Student Support Bill 2008: Committee Stage

The reason I am in the Chair is that the Chairman of the committee has resigned. We will deal with finding his replacement at the next meeting of the joint committee. This is the select committee which deals with legislation and comprises Deputies only.

The meeting has been convened for the purposes of the consideration by the committee of the Student Support Bill 2008 which was referred to the select committee by order of the Dáil on 30 April 2008. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Haughey, who has responsibility for lifelong learning issues and his officials. It is the collective decision of everyone present to proceed as quickly as possible with the work of the committee today. I know this will distress the Minister of State immensely.

He will have time to get to Donegal by lunchtime.

I suggest we consider the Bill until 1 p.m. and break until 2 p.m., if necessary. Is it agreed in principle that we will conclude Committee Stage today? Agreed.

Before proceeding to our consideration of the Bill, I would like to be excused from chairing the meeting. I ask Deputy Flynn to propose a replacement.

I nominate Deputy Wallace to chair the meeting.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Mary Wallace took the Chair.

As agreed, we will proceed as quickly as possible. I refer members to the grouping of amendments for the purposes of debate. It is proposed to group amendments as follows: amendments Nos. 1, 20, 21 and 30; Nos. 2, 84, 85 and 97; Nos. 3, 77 and 78; Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, 15, 16, 36 to 38, inclusive, and 56; Nos. 8, 57, 62, 63 and 72; Nos. 9, 11 and 69; Nos. 27 to 29, inclusive, and 31; Nos. 32, 33 and 35; Nos. 38a, 59a and 78a; Nos. 39 and 40; Nos. 42 to 53, inclusive; Nos. 60 and 74; Nos. 61 and 65; Nos. 66 to 68, inclusive; Nos. 70 and 76; Nos. 79 to 81, inclusive; Nos. 82 and 83; Nos. 86 to 88, inclusive; Nos. 89 to 92, inclusive; Nos. 95 and 96. All other amendments will be discussed separately. Are the groupings agreed to? Agreed.

I advise members that four amendments have been ruled out of order - amendments Nos. 23, 25, 26 and 58 - as they involve a potential charge on the Exchequer. We will now proceed with our consideration of the Bill.

SECTION 1

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, subsection (2), lines 17 and 18, to delete all words from and including ", except" in line 17 down to and including "Act," in line 18.

This is a textual change to make the meaning of the provision clearer. Are we also discussing amendments Nos. 20, 21 and 30?

As they are related, they will be discussed with amendment No. 1.

Amendments Nos. 20, 21 and 30 provide for the deletion of the word "commencement" and its replacement with the term "coming into operation" to ensure consistency with the proposed amended wording in amendment No. 1.

Are we moving away from the Latin tradition that we were all so proud to inherit towards everyday bog English?

Yes. It is considered to be more up to date.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 1, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 2

Amendments Nos. 2, 84 and 85 are related. As an alternative to amendment No. 84, amendment No. 97 is also related. They may all be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, to delete lines 24 and 25 and substitute the following:

" "Appeals Board" shall be construed in accordance with section 22(2);”.

This amendment provides for the deletion and substitution of text. The amended provision states "Appeals Board" shall be construed in accordance with section 22(2) which provides for the inclusion of the name of the Student Grants Appeals Board in Irish, An Bord Achomhairc i Leith Deontas Mac Léinn. Amendments Nos. 84, 85 and 97 also provide for the inclusion of the name of the board in Irish.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 77 are related. Amendment No. 78 is an alternative to amendment No. 77. They will all be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, to delete lines 26 and 27 and substitute the following:

" "appeals officer" means a person designated under section 17(1);”.

This is a textual amendment. Amendments Nos. 77 and 78 provide for the designation, rather than the appointment, of one or more members of an awarding authority's staff to perform the functions of an appeals officer. The amendment provides that an awarding authority shall designate such and so many members of its staff as it considers appropriate to be appeals officers under the section. A person so designated shall be an appeals officer for such a period as the authority may determine. The new wording makes it clear that the processing of appeals is a function to be assigned by the awarding authority to an existing member of staff, rather than a new post or position to be filled by appointment by an awarding authority.

If the person concerned is in the same section of the Department, how independent will he or she be? Will he or she solely deal with appeals? Sometimes the processing of appeals in the public sector can be fraught because appeals officers differ in their opinions. I have examined issues surrounding community welfare officers and appeals. In some famous cases the appellant has never been successful, while in others, they are generally more successful. What criteria will be applied? Will appeals officers use independent standards to benchmark the appeals process? How objective will the process be and how will we ensure the removal of subjectivity?

I have this year's figures for grants broken down by county council and vocational education committee. There are significant differences between grant applications that have been processed in full and those that have been refused. This might warrant an analysis of the structures used. Why do more people get through in some counties than in others? I am not suggesting there is anything untoward in the process, but I cannot believe there is such a great disparity between counties. A significant number of applicants might be rejected in one county. Therefore, something is amiss. While I welcome the appeal provisions in the Bill, the structure needs analysis.

The aim of the Bill is to bring to the system clarity, certainty and consistency for all students. To respond to the Deputy's specific query, under the new arrangements, the same person will not process an appeal. There will be a service level agreement with the awarding authority, as a result of which the person who will process the appeal will be different.

The standards applied by the various awarding bodies appear to differ significantly. One would anticipate that the demography and incomes are similar across counties but that does not appear to be the case. Perhaps the Minister of State would do a desktop analysis of the statistics I received from his Department.

Is the Deputy asking about the existing position?

I ask him to investigate the issue because it does not make sense.

There are 33 local authorities and 33 VECs, so there will be discrepancies. I acknowledge the Deputy's argument but the purpose of the Bill is to eliminate inconsistencies by establishing a single grant awarding authority.

I appreciate that the official sitting beside the Minister of State agrees with what I am saying. We need to ensure the system is professional, fair and independent. I do not doubt that is the Minister of State's intention but it might be helpful to analyse the figures.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, are related and amendments Nos. 15, 16, 36, 37, 38 and 56 are alternative amendments. Amendments Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, 15, 16, 36, 37, 38 and 56 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 3, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:

" "appointed awarding authority" shall be construed in accordance with section 10;”.

When the Bill was originally published it was envisaged that the awarding authority would be either a vocational education committee or, where section 11 applied, a person specified in an order made under that section. On foot of a Government decision, dated 26 July 2010, to make provision for the centralisation of the student grant function and provide for a single grant awarding authority, the definition of "awarding authority" needs to be amended to include existing awarding authorities and the newly appointed awarding authority provided for in amendment No. 36.

Amendment No. 4 provides for the insertion of an additional definition of "appointed awarding authority" in section 2. Amendment No. 5 provides for the amendment of the existing definition of "awarding authority" in section 2. Amendment No. 15 provides for the insertion of an additional definition of "relevant Minister", which is needed in the context of amendment No. 36. Amendment No. 16 provides for the insertion of an additional definition of "transferring awarding authority" in the context of amendment No. 36.

Amendment No. 36 provides for the insertion of a new section after section 9 allowing the Minister to appoint an awarding authority. The purpose of the proposed new section is to give the Minister the power to appoint an existing body as an appointed awarding authority to take on the responsibility of central administration of the student grant system. This is one of the most critical amendments introduced on Committee Stage as it reflects a change of policy on the part of the Government in regard to centralising the entire grant administration function rather than administering grants across 66 awarding authorities. In the current economic and budgetary environment, it is desirable and necessary to revisit this issue as part of the Government's programme of public sector reform and our exploration of cost-effective administrative solutions. The centralisation of the administration of grants has the potential to deliver significant efficiencies and economies of scale.

The Government took account of the message that emerged from its ongoing consultations, namely, that a centralised awarding authority would greatly benefit the student as end user. It would result in greater consistency in interpretation, information and decision making. In addition, the uncertainty about payments inherent in the current system and its 81 different paying agencies will be removed and monthly payments by electronic funds transfer will become the norm. The proposed new section provides that the appointed awarding authority will be an existing awarding authority, a local authority or VEC or any public body whose functions include the support or promotion of participation in higher or further education or the administration of grant schemes.

The appointed awarding authority will be in a position to outsource particular functions to private sector operators where it is cost effective to do so and a better level of service can thereby be provided. This is provided for in a new section providing for agreements relating to performance of certain functions, which will be inserted after section 10. In appointing the new awarding authority, the proposed amendment requires the Minister to have regard to a range of matters, including the need for efficiency, effectiveness and economy in the delivery of grants administration functions.

Amendment No. 37 provides for the insertion of a new section which sets out by order any matters necessary for the transfer of functions to the appointed awarding authority and other matters incidental to or consequential on the transfer.

Amendment No. 38 provides for the insertion of a new section dealing with employees of appointed or transferring awarding authorities. As it is proposed to amend the Bill to allow the Minister to appoint a single grant awarding authority, consequential provisions are required in this new section to protect the terms and conditions of employment of staff who relocate to the appointed awarding authority. This is a standard provision in legislation to ensure we meet our obligations under EU law relating to the transfer of undertakings and fixed term workers' rights.

