimhe. We have entrusted a board to take on a responsibility and it has executed it well. Had the board chosen a president who did not at the time of his or her appointment have fluent Irish, that would not have reduced by one iota the obligation we have set for the college to promote the Irish language in the very many ways it does. The college has a strategy, scéim na Gaeilge and a special academic unit. It has made a huge commitment to the language and we are asking it to do more in this sphere to help us to deliver our policy for the Gaeltacht. We should continue with the present policy.

I can see the argument articulated by Sinn Féin's Deputy Peader Tóibín. He would like a total immersion university through the medium of Irish. That is not the public policy in place at present. We expect NUIG to meet its responsibility to the Irish language as well as its other responsibilities. While there is an internal consistency in what the Deputy says, I dispute Deputy Ó Cuív's assertion that by opposing his Bill we are reneging on the principle of the immersion policy we are seeking to build for the Gaeltacht. I do not accept that. In the Gaeltacht, we are trying to ensure that native Irish speakers have the language teaching and quality of education that allow them to protect and grow their communities. I was in Ráth Chairn in Deputy Tóibín's constituency today where it was inspirational to see the commitment among the parents, teachers and children to the school they were delivering. That is a different matter from the assertion that we should insist on a total immersion programme for a university with wider responsibilities to the region of which Galway is a part. While that is a debate for another day, I do not consider that it could be easily done. We are struggling enough to deliver what we are doing. We will have to create innovative mechanisms, such as e-hubs, to ensure we get the quality teaching across the range of second-level programmes we need to deliver a genuine Irish language immersion education in secondary schools. It is not possible to go beyond that and hope one will get a broadly based university across the diversity of programmes without being able to tap into wider non-Irish speaking skills that make up a major part of a successful university in today's reality. One needs access to non-Irish staff, never mind what languages they speak.

One needs to have a mix of languages and culture. Indeed, NUIG has been very strong in itself developing the internationalisation of its staff and student base. It would not have been able to do that under the old legislative dispensation. I do not dispute for one moment the commitment of either Deputy Ó Cuív or Deputy Tóibín in this area. Stepping back, however, to look at my own responsibilities and the way we seek to ensure we empower leaders to perform the tasks we set them, it would be wrong for the Oireachtas to rap the knuckles of a board which is very committed to the purpose we have given it, and to delivering that effectively, and say it cannot operate the discretion the legislators who were here in 1997 and 2006 gave them.

It would be a step backwards and would not do something for the greater promotion of the Irish language. It would simply narrow the choice the college would have in selecting its president and would not enhance the policies which the Deputies want it to fulfil in the other spheres.

I cannot support the Deputy's proposal, though I support much of what he said. I agree that many of our Irish teachers are not of the standard we need in order to deliver a spoken language which inspires a love for it in young people and, as Deputy Tóibín said, we need to do much better in this regard. I am committed to doing so and the Gaeltacht policy is a success, with 80% of primary schools and 96% of secondary schools stepping up to the plate and committing to putting in place a plan for their schools to drive forward the language, a bit like at NUIG. That plan will be embedded in schools and we will support them with extra teaching resources, extra training, support with planning and innovative hubs.

I thank the Deputies for putting this forward. It is a worthwhile debate because we need to think through what we want to achieve with our Irish language policy. In my period in this job - however long I have - I want to lift the commitment in the Department and across the whole system to teach Irish in a way that is more alive and which inspires love and commitment. We are doing that with our reform of the junior cycle and of the primary curriculum, where there is a shift from an emphasis on a memory-based exam to one on projects in which young people can get involved. There will be a focus on the spoken language and there are many worthwhile policies which will, I hope, ensure Irish becomes stronger but I do not think the Deputy's proposal is among such policies so I cannot support it.

The Minister's arguments are totally flawed. When the 2006 Act was passed it was not foreseen that NUIG would ever take the extraordinary decision not to require the president of the college to be able to do business in both of our official languages. That is why it was not included in the Act.

We delegate certain powers to authorities but we in this House have never delegated powers in such a way that, if we believe they have been misused, we cannot overrule them. I have been a strong proponent of not handing all power away to non-elected people. What is the point of having an Oireachtas or Dáil Éireann if the people cannot affect policy, if ultimately the people are not sovereign and non-elected groups can do what they want without question from us?

