Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 6 Jul 2006

Vol. 184 No. 13

Institutes of Technology Bill 2006: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Report Stage.

Sections 23 to 25, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 20, to delete lines 26 to 30.

It is difficult to understand why a particular official, director, president or so on with a view on a particular policy area would be restricted from expressing it, particularly at a committee as outlined. That opinion cannot or may not always be interpreted as a criticism of a Minister or Government, but if the person has a valid opinion relevant to an issue of policy or otherwise, he or she should be allowed to express it. Tying that person's hands seems to be a serious response if it is to be used to prevent an official from expressing a valid view instead of using this facility to criticise a Minister or Government. However, for a director to be prevented from expressing a valid view is a callous way of muzzling somebody.

This is now a standard provision that appears in many other pieces of legislation. It only refers to the director of an institute appearing before the Committee of Public Accounts. A director appears before the Committee of Public Accounts to be accountable for the finances of his or her institute. In that context directors cannot make excuses by saying, for example, that Government policy prevented them from spending more money. They can, however, say so much outside the door of the Committee of Public Accounts, to the media and in many other fora. It is only in so far as they are accountable for the expenditure in their colleges that they will not be allowed to criticise Government or ministerial policy in the Committee of Public Accounts. They can say they were or were not able to take a particular action as a result of Government policy but they cannot comment on whether the policy is good or bad. It allows them to say they did not go ahead with a particular building because of Government policy but they cannot go on to say the policy itself is detrimental. They can give facts but, when they are before the Committee of Public Accounts, they cannot give a commentary.

Examples of similar legislation for other bodies include the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003 and the National Tourism Development Authority Act 2003. Outside the Houses those bodies have been vocal in their criticism of Government policy but they cannot be so before the Committee of Public Accounts.

The Minister may have covered what I was going to ask. Was it in order for college heads to come out against the free fees initiative?

Perfectly in order.

The Minister said directors cannot make excuses for not spending certain moneys, if it could be taken as a criticism of policy. If, however, a director had a valid opinion it may not amount to an excuse and it may, in certain contexts, be appropriate to express it. The Committee of Public Accounts has, at times, been critical of Ministers and Government policy but where a director has a valid view as to the operation of his or her institute it is not right to muzzle him or her.

From the opposite perspective, it also serves as a protection for the director. In the event of his or her appearing before the committee and being asked by the Chairman or another member as to their view on a policy, then rather than being drawn into a political debate, which is not their role, they have the protection of being able to say they are not allowed to comment. For the head of an academic institution it can work both ways.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 26 agreed to.
Sections 27 to 46, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 30, line 30, after "Institute" to insert ", including a time scale for implementation,".

This amendment is similar to amendment No. 5 in that it recognises the importance of an implementation date for policies.

As I said in respect of amendment No. 5, such a provision is not necessary and will not be accepted.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 47 agreed to.
Sections 48 and 49 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 33, to delete lines 24 to 28.

These amendments are similar to amendment No. 6. I still believe that there are instances when a valid opinion should be heard.

The same principle applies as to amendment No. 6. Nobody is trying to muzzle directors in public fora, such as the media or their own conferences, because they have a major contribution to make to policy. As I said, it also serves as a protection for them, preventing them from being drawn into political debates in a Dáil committee by being asked to comment, either favourably or unfavourably, on Government policy.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 50 agreed to.
Sections 51 and 52 agreed to.
Amendment No. 9 not moved.
Section 53 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 37, to delete lines 46 to 50.

I hope this provision does not come back to haunt us in the future and that directors of institutes will not feel inhibited from expressing a view on what they feel may represent better policy going forward. If they are prevented from expressing opinions at meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts it would be regrettable.

I reiterate that nobody is trying to muzzle chief executive officers or directors of any of these bodies because they have an important role to play in policy making. The place to play that role is not before the Committee of Public Accounts.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 54 agreed to.
Section 55 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.