Amendment No. 56 inserts a new subsection 2(c) to provide that a scheme shall specify the awarding authority that will perform the grant functions.

The entire process is increasingly in turmoil but I welcome in principle the proposed new awarding authority. The need for such a change is demonstrated by the fact that 13,000 applications for third level grants were not processed by the end of October. In Cork County Council, 55% of applications were not processed, which means 885 applicants still do not know if they will get grants. The percentage of unprocessed applications in other authorities were as follows: County Dublin VEC, 52%; Kildare County Council, 52%; Fingal County Council, 51%; Limerick County Council, 51%; and County Sligo VEC, 50%. The current system is inefficient and unacceptable. In my constituency, Louth County Council and VEC are doing their best but they lack manpower.

I understand the Government intends to reduce the student grant allocation by €22 million in 2011 and €51 million in a full year. Families dealing with reduced incomes will be placed in a very difficult position. The heavy boot of Government is pressing down on the students who will lead our country in the future. It is not acceptable that these delays are allowed to continue. Will the Minister of State intervene with those local authorities which have not been able to process more than half of the applications received by this late stage of the year? He has stated he will make provision in the Bill to bring in others to help. I suggest he immediately find out what are the staffing requirements of the local authorities and VECs concerned and ensure they will be able to take on the staff they need, on contract if necessary, to process the outstanding applications, or else instruct them to put everything else aside in order that the students affected will have something on which to live. They are penniless, while their families are in desperate circumstances. We receive telephone calls from individuals throughout the country who are in distress. Immediate and effective action is needed. The Minister of State could take such action today.

The Department is very familiar with this problem and accepts there is a problem in a number of local authorities. It is in regular contact with local authorities and VECs and constantly monitoring the situation which is not acceptable. Some grant applications are very straightforward and processed in the normal way. In many cases there is no delay. Delays mainly occur in dealing with more complex or complicated grant applications, in respect of which further information is required. Deputy O'Dowd will appreciate that there has been an increase in the number of grant applications received as more and more people return to further and higher education because of current circumstances in the economy. This is another factor to be taken into account. We must recognise that there is a moratorium on public sector recruitment which is causing problems in some awarding authorities. We are endeavouring to improve the position by putting service level agreements in place. I accept that there is a problem. The Department is in contact with the local authorities in the areas in which there are problems to try to speed up the process by introducing new procedures. We will just have to work our way through the problem. While the Bill will not do anything for students who have submitted applications, its purpose is to eliminate delays and create greater efficiencies in the system resulting in a more user-friendly system.

With respect, I ask the Minister of State to reply to the questions asked. Two issues have been raised. One relates to a case in which an applicant has not provided full information or perhaps does not have his or her tax certificate. However, for 13,000 applicants, the first page of the application form has not been opened and these are the cases about which I speak. No work has been done on them and processing has not commenced. I accept and acknowledge that applicants have difficulties in producing income certificates and know there are problems with existing certificates, but I am not speaking about these cases, rather I am speaking about those in which the application forms have not yet been opened. I do not accept that this is good enough and do not accept any of the answers given by the Minister of State. The people concerned applied in good faith. In some counties, including Clare and Mayo, the processing of applications has finished; it has almost finished in County Roscommon. Applications in counties Sligo, Meath, Longford and Kilkenny have also been processed. Would it make sense for the Minister of State to send staff from these countries to the local authorities which have not had the staff required to do the job to work overtime in the coming weeks to process the applications? The manpower is available, but it is not being used. This would make much sense. Will the Minister of State tell me why he will not do this?

The Deputy should accept some, if not all, of the answers I have given. Up to 60% of the applications received in some areas are incomplete. This causes-----

I am not talking about those cases.

The Deputy stated he did not accept the explanations given.

I am distinguishing between applications that are being dealt with and those in respect of which processing has not yet commenced. I am speaking about the latter.

I am surprised to hear the Deputy tell me that some application forms have not yet been opened.

That is the parliamentary reply I received from the Minister of State.

The Tánaiste would have issued that reply.

The Minister of State has responsibility for the matter.

I am taking the Bill on behalf of the Tánaiste.

The Minister of State is representing the Government at this meeting.

He cannot avoid the issue while he is sitting here.

I do not intend to avoid it. It is important to put the Deputy's query in context and I hope he will allow me to do so. It is important to state there has been a huge increase in the number of applications received. There was a 20% increase this year, which created a huge challenge for the awarding authorities, with which the Department is in contact on a weekly basis to try to solve the problems. I will certainly take on board what the Deputy stated and raise the issues mentioned by him in our interaction with the awarding authorities.

The Minister of State has the information on which local authorities have finished the processing of applications. The competent staff which have done the work could very easily do the work other local authorities cannot do and do it immediately. It is just a matter of using the post.

I would not underestimate the challenge presented by the moratorium on public sector recruitment.

This would allow existing staff who are qualified and have dealt with applications in their own counties and VECs to be used. Where work has been completed, why can the Minister of State not ask staff to work on other applications which, if need be, could be sent to other local authorities? It could be done very quickly.

Before the Minister of State replies, Deputy Quinn wishes to speak on the same matter.

This is the largest body of related amendments to the legislation. There are ten related amendments, including those tabled by the Minister, and the first of them all point in the same direction. Three issues are raised. I cannot recall in all my time in the House waiting two years between the completion of Second Stage and the arrival of amendments. We were told there were great legal impediments and difficulties in the Department that required the seeking of legal advice. Perhaps as we go through the Bill we might see the amendments that caused such a delay, but it is a condemnation of the capacity of the Department of Education and Skills to produce legislation. Let us face it, if it was doing the leaving or junior certificate, its parents would not be happy with its results.

This has not been a victim-free two year period, as students have been forced out of college in some cases. Representatives, in the main of student unions throughout the country, are in the Visitors Gallery because they have an acute interest in this matter. I can tell the Minister of State - I am sure Deputies O'Mahony and O'Dowd can confirm this - that individual student unions and the USI have communicated with us on this matter. Part-time work commitments and family home financial circumstances have altered dramatically in the past two years. Trying to get cash while waiting for a grant to come through has been difficult compared to previous years.

The Department's internal legislative process needs to be examined. This is a matter for review by the Department in terms its own efficiency. Yesterday some of us met the organisation and review group from the Department of the Taoiseach. Across the party political spectrum there was unanimous agreement in relation to the performance of the Department of Education and Skills.

To turn to the measure in question, I will allow the Minister of State to explain why these things cannot be done, but, as someone who regards himself as being in the public service, if the Croke Park agreement is to mean anything, the forms had better be cleared soon-----

-----otherwise all bets will be off in terms of not touching salaries between now and 2014. This is the message I will send to the public service. There are two sides to the equation - salaries will not be touched further between now and 2014 in return for an increase in productivity which is measured and quantifiable. Deputy O'Dowd has received a chart from the Department, not necessarily from the section of the Minister of State, that quantifies it in stark terms. The moratorium has nothing to do with this.

It is a matter of productivity within the local authorities and a glaring indictment of them. The same information is being processed in a range of local authorities, in some of which staff have cleared their desks, while in others, they have not opened the files. The Minister of State is in charge for the time being and it is the Department's responsibility to deal with the backlog.

The purpose of the amendment in my name is to facilitate the greater centralisation of power to award grants, rather than establishing the awarding status of the VECs in the Bill for all time. This is a welcome step. Some comments were made in this regard on Second Stage and I am delighted the Department has accepted their thrust. It has clearly given the matter proper thought. With regard to the 16 new VECs, the Labour Party supports in principle the integration and amalgamation of VECs. As far as I am concerned, although I do not have responsibility for the matter, a number has been arrived at and I do not think the discussion should be reopened. Procedures should be established for the amalgamation. This will affect the section within the Department which will be administering the grants.

The reason we tabled the amendment is that applications should be processed by one VEC only. I envisage that each VEC will check applications submitted in its own area to avoid the problem of their being incorrectly filled in or incomplete. A young person in County Roscommon or County Clare, or his or her parents, will fill in the form and the local VEC will check to ensure all of the information required is contained in the form and then forward it to the authority designated by the Minister. The designated authority should be one of the larger VECs with the capacity to deal with applications.

I do not know whether the Minister of State wishes to discuss the later amendments. Perhaps we might comment on them as we go along. Is it the procedure that if we agree to this block of amendments, all of the consequential amendments will not be discussed?

We will discuss the related amendments. Only amendment No. 4 has been moved, but we can discuss the others.

I just wanted to confirm the procedure.

I welcome the thrust of what the Department is trying to do. As I said, I deplore the delay in taking Committee Stage, although I accept that people in this room may not necessarily be responsible for this. However, there is a lesson to be learned by whoever will be in charge of the Department in the future, including the permanent staff: the need for productivity is not confined to the VECs, it extends also to Marlborough Street. In the meantime, some students have been forced out of the education system because of our collective inability to get our act together.