The Minister said being able to speak Irish is not necessary and that a policy can be promoted without it but languages are about communication and I believe that English speakers who do not speak Irish, and have no experience of being able to speak in two languages with full facility, do not fully understand this. Languages are about doing business but let us suppose that somebody was appointed to NUI Galway who did not have English - it would be farcical. They could have the best policies in the world but they would not be able to communicate with the constituency in its own language.

Irish is an everyday part of Galway and in recent years the city council and mayors have made brave efforts to ensure that Irish is part of everyday discourse. When dealing with the public, the president of NUIG has, up until now, always been able to communicate in whichever of the two official languages was appropriate on a given occasion. Whether it was internal or external, this was no problem because the Act states that the president must have English as well. That may sound trite but it highlights that, to do the job properly, Irish is a necessary qualification as much as high academic achievements are. Irish is a day-to-day requirement, both within the university and with the general public, in order to do the job properly. It is not some ornament but this does not seem to be fully realised by the opponents of this Bill.

In practice, if there have been controversies - and there have been some, such as relating to appointments, promotions and gender discrimination - the president would have been able to defend the college's position or announce changes in the media, on TG4 or Raidió na Gaeltachta as well as in the English-language media but the Minister is proposing that we Irish speakers will have to go to other media if we want to hear what the president of the college is saying. This is in a city which is partly in the Gaeltacht, is on the edge of the largest Gaeltacht in the country and is where the Irish language is part of everyday business. He is saying all the Irish-language sections of the university will have to switch to English when the president of the college is there. In my experience, when one English speaker enters the company everybody turns to English because all of us have a facility in English, whereas I know no Irish speaker with a third level education who cannot also speak English.

Similarly, on all public occasions such as public addresses, lectures and conferrals, it has been traditional for the president to speak in Irish and English. By the Minister's move, the Irish language is something for a policy but it is not something that really counts, such as when one speaks it. It is time those of us who speak Irish every day of every week recognise that what makes a language a language is not academic books or Government policies but is, instead, people speaking it.

What the Minister is basically suggesting is that we open ourselves to the future possibility that the university president will not be able to function fully as a president for all of the college and all of the people in the college in the way he or she should be able to in an official language of the college, of the State and of the city, at the edge of the largest Gaeltacht in the country.

I do not buy the argument that there is any danger in the world we cannot get one competent person to be president of the college who happens to be bilingual. There is no absolute measure of who is the best person for every job. Interview boards have to make a call on these issues. I am sure across many disciplines, and one would be surprised where they are across the globe, there are plenty of competent people who happen to know both official languages of the State. Therefore, I do not accept the idea the university would not be able to get anybody competent. I will put it this way. Supposing the statute had been left the way it was and supposing the job was advertised and the university was honestly able to come back and state it could not get anybody it would have been an interesting situation. As it happens, this situation clearly has not arisen because the person appointed as president not only has Irish ach go bhfuil sé aige ón gcliabhán. He has it from the cradle. He is top quality and significantly qualified in business. He has operated abroad and in a university in Dublin. In fact, the fear expressed completely collapses.

What I think was behind it, and I will say it on the floor of the House, is people wanted to apply for and get this job but they did not have Irish. They wanted it opened up for themselves. I am sorry, but if they were that interested they could have learned Irish. We are not speaking about imposing something huge, we are talking about working Irish and an academic qualification. We are talking about people who claim to be the best academics we could imagine. They say where there is a will there is a way. There was a year lead-in and if the calibre of people the Minister says he wants for the university were interested they could have made sure they had the necessary qualification in Irish in a year. Many people have gone abroad and achieved the equivalent in other countries in the same length of time. The Minister is calling this one wrong. He is doing a much greater disservice than he understands. I ask him to think between now and the vote next week, but I will press this Bill to the end on behalf of my party.

I thank Sinn Féin for its support.

Question put.

De réir Buan-Ordaithe 70(2) cuirfear an vótáil siar go dtí an Déardaoin seo chugainn. De bharr go bhfuil gnó na seachtaine tagtha chun deiridh tá an Dáil anois ar athló go dtí 2 p.m. dé Máirt seo chugainn.

The Dáil adjourned at 6.45 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 5 December 2017.