I was looking forward to speaking on these Bills but Senators will understand that when one is interrupted after ten minutes it is difficult to resume one's train of thought. I moved the suspension of the House at 3.30 because the President was to address a sitting of the two Houses. At another time in history, the man who put all education systems in place, the Chief himself, was interrupted in 1923 and when he came back to O'Connell Square he said "As I was saying when I was interrupted". I would also again like to put on the record this evening Dr. Paddy Hillery's major role. The worth of a Minister's contribution in education may not be seen until many years later. I hope the Minister, Deputy Aylward, will go to higher positions as Paddy Hillery did. I am not talking about the Park; I am talking about a senior cabinet position.
It is nice to have stitched into the record of the Seanad on this day in July 1992 the names of Eamon de Valera, Paddy Hillery and Liam Alyward.
I understood the regional colleges were and are a success under vocational education committee management, but I come back to what I said earlier today. I must ask myself why all the changes. Has the Minister decided on the eight regions? There are 38 vocational education committees. Is it going to be eight regions, or how many will we have? What constituencies may go together? As one who served for many years in health and local government, I have a holy horror of regions. We have made mistakes before in regionalising Departments. I presume there are people wiser than I who are again going down the road of regions. If I were on the Opposition Benches this evening I would have more to say on that.
During the recent Maastricht debate we told our people that some of the power was to be left at local level. Those of us who vigorously campaigned for Maastricht — and people did go out and vote because they trusted and believed us — talked a lot about subsidiarity. That word was used a lot. I do not like the word "power" but I have to use it here because we must give the say or the power back to the people who serve and know the local scene. I worry that we are moving from the vocational education committees and the people who have given dedicated service and have an extraordinary knowledge of what is needed for our students.
The Culliton report referred to job training for the future and tied it up with vocational training. However from talking to persons concerned about vocational education, I know there is still confusion. We are always confused now. I accept that Minister Aylward and his senior officials have tried to explain this Bill. I must pay a tribute to the team who backed the Minister on these Bills. I am talking more about the Regional Technical Colleges Bill than the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill because I am more familiar with it. I cannot talk about a Bill if I am not close to it and if I am not convinced that I should contribute to it. The two Bills are being taken together and I have no trouble wishing the other Bill well.
Before the Adjournment I put down a marker for Minister Brennan. I want to put it down for the second time: the bottom line is that the students are well served by the system. It should not be changed just to suit somebody's whim or because vocational education may not be their bailiwick. Great people have gone to all the nations of Europe and to the United States having been educated under the system that is in place. Before he takes Report Stage next week, the Minister might talk to two or three vocational education committee chairman. This would be worthwhile if it convinced them that the amendments put through the Dáil were what they wanted. It would be better if he explained what was in his mind when he was making these amendments in the Dáil.
I find myself talking about mental handicap because I served for 25 years as chairman of a voluntary body and I am familiar with local government because I have served there for 35 years. I find it is easy to relate to people in those two fields. The Minister might consider speaking face to face to two or three chairmen of the vocational education committees and tell them what he has done. It might be a worthwhile exercise. I leave that to the Minister's judgment.
The vocational education committees devoted themselves to the creation of a system of higher education through regional technical colleges and Dublin Institute of Technology colleges and they have had unqualified success. The vocational education committees have much more to contribute to the ethos and mission of these colleges and I ask that they should be let do so. I understand that the amendments have given a lot of what they asked for back to them. I would like to make sure that the Government do the right thing.
I have served in the Seanad since 1977. In the early years it was all on party lines, but in the last ten years the Seanad is playing the role for which it was initially set up. It reviews legislation and less politics are played here than in the other House. I do not see anyone playing party politics in this Seanad. That is something I feel strongly about.
The Minister in his speech said:
The growth of the colleges has been phenomenal. In the period since 1980 wholetime student numbers in the regional technical colleges has risen from 6,500 to almost 20,000 an increase of over 200 per cent. In the same period, wholetime enrolments in the colleges of the Dublin Institute of Technology have risen by over 100 per cent from 4,000 to 8,800. The vocational education committee third level colleges therefore have over 28,000 wholetime students which represents almost 40 per cent of the present total enrolment at third level in this country.
That is the situation as we take this legislation through the House this evening. Why are we changing it when it has been so successful? The Minister also said:
The governing body of the Dublin Institute of Technology will consist of a chairman, 18 ordinary members and the president of the institute.
The ordinary members will be appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the appropriate vocational education committees in accordance with the following...
Does that apply only to the Dublin Institute or to both the institute and regional technical colleges?
I welcome section 12 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 13 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill. These provide for matters relating to existing staff who will become staff of the colleges or of the institute. The Minister should deal carefully with the changeover of staff because, as a Senator on the other side of the House who is a member of a trade union said, there may be trouble with that unless it is very carefully handled.
I welcome the provision that the governing bodies will annually prepare and submit to the vocational education committees operational programmes and budgets. I understand that the vocational education committees will have some, if not all, the say in how the money is spent. Whoever is responsible for spending the money has clout.
I am glad the Minister paid tribute in his address to the existing colleges. The Minister said:
It is fitting, therefore, that the role and ethos of the vocational educational committees will continue to be strongly reflected through the provision of these Bills.
The Minister has done a lot of public relations work already and has been gracious with his time even at weekends. I know how much time he gets off; he does not get any; but maybe he will get to the odd match between Tipperary and Kilkenny.