Local authorities should learn from what happened last year in the processing of grant applications. We were assured by the Minister that it would not happen again, but it is and something needs to be done about it. I do not want to hold up the proceedings, but I must express my support for the comments made.

As there is a vote in the Dáil, we will wait until we return to hear the Minister of State's reply.

Sitting suspended at 10.45 a.m. and resumed at 11 a.m.

There were reasons for the delays in bringing the Bill to the committee. There was a legal challenge and the financial situation of the county council changed in the meantime. Deputy Quinn suggested VECs should receive the applications and do the initial application work, but that system would not work, as it would introduce an extra layer of bureaucracy. We are trying to proceed with a single awarding authority to make the system more efficient. The matter can be looked at when we call for expressions of interest, but would it take away from the objective of the Bill.

I realise everyone is now expected to book airline tickets and so on online, but the reality is that in many parts of the country parents who must provide the information on income which may be sensitive from the point of view of the applicant student will not be able to talk online with whomsoever the person will happen to be. I had it in mind that there would be one central awarding authority but that in each VEC someone could present the form as filled in and ask someone to check it. The real waste happens when the form is formally submitted. It is like a planning application; the entire system is engaged before rejection. If someone could look at the form and point to any missing items or additional documents needed, it would facilitate applicants. There would still be a single awarding authority but the 16 new VECs could have a customer service function within their remit in respect of either the applicant or the parents or guardian of the applicant to ensure all the necessary documentation was provided before the form was sent to the awarding authority. I am not seeking a formal, two tier structure.

The Tánaiste has said she would like to see some local presence as part of the process. The matter can be looked at when seeking expressions of interest.

Deputy O'Dowd proposed that staff of other local authorities could work on applications. There could be data protection issues or issues of confidentiality; I would have to look into the matter.

That is rubbish. With respect, I have never heard such waffle, even from Fianna Fáil. Everyone trusts the local authority or VEC official in any county to do his or her job. There is no question about the integrity of the process; the point is that it does not work. There are staff sitting in offices in VECs in Carlow, Clare, Donegal, Dún Laoghaire, Galway city, Longford, Mayo, Offaly and Roscommon who have either finished their work or who had less than 20 applications to process at the end of last month; they are ready to help staff in other counties. Why does the Minister of State not insist on this being done? I am sure they would be willing to help. I respect the Minister of State's point; I am not being personally critical, but he represents the Government and the staff concerned work in the public service. This job is not being done when there are others who could do it and who are sitting doing nothing somewhere else. A total of 13,000 students have not had their application forms opened, some 20% of the total number who applied. The resources are available and the Government should use them.

I support the idea of a local service, but Fine Gael is stating there should be a one stop shop for everything. If I lose my job, I should not have to go to the labour exchange, then FÁS, the HSE for my medical card application form and the local authority for my rent adjustment form. Why should someone in the VEC assess a person's income while someone in the local authority or the HSE is carrying out a different means test for the same family? There is no joined-up thinking. We need a one stop shop to process social welfare, third level grant, housing, employment training and medical cards applications. It should be done locally in order that there would be a stream of activities that could be engaged in. One application form should suffice for most agencies. Bringing everything together would save money and be more efficient, eliminating half of the delays in the process. I accept the importance attached to online applications, but, as Deputy Quinn says, there should be a way to handle queries locally. I do not care who would provide the service, be it the VEC or another office, as long as it was done for everyone. We must shake up local government processes and this is the way to go.

The Deputy is mainly concerned to ensure clarity in respect of what will happen with unprocessed applications this year. The Bill is concerned with what will happen in the future.

The Bill does not go far enough. Wider legislation is needed to provide for the establishment of a one stop shop for all services. I have no problem with the Bill, but I do have a problem with the lack of action, urgency and change. There are 13,000 people waiting at home for the cheque in the post, wondering if they will be able to do their exams, use the library or attend lectures.

This is an administrative matter related to the subject of the Bill, although it is not necessarily the responsibility of the Minister of State. As Minister of State with responsibility he could give an undertaking that arising from this exchange, that the chief executive officer either of the VEC or of the county council, whichever is relevant, would be directly contacted by his Department. He has the information, he has already supplied it, particularly for those who have serious arrears. He should seek an explanation as to the reason for the delay, when it will be cleared and when the applicants will be notified as to where they stand vis-à-vis the application.

If there are resources in the counties I mentioned they should finish the job. Can we send 20 applications to the Minister of State or can the five people come to Dublin County Council for a week to clear the 1,483 applications it has been unable to open? Let us get at it.

To clarify, we need a response in respect of what will happen with this year's applications. That is really what members are concerned about and also Deputy Ruairí Quinn's suggestion that the Department would write to the chief executives. The support of the Oireachtas committee might strengthen the Department's hand in that.

I think everybody in the room accepts that this Bill will improve the position. In regard to sharing of information, as raised by Deputy O'Dowd, that issue is being looked at a higher level in the context of transforming public services but there are data protection issues involved in that also. I do not accept that is waffle. I know the Deputy did not mean to be personal. There are data protection issues and very strict laws are in place.

They were never intended by the drafters of that legislation.

What is the restriction?

We must listen to the reply of the Minister of State.

The director is interpreting it to enhance his profile and to create more work so he can get more staff.

I think that-----

On a point of information, what is the data protection issue?

The concerns of members on this issue are clear. Let us hear the Minister of State.

I want to challenge the Minister of State on what he said. He said there are data protection issues - what are they?

The Deputy is raising a bigger issue about the sharing of information.

Not necessarily, what I am saying is that I can come in from Meath County Council or Meath VEC, where I finished all my applications, and into Dublin and sit at the desk and process the applications. What is the problem?

We must allow the Minister of State to reply. The Minister of State to reply without interruption.

The situation is unacceptable at the moment, as I said at the outset. Members have provided useful information here. I accept it is as a result of a parliamentary question and they have highlighted the problems in various local authorities. The Department is very much aware of those problems and the particular awarding authorities that have difficulties. We have issued strongly worded letters and we are in contact with those authorities on a weekly basis. Arising from the discussion this morning, we will identify those local authorities again where there are difficulties and endeavour to sort out the problems as soon as possible, by whatever means is necessary.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn spoke to amendment No. 6. I think he accepts that I cannot accept the amendment because the issues has been addressed by amendment No. 5, which has been proposed by the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, and the Deputy said that.

May I get back to the point about the data protection issue? Either the people come to the application forms or the application forms go to the people who process them. If I make application to Louth VEC, the data might be sent to Donegal VEC. There is no issue with a person from Meath VEC who has finished processing all their applications coming to Dublin VEC and sitting at the table and processing applications. I do not see any protection issue there.

The director of data protection says there is an issue.

The problem is no civil servant can contest it. It is nonsense.

Perhaps it can be resolved by Deputy Ruairí Quinn's proposal. The concerns of members have been highlighted and we ask the Minister of State to take this back and as a follow up Deputy Quinn suggested writing to the chief executive officers. Whatever members believe is the appropriate way to follow this through, it is clear the committee wants this issue raised.

What about my suggestion as well - not just writing to chief executive officers but to consider transferring temporary staff.

The suggestions are all well made.

I ask the Minister of State to mention that as well.

I realise the Deputy is being constructive and helpful. In the interests of the students, under the provisions of the legislation each public body is its own controller of data, so there are issues. In any event, we will look into it further.

If one goes to the public body there is no issue. If I go from Meath County Council to Fingal County Council for a week there is no issue.

There is an issue here that needs to be examined.

I ask the Minister of State to take it on board.

Amendment agreed to.

We move to amendment No. 5. If amendment No. 5 is agreed, amendments Nos. 6 and 7 cannot be moved.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 3, to delete line 31 and in page 4, to delete lines 1 to 3 and substitute the following:

""awarding authority" means-

(a vocational education committee,

(b ) a local authority, or

(c ) an appointed awarding authority;”.

This amendment provides for the amendment of the existing definition of "awarding authority" in section 2, the interpretation provision.

When can I move amendment No. 7?

If the question on amendment No. 5 is agreed, amendments Nos. 6 and 7 cannot be moved.

I cannot move amendment No. 7.

The Deputy can discuss amendment No. 7 at this stage but he cannot formally move it.

I propose that we have a payments and entitlements service, not withstanding all the rules and regulations.

There is no problem with the Deputy discussing the intention behind the amendment.

The principle is that it is a one-stop shop for everything. I think the Minister of State said that it is being considered at a higher "level", - I do not mean that rudely. The Minister takes on board the fundamental principle of citizens' entitlement available locally and universal application across all bodies, VECs, county councils, FÁS, - a one-stop shop for all one's needs locally. This would do away with a vast bureaucracy and bring the heart of government to the main street of the town. It would do away with faceless bodies and faceless bureaucrats. It would go through one's needs, educational attainments, the jobs likely to be in one's ken and the courses one could do. It would make contact with the course providers and look after children's needs in respect of third level grants, medical cards and local authority needs. One of the major frustrations for people who come to me if they are unemployed is that they have to trot around the towns of Drogheda or Dundalk to all the different agencies and experience the frustration, anger and resentment. We are wasting a good deal of resources. A much better service could be provided by adopting amendment No. 7.

While that amendment cannot be moved, certainly we understand the intention behind it.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.

Amendments Nos 8, 57, 62, 63 and 72 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 4, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

" "civil partner" shall be construed in accordance with section 3 of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010;".

Amendment No. 8 provides for the insertion of a new definition in section 2 as follows:

"civil partner" shall be construed in accordance with section 3 of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010.

Amendments Nos. 9, 11 and 69 are related and may be discussed together.

On a point of clarification, should we discuss the amendments grouped with amendment No. 8 first.

We will discuss them seriatim when we come to them. We cannot make a decision because they are basically decided on by accepting amendment No. 8. It is about consistency in the legislation following, I suspect, the enactment of the civil partnership legislation.

Are we on amendment No. 9?

Amendments Nos. 8, 57, 62, 63 and 72 are being discussed together. Does the Minister of State have anything else to say on those amendments before I move on?

Amendments Nos. 57, 62 and 63 provide for inclusion of a reference to civil partners under the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 in specifying criteria, including the treatment of income for determining grant eligibility.

Amendment No. 72 brings greater clarity to the requirements for the provision of evidence and information by the student to the awarding authority and the obligation on the awarding authority to notify the applicant of its decision as well as advising on the right of appeal. This amendment also provides for the inclusion of a reference to civil partners in accordance with amendment No. 8.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 69 are related to amendment No. 9 and they will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 4, to delete lines 5 to 18 and substitute the following:

" "dependent child" shall be construed in accordance with section 13(7);

"dependent student" means an applicant or class of applicant specified as a dependent student in a scheme made by the Minister under section 13;

"educational disadvantage" means the impediments to education arising from social or economic disadvantage which prevent students from deriving appropriate benefit from education;".

Amendment No. 9 provides greater clarity in regard to the existing definition of a dependent and states that a dependent child shall be construed in accordance with section 13(7). It also provides for the insertion of a definition of a dependent student in accordance with section 13 and the insertion of a definition of educational disadvantage as follows: "educational disadvantage" means the impediments to education arising from social or economic disadvantage which prevent students from deriving appropriate benefit from education.

Amendment No. 11 provides for the insertion of a definition of an independent student as follows: "independent student" means an applicant or class of applicant specified as an independent student in a scheme made by the Minister under section 13.

Amendment No. 69 provides additional criteria to criteria referred to in subsection (3) or (4) to determine eligibility and provides for the Minister to specify additional criteria to be considered by an awarding authority to determine eligibility and as respects different classes of grants or applicants. It also provides for a definition of a dependent child.

This is a very serious issue. I welcome the fact amendment No. 69 considers the employment status of applicants and states: "(i) has involuntarily been made redundant, (ii) is involuntarily unemployed, or (iii) has involuntarily had his or her working hours reduced;". There are key issues here.

All members would agree that an increasing number of people who have lost their jobs are trying to return to third level education, get into PLC colleges and so on. Many of them face grave difficulties. I am very concerned about the proposal in the four year plan announced yesterday to place a €200 levy on students attending PLC colleges. In my experience - I do not know if it is the experience of other members - many people who go to PLC colleges are level three or level four and might not have their leaving certificate. They are trying to move on and to acquire a trade or a skill or knowledge in order that they can prepare for the new economy. The people who come to see me are generally dependent on social welfare, the back to education allowance or whatever. It is increasingly difficult for them. I am deeply concerned about the charge the Government proposes to place on those students.

More students attending VECs and institutes of technology get grants than those attending the universities. More students from lower income households attend institutes of technology than universities. I do not like that bias and am concerned about it. The breakdown between universities and institutes of technology should be even.

I am concerned low incomes families and those whose educational attainment is lower than average are being squeezed. The Government is putting pressure on them; it is putting its foot in the neck of these people. The four year plan proposes to reduce grants for all students by €22 million next year and €51 million in a full year but, proportionately, the people who will suffer most are those who are least able to suffer because they have lowest income, are getting the grants and are attending colleges on which the Government is placing a barrier on entry.

How will this be done? Will the Government cut the rate of student grant support across the board or will it change income thresholds? The fact is that it is preparing to annihilate the chances of people entering education to improve themselves at a difficult time when it should be opening the doors to them. It will impact particularly on the tens of thousands of students trying to get into PLC colleges where there are not places for them. We are in a real crisis and the Government is compounding it with its policies.

I wonder is the Deputy straying a little bit. Amendment No. 69-----

I am dealing with the issue. I am sorry if-----

I would like to make it very clear to the Acting Chairman-----

I am not accusing the Deputy-----

I would like to make it very clear to the Acting Chairman that I am not straying into this House not knowing what I am talking about. The Acting Chairman might say I am straying. Amendment No. 69 deals with the category about whom the Minister of State spoke and the employment status of applicants, whether they have been involuntarily made redundant, are involuntarily unemployed or have had their working hours reduced. I am talking about people who are looking for education. I do not accept the word "straying".

I did not accuse the Deputy. I said I wondered if he was straying. I wished to clarify if he was speaking on amendment No. 69. That is what I said.

It is the only amendment I mentioned.

I was just clarifying that.

This is a democratic Parliament and I am delighted to have the opportunity to make these points and to repeat them as we go through the Bill. The message must get through to this Government that people are fed up to the teeth with what is happening. People who are unemployed and have no chance of a future come into my office and ask what they will do because they cannot go to the PLC colleges because there are no places or they cannot afford to go because they have no income.

I wish to clarify that the Chair was simply clarifying that the Deputy was speaking to amendment No. 69.

Amendment No. 69 is interesting because it is related to the area of providing grants to part-time students. It allows that to happen should it be decided in due course. The reason for a grant system is to facilitate people in difficult circumstances to proceed to higher or further education. That is the whole raison d’être for a student grant scheme.

We are living in difficult financial times. As Deputy O'Dowd said, the national recovery plan published yesterday indicates that the Government intends to save €22 million on student supports and €51 million in a full year. However, the details of that will be announced in the budget so it would be premature for me to say anything in that regard.

As I said, we face a very difficult budgetary situation and everyone knows that. I am a great believer in the PLC system of further education and the €200 charge indicated in the national recovery plan will cause difficulties for some students.

It will. They will not be able to go-----

There are some fees in place currently for materials and so forth on some PLC courses. Hard choices had to be made and difficult decisions taken. However, I would point out that a PLC student can also apply for a student grant.

I accept that, but the Minister will take money off them simply to go in the door. They will not be able to. The people who are talking to me cannot do so. Where will they get the €200?

There has been much media speculation about what would be in the national recovery plan and what would be in the budget, and a figure of €500 was talked about at one stage.

That is the usual kite-flying to soften up the Opposition and then state it is not as bad as it could have been. We all are around the block a long time.

Deputy Quinn has been around here too long.

Let us hope the Government will not be around much longer.

Deputy O'Dowd has to decide his approach to the national recovery plan.

Is amendment No. 9 agreed?

Can I respond again?

I want to make the point that getting into education and re-training is critical. The facts show that there are nearly 200,000 who have lost their jobs and need to be upskilled and re-trained, and I cannot see this happening the way the systems are presently organised. I put it to the Minister of State that there is a need for root and branch reform of FÁS. I do not know whether or not he agrees to that.

The key point is that it is not acceptable for the Minister of State to put financial barriers in the way of people improving themselves. The Minister of State needs to fast-track getting people into those courses that upskill them. Generally, most of them would be qualified at FETAC level 3 and it is a matter of getting them up to FETAC levels 5 and 6. That is one of the key needs in the economy and that is where PLCs and FÁS can work together.

The Minister of State needs to take an entirely new look at all of this. Education and training needs to be totally re-jigged, as does what they call vocational training, which is what vocational education committees were about initially. The Minister needs to look at all of that and needs to reform it so that people have choice and get courses that they can go on.

I honestly believe that somebody at Cabinet suggested that a charge of €500 per head should be imposed on those going to colleges. That is not good enough. The Minister of State needs to re-think the €200 penalty for improving oneself that he is putting on these people because they are a special category. Many of them have lost their jobs and they would only have the equivalent of the junior certificate. They might have been working in child care or in a hair dressing shop or wherever, and they are trying to improve themselves. It is unbelievable what the Minister of State is doing.

I would urge the Minister of State to look again at the system, to radically reform it and to open the door to these people so that we are ready for the jobs there will be in the years to come. The way we are going will not work.

There is so much money wasted in FÁS and there are so many abuses. I tabled a question to which I did not get an answer yesterday, and I am not blaming the Minister of State for this, about people who were asked to sit repeat examinations in FÁS. I believe a lesser number than were asked turned up to do them but the number of certifications issued afterwards was greater than the number who sat the repeats. That is a joke. The Government is questioning what must be done about some private service providers who are corrupting courses, with the waste of money that is involved. At the same time it is stopping those who want to do better from getting into education by putting barriers in their way, which is totally unacceptable.

The key point about education is that there is a need for radical change. The Minister of State must look at this again because it will not work as it is currently constituted. This is education for book-keepers rather than education for an economy. The proposed penalties to be imposed on low-income families are totally unacceptable.

I did not expect to be dealing with FÁS on the Student Support Bill.

It is education.

I accept the context in which Deputy O'Dowd speaks. There is major reform underway. Major reform of the VECs and FÁS have been announced. A new strategy plan is to be published in the new year. There is legislation on the transfer of functions going through the Dáil.

Unfortunately, it is at the characteristic Marlborough Street rate of speed.

Whatever. There is major reform underway across the system of the provision of further education, training, etc. Even in the national recovery plan announced yesterday, there is a large section on what needs to be done on employment activation in expanding of schemes, the introduction of new schemes, etc. People should look at that in the plan announced yesterday as well.

We have our national skills strategy. We know what we need from our education and training systems between now and 2020 and all our efforts are going into trying to achieve those targets. There is reform taking place.

Deputy O'Dowd's main point is on the PLC charge of €200 announced yesterday. I repeat that difficult choices had to be made and PLC students can apply for a student grant.

When one does a FÁS course, one is not charged to attend. If I want to do a six-month or annual course in FÁS, that is free to me, and that is the way it should be. Many of the PLC courses are FÁS-type courses. They are FETAC level 5 and level 6 courses. They have the same type of target, in that the student gets a new qualification that enables him or her to get employment. That is where the Government is making the error in its thinking.

The same applies to a FÁS course. It is education to work and it is specially geared towards a particular type of employment, such as child care and hair dressing. I would ask the Minister of State to look again at it. He cannot say to me that a person can do a FÁS course for six months or a year where there will be no charge but if the person goes into the VEC college there will be a charge, and yet both give an opportunity to upskill, get education and get a job. That is at the heart of the mistake. I thank the Acting Chairman for providing such latitude.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 4, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

" "enactment" has the meaning given to it by section 2 of the Interpretation Act 2005;".

Amendment No. 10 provides for a definition of the additional term "enactment" to be inserted in section 2, interpretation. It is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 4, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

" "independent student" means an applicant or class of applicant specified as an independent student in a scheme made by the Minister under section 13;”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 4, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

" "local authority" means a county council or city council within the meaning of the Local Government Act 2001;".

Amendment No. 12 provides for a definition for the additional term "local authority" to be inserted in section 2, interpretation.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 4, to delete line 27 and substitute the following:

" "Minister" means the Minister for Education and Skills;".

Amendment No. 13 provides for the amendment in section 2, interpretation, of the title for the Minister from Minister for Education and Science to Minister for Education and Skills. It is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 4, line 28, after "includes a" to insert "foster parent or".

I do not propose to accept this amendment as the inclusion of a foster parent would mean that the income of this parent would be taken into consideration for reckonable income purposes when determining eligibility for a student grant.

Fostering arrangements are generally of a short-term duration. Therefore the inclusion of the income of a foster parent would be unfair. If a student failed to get a grant based on the income of the foster parent with whom he or she was residing at the time, the implication is that the foster parent would be supporting the student throughout his or her third level course, which is unlikely to be the case.

A good rebuttal, which I accept.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 4, after line 47, to insert the following:

"relevant Minister" shall be construed in accordance with section 10(8);”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 5, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

" "transferring awarding authority" shall be construed in accordance with section 10(1);”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 5, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

3.—The expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of this Act shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.".

This amendment, which relates to expenses, does not alter the meaning of the provision, as originally published. The new wording is a standard and more concise form which brings greater clarity to the meaning.

Amendment agreed to.
SECTION 3
Question proposed: "That section 3 be deleted."

I presume that this came about on foot of a change suggested by the Parliamentary Counsel.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 4

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 5, subsection (1), line 17, to delete "from time to time" and substitute the following:

"on a specified day, on an annual or quarterly basis,".

I do not propose to accept this amendment. While I appreciate the Deputy's intention, the amendment will not be necessary because amendment No. 54 in the name of the Tánaiste provides for a new section to be inserted before section 13 to deal with advances to awarding authorities. Specifically, amendment No. 54 provides that the relevant Minister may, in each financial year, advance to an awarding authority such funds as are required for grant purposes. I am of the view that this deals substantially with the issue to which amendment No. 18 relates. It is envisaged that issues such as specified days for the advancement of moneys would be dealt with as part of a service level agreement between the Minister and the relevant awarding authority.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 4 be deleted."

I presume the section is being deleted on foot of the new section being inserted later in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 5 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 5, before section 6, to insert the following new section:

6.—Every order, regulation or scheme under this Act (other than an order under section 1(2) or 22(1)) shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the order, regulation or scheme is passed by either such House within the next 21 days on which that House has sat after the order, regulation or scheme is laid before it, the order, regulation or scheme shall be annulled accordingly, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.".

The provision in the Bill, as originally published, is being replaced with a more standard form of wording, which is simpler and which makes the meaning of the provision clearer.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 6 deleted.
SECTION 7

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 5, subsection (2), lines 43 and 44, to delete "commencement" and substitute "coming into operation".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 6, subsection (3), line 11, to delete "commencement" and substitute "coming into operation".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 7, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 8

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 6, subsection (1)(e), lines 28 and 29, to delete all words from and including “and” in line 28 down to and including “funds,” in line 29 and substitute the following:

"which is maintained or assisted by recurrent grants from public funds of that or any other Member State including the State,".

This is a technical amendment which changes the original form of wording to a more standard drafting construction. Effectively, the phrase "financed essentially" is being replaced with a broader definition which encompasses public funds from "any other Member State including the State. The wording of the provision is being restructured in order to accommodate this change.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 23 is out of order as it has the potential to impose a charge on the Exchequer.

I am prevented from moving this amendment because Opposition Deputies cannot introduce measures which would, de facto, impose an additional charge on the Exchequer. However, perhaps the Minister of State will address the principle of the matter. There is a discrimination between colleges which are run on a profit or not-for-profit basis but which do not come under the remit of the State. I understand this matter was the subject of a legal case, which was settled and which never went to court.

Is the Minister of State in a position to indicate the amount of the settlement involved? I appreciate that he may not have the relevant information in his possession. My net point is that we have a mixed, open society in which certain providers of education operate for profit and seek to establish ideological or spiritual domination or indoctrinate people. Their motives vary and there seems to be a formal divide between those who operate on a profit or not-for-profit basis. In addition, there is no distinction in respect of those whose motives may very well be otherwise. I am of the view that the distinction to which I refer has been drawn in this instance.

I draw the Minister of State's attention to the fact that Hibernia College produces more primary school teachers than any other institution. These teachers are then employed by the Department of Education and Skills. If a student wishes to attend a college which is providing an educational course he or she can access - in respect of which he or she is qualified and which meets his or her vocational and career needs - but does not have the financial means necessary to allow this to happen, I am of the view that he or she is being discriminated against. If the college in question has accepted the individual on the basis that he or she is a worthy student, if a scholarship is available to him or her - as is the case in some colleges and as is certainly the case in colleges in the United States - and if the college wants him or her take up his or her place, I do not believe the Republic of Ireland should discriminate against such a student because he or she cannot afford pay to take up his or her place on the relevant course. The State should not discriminate between students who apply to particular colleges and those who apply to colleges in the public domain which offer similar or dissimilar courses.

I do not know if the Minister of State has any briefing material in respect of this matter. I accept that we are on Committee Stage and I do not want to prolong our deliberations. However, if the Minister of State is in possession of such material, I would be interested in hearing its contents. If he does not have the relevant information, we can return to the matter on another occasion.

The institutions being recognised under the Bill are generally publicly-funded third level colleges which offer full-time courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The Department of Education and Skills provides significant funding to these institutions. This funding is used to provide the very broad range of courses required by society and not just those designed to meet the economic needs of the country. The institutions in question operate for the greater good of the country and act in the best interests of the development of human capital in the State.

The Bill does not forever preclude the colleges to which the Deputy refers from inclusion. Those institutions can be facilitated. However, our current financial situation must be taken into account. That is probably the major consideration in this regard. Hibernia College has not applied for inclusion under the schemes.

That is because it offers a postgraduate course and would probably not qualify, even if it did apply. I cannot see the logic behind what the Minister of State is suggesting. In some instances, students may have applied for courses in the publicly-funded institutions and may not have been accepted because they did not attain a sufficient number of points. Not all of these institutions have objective agendas. One could argue that the four teaching colleges which train primary school teachers have an explicit agenda which is to inculcate a particular set of values and views, including those relating to faith formation within school hours. One could also argue that in a republic such as ours, such an agenda is open to question and there are different views in that regard.

However, the Minister of State is including within the category of schools and colleges that qualify for inclusion in the scheme those that have a specific agenda in teaching a particular set of values. He is including certain colleges that have a particular agenda, that is, making money out of giving skills to students. I do not see that this logic has been followed through. I will not pursue this because I know what will be the outcome but, down the road, a constitutional challenge could be successfully mounted against such discrimination. A case could be argued and if we move towards a republic in reality as distinct from name, such issues will be on the agenda of whoever is in the Department, either as an official or as a politician, and this will need to be addressed.

I accept the Deputy's motive for what he has said but the Department has no say in the operation of private colleges. They are for profit, commercial colleges. They may not meet State objectives. I do not say they do not but we are not involved. The primary consideration is the cost. We would also have to pay tuition fees and the student service charge and we are not in a position to meet those costs.

I will not make a meal out of this. Is it correct that FETAC or HETAC accredit the courses they provide?

For the most part.

Then the Department is involved indirectly, if not directly. Let us be real about this. The colleges are providing certified courses.

Yes, but we are not involved on a financial basis. There is some involvement.

The Department is ultimately responsible for HETAC and FETAC and for quality and, therefore, there is a connection. We do not know on what basis the Department settled the legal case but I suspect it paid the person a great deal of money to go away and, by doing so, it conceded that he or she had won the argument on principle. It was a vista too large to behold and the Department walked away from it but his will not go away indefinitely. Other students will appeal and the Department will have to bite the bullet on this at some stage. This is about pluralism in our education system.

The Bill is about enabling students whose income status is such that they cannot pursue a course in third level education, irrespective of the nature or the motivation of the education provider. A judgment in a constitutional case could say it is wrong for the State to fund colleges that teach, for example, that civil unions and homosexual marriage or gay and lesbian behaviour are unnatural and should be frowned upon. If the Department funds a college that holds those beliefs and inculcates them in people who become teachers and gives public funds to them on the one hand but refuses students a grant to go to a college that is motivated by profit, it faces a conflict in terms of the constitutional provisions of this Republic. It may not be for the Minister of State, myself or other members but, down the road, this argument will have to be confronted and it will go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. An official should examine the terms and conditions on which the agreement was made privately to pay that student to go away and not go to the courts. The issue has not gone away and it will return.

I note the Deputy's comments.

Amendment No. 23 not moved.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 6, subsection (3), lines 41 to 43, to delete paragraph (a) and substitute the following:

"(a) whether the institution receives one or more than one payment out of moneys made available by the Oireachtas and the amount of the payment;”.

This is a technical amendment, which changes the wording of a more standard drafting construction and it eliminates any confusion that might arise if the word "grant" is used in the provision instead of the word "payment". The significant of this is that "grant" is defined in section 2 as a student grant. This is not to be confused with grants or payments as they are now described from the State to the institutions.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 moved.
Section 8, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 9

Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 31 are related to amendment No. 27 and all may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 35, to delete paragraph (b).

My amendment is technically out of order because it implies a charge but I suspect the thrust of the Minister of State's amendment attempts to meet the same aspirations. Is that correct?

In that case, I will withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 35, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:

"(b) requires full attendance by a student in a—

(i) full-time course, or

(ii) should circumstances allow and with the consent of the Minister of Finance, part-time course,

and".

I do not propose to accept the amendment on the basis that it will not be necessary because amendment No. 31 provides for a new subsection to be inserted in the section, which gives the Minister the power to prescribe a part-time course as an approved course in certain circumstances. This is an enabling provision, which will be activated when resources allow and, as proposed by the Deputy, which will also require consent from the Minister for Finance.

I would like to clarify this relates to part-time courses.

If the courses are provided, the enabling provision will be in place and it will have to be brought into effect.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 7, subsection (1)(b), line 35, before “requires” to insert “subject to subsection (3),”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 7, subsection (2)(b), line 43, to delete “commencement” and substitute “coming into operation”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 8, between lines 46 and 47, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) (a) Notwithstanding subsection (1)(b), the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, may prescribe a course that does not require attendance by a student on a full-time basis to be an approved course.

(b) A course prescribed pursuant to this subsection shall be a course that—

(i) is provided in the State, and

(ii) is an undergraduate course.

(c) The Minister, in prescribing a course pursuant to paragraph (a), shall have regard to the following matters:

(i) the matters referred to in subsection (2) (other than paragraph (k)(ii) of that subsection);

(ii) the extent to which the prescribing of the course would assist in addressing educational disadvantage;

(iii) the extent to which the prescribing of the course would assist and encourage participation by persons from sections of society significantly under-represented in the student body availing of higher education;

(iv) the number of modules that may be completed and the extent of educational attainment in each academic year of the course;

(v) the amount of work and contact with teachers and tutors in relation to the course required of a student;

(vi) the period of time required to complete the course when compared to a course that requires attendance by a student on a full-time basis;

(vii) whether the course takes place on the premises of the approved institution;

(viii) any other matters which in the opinion of the Minister are proper matters to be taken into account having regard to available resources and the need to promote access to higher education by persons who suffer educational disadvantage.".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 33 and 35 are related to amendment No. 32 and all may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 8, lines 47 to 49, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following:

"(3) For the purposes of this Act, and subject to subsection (4), any postgraduate course that may be prescribed pursuant to subsection (1) shall only be a postgraduate course that is provided in the State.”.

These are all drafting amendments. The intended provisions are not changed in any way.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 9, lines 1 to 5, to delete subsection (4) and substitute the following:

"(4) Notwithstanding subsection (3), where the Minister is satisfied to do so because he or she considers that it is necessary having regard to any of the relevant purposes mentioned in subsection (8), he or she may prescribe a postgraduate course that is provided in Northern Ireland as an approved course.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 9, subsection (6)(a), line 15, to delete “immediately” and substitute the following:

"following a notice period of not less than 30 days".

The amendment will not be necessary, as the provision causing concern for the Deputy - immediate withdrawal of the grant - is moderated considerably by section 9(7), which provides that nothing in section 9(6) shall prevent a student from continuing to receive the grant until he or she has completed the relevant course.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 9, subsection (8), line 27, to delete "shall have regard when prescribing postgraduate courses" and substitute the following:

"shall have regard when prescribing any postgraduate course".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 9, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 9, before section 10, to insert the following new section:

10.—(1) The Minister may—

(a) having taken account of the matters referred to in subsection (4),

(b) having consulted with the relevant Minister, and

(c) with the consent of the Minister for Finance,

by order appoint a body (in this section referred to as an "appointed awarding authority") to perform any or all of the functions of an awarding authority (in this section referred to as a "transferring awarding authority").

(2) Notwithstanding the generality of subsection (1), an order of the Minister under that subsection may provide for one or more than one of the following:

(a) different appointed awarding authorities to perform different functions;

(b) different transferring awarding authorities for the purposes of transferring those different functions;

(c) the coming into operation on different days for different purposes or different provisions.

(3) An appointed awarding authority may be one or more than one of the following:

(a) a vocational education committee;

(b) a local authority;

(c) a board, authority or other body established by or under an enactment (other than the Companies Acts) whose functions include the support of, or the promotion of participation in, higher or further education or the administration of schemes of payments;

(d) a company under the Companies Acts, in which all the shares are held by or on behalf of or jointly with—

(i) the Minister or a relevant Minister, or

(ii) directors appointed by the Minister or a relevant Minister, or

(iii) a board, authority or other body referred to in paragraph (c), and whose functions are conferred by or under an enactment and include the support of, or the promotion of participation in, higher or further education, or the administration of schemes of payments.

(4) Before making an order under subsection (1), the Minister, taking account of the need for efficiency, effectiveness and economy, shall have regard to following matters:

(a) capacity of and resources available to awarding authorities for the purposes of performing functions conferred on them by or under this Act;

(b) the resources available for provision of student support;

(c) administration costs;

(d) the desirability of uniformity of standards;

(e) where applicable, any report furnished to the Minister under section 10(5).

(5) Where a function of a transferring awarding authority is transferred pursuant to an order under subsection (1), the function shall no longer be under the direction, control or supervision of that transferring authority after the order is made.

(6) Nothing in subsection (5) shall prevent the Minister from directing by order under subsection (1) that a transferring awarding authority shall do one or both of the following after the order is made:

(a) perform a function referred to in section 11(2)* and contained in the order;

(b) continue to pay grants, specified by the Minister in the order, to students or a class of students so specified and for a period so specified.

(7) An appointed awarding authority and a transferring awarding authority shall be such appointed awarding authority and transferring awarding authority for the purposes of each order made under subsection (1) and nothing in this section shall prevent—

(a) a transferring awarding authority in an order made under subsection (1) from being an appointed awarding authority in any subsequent order made under that subsection, or

(b) an appointed awarding authority in an order made under subsection (1) from being a transferring awarding authority in any subsequent order made under that subsection.

(8) In this section "relevant Minister" means—

(a) in the case of an appointed awarding authority that is a local authority, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and

(b) in the case of any other appointed awarding authority, each Minister of the Government who performs functions in relation to that body.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 9, before section 10, to insert the following new section:

11.—(1) An order under section 10(1) may provide for—

(a) such matters as appear to the Minister to be necessary or expedient for the transfer of functions from the transferring awarding authority to the appointed awarding authority, and

(b) such other matters as may be incidental to or consequential on such transfer.

(2) Notwithstanding the generality of subsection (1) an order under section 10(1) may provide for one or more than one of the following:

(a) a direction to the transferring awarding authority to provide to the appointed awarding authority such records, data or information as relate to a function referred to in the order, or a class of such records, data or information, and within such period, as is specified in the direction;

(b) in relation to land and property—

(i) that such land (or a part thereof) as relates to a function referred to in the order which, immediately before the order is made was vested in the transferring awarding authority and all rights, powers and privileges relating to or connected with that land shall without conveyance, transfer or assignment stand vested in the appointed awarding authority for all the estate and interest for which it was vested in the transferring awarding authority but subject to all trusts and equities affecting that land subsisting and capable of being performed,

(ii) that some or all of such property other than land (including choses-inaction), as relates to a function referred to in the order which, immediately before the order is made, was the property of the transferring awarding authority shall, without any transfer or assignment, stand transferred to the appointed awarding authority,

(iii) that a chose-in-action referred to in subparagraph (ii) may after the order is made, be sued on, recovered or enforced by the appointed awarding authority in its own name and it shall not be necessary for the appointed awarding authority to give notice to the person bound by any such chose-in-action of the transfer effected by the order, or

(iv) that moneys, stocks, shares or securities referred to in subparagraph (ii) and which, immediately before the order is made are in the name of the transferring awarding authority shall be transferred, at the request of the appointed awarding authority, to the name of the appointed awarding authority;

(c) that some or all of such of the rights or liabilities as relate to the function referred to in the order may, on or after the date of the order, be sued on, recovered or enforced by or against the appointed awarding authority without the necessity for the appointed awarding authority to give notice of the order to the person whose right or liability is transferred;

(d) in relation to some or all of such contracts or agreements as relate to a function referred to in the order—

(i) the continuance in force of the contract or agreement made between the transferring awarding authority or any trustee or agent of the authority acting on its behalf, and any other person which is in force immediately before the day of the making of the order, or

(ii) the construction of the contract or agreement as if the appointed awarding authority were substituted therein for the transferring awarding authority without the necessity for the appointed awarding authority to give notice of the order to the person whose right or liability is transferred;

(e) the continuance of some or all of such legal proceedings as relate to a function referred to in the order and pending in a court or tribunal before the making of the order to which the transferring awarding authority is a party, by the substitution of the name of the appointed awarding authority for the name of the transferring awarding authority and that the proceedings shall not abate by reason of such substitution;

(f) the preparation by the transferring awarding authority of such final accounts of that authority as relate to a function referred to in the order within a specified period and submission of same to such persons as may be specified in the order including the Minister, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, a relevant Minister, the Comptroller and Auditor General or the appointed awarding authority;

(g) subject to section 12

(i) the transfer of an employee who, immediately before the making of the order is an employee of the transferring awarding authority performing duties related to a function referred to in the order, to the appointed awarding authority;

(ii) the transfer of the contract of employment of a person who, immediately before the making of the order is a fixed-term employee of the transferring awarding authority performing duties related to a function referred to in the order, to the appointed awarding authority.

(3) In this section "fixed-term employee" has the meaning given to it by the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 9, before section 10, to insert the following new section:

12.—(1) Save in accordance with a collective agreement negotiated with any recognised trade union or staff association concerned, a person referred to in section 11(2)(g) shall not, on the making of an order under section 10(1), be brought to less beneficial conditions of remuneration than the conditions of remuneration to which he or she was subject immediately before the coming into operation of this section.

(2) The previous service of a person referred to in section 11(2)(g) shall be reckonable for the purposes of, but subject to any exceptions or exclusions in the following enactments:

(a) the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967 to 2007;

(b) the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001;

(c) the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003;

(d) the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997;

(e) the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 and 2001;

(f) the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973 to 2005;

(g) the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2007;

(h) the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004;

(i) the Parental Leave Acts 1998 and 2006;

(j) the Adoptive Leave Acts 1995 and 2005;

(k) the Carer’s Leave Act 2001.

(3) Any superannuation benefits awarded to or in respect of a person referred to in section 11(2)(g) and the terms relating to those benefits shall be no less favourable than those applicable to or in respect of that person immediately before the making of an order under section 10(1).

(4) The pension payments and other superannuation liabilities of the transferring awarding authority in relation to a person referred to in section 11(2)(g) who is given a position in the appointed awarding authority under an order under section 10(1) become, on the making of the order, the liabilities of the appointed awarding authority.

(5) In this section "recognised trade union or staff association" means a trade union or staff association recognised by the Minister for the purposes of negotiations which are concerned with the remuneration or conditions of employment, or the working conditions of employees.".

Amendment agreed to.
SECTION 10

Amendments Nos 38a, 59a and 78a are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 38a:

In page 10, subsection (1)(e), line 5, to delete “section 19(10)” and substitute “section 19(4)”.

These are technical amendments. This group of amendments provides for the correction of cross-referencing in the published Bill.

Amendment agreed to

Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 10, lines 10 to 12, to delete subsection (2).

Amendment No. 39 provides for the deletion of subsection (2) which provides for the outsourcing of work by a grant awarding authority. It is proposed to delete the subsection on the basis that the issue is now provided for more comprehensively in a new section to be inserted entitled, "Agreements relating to performance of certain functions", provided for in amendment No. 40. The purpose of the proposed new section is to provide, where necessary, for the outsourcing by an awarding authority of functions in relation to the administration of student grants. This would be done by way of an agreement which would specify terms and conditions and be subject to the superintendence and control of the awarding authority.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 10, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

Amendment No. 40 has already been discussed with amendment No. 39. I advise members that acceptance of the amendment involves the deletion of section 11 of the Bill.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 10, before section 11, to insert the following new section:

11.—(1) Subject to subsection (7), an awarding authority may by an agreement in writing entered into with any person, upon such terms and conditions as may be specified in the agreement, provide for the performance by such person, subject to such terms and conditions (if any) as may be so specified, of such functions conferred on the awarding authority by or under this Act as may be so specified.

(2) An agreement under this section may include provision for the payments (if any) to be made to and the disposal of such payments by the person concerned for the purpose of the performance of a function specified in the agreement.

(3) An agreement under this section shall operate, so long as it continues in force, to confer on and vest in the person concerned, to the extent and subject to the terms and conditions specified in the agreement, the function so specified.

(4) A function conferred on a person by an agreement under this section shall be performable by the person in his or her own name but subject to the general superintendence and control of the awarding authority.

(5) A function conferred on a person by an agreement under this section shall, notwithstanding the agreement concerned, continue to be vested in the awarding authority but shall be so vested concurrently with the person on whom it is conferred by that agreement and so as to be capable of being performed by either of those persons.

(6) The conferral on a person by an agreement under this section of a function of the awarding authority shall not remove or derogate from the authority's responsibility to the Minister for the performance of the function.

(7) Before entering an agreement under subsection (1) an awarding authority shall, in relation to the agreement and any terms and conditions contained therein—

(a) consult with the relevant Minister, and

(b) obtain the prior approval of the Minister and the Minister for Finance.”.

I will not go further into this issue now, but I would like to put down a marker to the effect that I may come back with an amendment on Report Stage.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 11 deleted.
SECTION 12

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 11, line 23, after "State," to insert the following:

"and has been previously so ordinarily resident for such period if any as may be prescribed,".

The intention of this amendment is to allow the detail regarding ordinary residence for three of the five previous years to be specified in regulations rather than in the Bill. If the amendment was accepted, some of the detail in the section could be deleted. The test, if it did not apply inflexibly, could cause hardship, for example, for an Irish family which moves out of Ireland for the four years immediately prior to the student going to college. I am interested to hear what the Minister and his colleague have to say on the amendment.

I do not propose to accept the amendment as the period of residency introduced under the student grants scheme for the 2010-11 academic year is set out definitively in subsections (4)(a) and (b) of section 12. The residency requirement - three of the past five years in the State - must be met by the student himself or herself.

I may come back to this issue on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 42 is in the name of Deputy Quinn. If it is agreed to, amendments Nos. 43 to 50, inclusive, cannot be moved. Amendments Nos. 43 to 50 are related and alternatives to amendment No. 42. Amendments Nos. 51 to 53, inclusive, are also related. Therefore, amendments Nos. 42 to 53, inclusive, will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 11, lines 24 to 49, to delete all words from and including "and" in line 24 down to including "who—", in line 49, to delete page 12, and in page 13 to delete lines 1 to 8 and substitute the following:

"and is an Irish citizen, a non-national who is lawfully present in the State and is likely to remain lawfully in the State for the duration of the course in question, or such other person as may be prescribed by the Minister.".

The purpose of the amendment is to give a right to apply for a grant to anyone lawfully resident in the State. The Bill, as drafted, leaves the right to apply of non-EU nationals largely up to the Minister to prescribe. This provides for too much discretion.

I do not propose to accept the amendment as the advice received is that it is necessary, for the avoidance of doubt, to include detailed provisions with regard to the definition of "student", the prescribing of a person or class of person as a family member and the prescribing of a class of persons with permission to reside within the State. I am advised that detailed provisions on these matters are necessary to ensure the Minister will have adequate guidance from the Oireachtas on these issues.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 11, subsection (1)(c)(i), lines 36 and 37, to delete ““Justice, Equality and Law Reform” and substitute “Justice and Law Reform”.

This is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 11, subsection (1)(c)(ii), lines 40 and 41, to delete “Justice, Equality and Law Reform” and substitute “Justice and Law Reform”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 11, subsection (1), lines 44 to 47, to delete paragraph (d) and substitute the following:

"(d) a person who, in relation to a person referred to in paragraph (a), is a family member prescribed, subject to subsection (2) for the purposes of this paragraph, or”.

This is a drafting amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 11, subsection (1), to delete lines 48 to 49 and substitute the following:

"(e) a person, other than a person to whom paragraph (a), (b), (c) or (d)* refers, who—”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 12, subsection (1)(e), lines 5 to 7, to delete subparagraph (ii), and substitute the following:

"(ii) is of a class of persons prescribed by the Minister, subject to subsection (3) and with the consent of the Minister for Finance, for the purposes of this subparagraph.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 12, lines 8 to 23, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:

"(2) Where the Minister is prescribing a class of persons as a family member for the purposes of subsection (1)(d)*, he or she shall have regard to all or any of the following matters:

(a) the relationship that the family member has to the person referred to in subsection (1)(a);

(b) whether the family member depends on the person referred to in subsection (1)(a);

(c) whether the family member has a right of residence in the State by virtue of being the spouse, civil partner or a child of a person referred to in subsection (1)(a).”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 12, subsection (3), to delete lines 24 to 26, and substitute the following:

"(3) Where the Minister is prescribing a class of persons for the purposes of subsection (1)(e)(ii)* he or she shall have regard to all or any of the following matters:”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 13, subsection (3), lines 3 to 8, to delete paragraphs (g) and (h) and substitute the following:

"(g) resources available for the provision of student support.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 13, lines 9 to 19, to delete subsection (4) and substitute the following:

"(4) For the purposes of subsection (1), a person shall be ordinarily resident in the State if the person—

(a) has been resident in the State for at least 3 years out of the period of 5 years ending on the day before the relevant date, or

(b) if not resident as described in paragraph (a)

(i) is temporarily resident outside of the State by reason of pursuing a course of study or post-graduate research at an educational institution outside of the State but within a Member State leading to a qualification that is recognised in accordance with the laws of the Member State concerned for the recognition of qualifications that correspond to the arrangements, procedures and systems referred to in section 9(2)(k)(i), or if such recognition is not provided by those laws in that manner then otherwise in accordance with the laws of that Member State, and

(ii) was resident in the State for at least 3 years out of the period of 5 years ending on the day before he or she commenced such course of study or post-graduate research.".

The amendment at subsection (4)(b)(i) is necessary to ensure the course of study or research being undertaken by the student in another member state is properly recognised and leads to a proper qualification.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 13, subsection (6), to delete lines 25 to 27, and substitute the following:

"(6) The determination of the question referred to in subsection (5) shall not relate to a person who is either—

(a) an Irish citizen, or”.

This is a technical amendment which provides for a new paragraph (b) to be inserted and ensures our obligations under EU law are met.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 13, lines 43 to 49, to delete subsections (8) and (9) and substitute the following:

"(8) For the purposes of subsection (7), a tuition student shall be ordinarily resident in one of the states referred to in subsection (1)(a) if the student was resident in any of the states for a period of not less than 3 years out of the period of 5 years ending on the day before the relevant date.

(9) In this section, in relation to an approved course in respect of which a person referred to in subsection (4) or a tuition student may apply for a grant, “relevant date” means the date on which a year of study commences on the approved course.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 12, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 14, before section 13, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

13.—(1) The Minister may, subject to such conditions as he or she considers appropriate, in each financial year advance to an awarding authority such sum as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas and which is not greater than the sum required for the purpose of defraying expenditure incurred by the awarding authority in the payment of a grant.

(2) The Minister may, subject to such conditions as he or she considers appropriate, in each financial year advance to an awarding authority, where the awarding authority is a vocational education committee, such sum as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas and which is not greater than the sum required for the purpose of defraying expenditure incurred by the awarding authority in the performance of any of its functions (other than the payment of a grant).

(3) The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government may, subject to such conditions as he or she considers appropriate, in each financial year advance to an awarding authority, where the awarding authority is a local authority, such sum as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas and which is not greater than the sum required for the purpose of defraying expenditure incurred by the awarding authority in the performance of any of its functions (other than the payment of a grant).

(4) The relevant Minister may, subject to such conditions as he or she considers appropriate, in each financial year advance to an awarding authority, where the awarding authority is an appointed awarding authority, such sum as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas and which is not greater than the sum required for the purpose of defraying expenditure incurred by the awarding authority in the performance of any of its functions (other than the payment of a grant).".

This amendment provides for the insertion of a new section entitled, "Advances to awarding authorities". The new section replaces the existing section 4(1), "Grants to awarding authorities". Section 4(1) deals with funding for grant awarding authorities to carry out their functions. It is proposed to delete this subsection in its entirety and replace it with the new section. When section 4 was originally published, it was envisaged that the number of grant awarding authorities would be reduced from 66 to 33. It is now proposed to make provision for a single grant awarding authority and the existing 66 grant awarding authorities to remain operational for a limited interim period. In the circumstances, it is necessary to make proper provision in the Bill to reflect this position vis-à-vis funding arrangements. It is proposed to insert the new section before section 13, in lieu of section 4(1), to reflect the need to meet funding requirements for both the payment of grants and the administration of the system in relation to existing grant awarding authorities and the new single grant awarding authority.

Subsection (1) of this new section provides for the funding of awarding authorities for the purpose of paying grants. Subsection (2) provides for the funding of VECs for the administration of the grants function in advance of the introduction of a single awarding authority. Subsection (3) provides for the funding of local authorities for the administration of the grants function in advance of the introduction of a single awarding authority. Subsection (4) provides for the funding of the new single awarding authority for the administration of the grants function.

Did the Minister of State say there were 66 original awarding authorities?

Were they all VECs?

They were VECs and local authorities.

Of course, yes. I thank the Minister of State.

Amendment agreed to.
SECTION 13

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 14, subsection (1), line 4, to delete "may prescribe a scheme" and substitute "may make a scheme".

The proposed change to subsection (1) is a drafting amendment to delete "may prescribe a scheme" and substitute "may make a scheme".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 14, subsection (2), between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

"(c) specify an awarding authority or classes of awarding authorities who shall perform functions conferred by or under this Act in relation to specified grants or classes of grants;”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 14, subsection (2), lines 14 to 22, to delete paragraph (d) and substitute the following:

"(d) specify criteria to be considered by an awarding authority in determining whether an applicant is eligible for a grant including the following:

(i) conditions to be complied with by an applicant, his or her parents, spouse or civil partner as the case may be, in order that the applicant may be so eligible;

(ii) the manner in which the income of an applicant, his or her parents, spouse or civil partner as the case may be, shall be determined;".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 58 is deemed out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

I realise that technically speaking it implies a charge, but I ask the Minister of State to outline his thinking or the departmental thinking on the matter. The placement students have particular costs which are not adequately met, for example training teachers, nurses and radiographers. Does the Department recognise in principle that some courses have by virtue of their requirements additional equipment costs or placement costs of one kind of another? If a student qualifies for a student grant in the first instance on the basis of household income and means assessment, the additional costs associated with participation in that course should be recognised. There should be some discretion to the Minister or the awarding authority to provide funding for those costs. That is the thrust of the amendment, which I accept is technically out of order because it would imply an additional cost on the Exchequer, but the Minister of State or his Department may have a view on it.

Under the current schemes we meet additional costs, including, for example, field trips. The Deputy may not be aware that some work placements are paid and this may involve taking into consideration the pay received by a student on a work placement when calculating his or her grant.

I will move the amendment, and I may come back on Report Stage.

It cannot be moved, but it is noted that the Deputy might come back on Report Stage. That is fine.

Amendment No. 58 not moved.

I move amendment No. 59:

In page 14, subsection (2), between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

"(f) specify conditions the continued compliance with which is required in order that an applicant shall remain eligible to receive a grant awarded to him or her;”.

The insertion of subsection (2)(f) provides for the specification of conditions that must continue to be met by a student to remain eligible for a grant.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 59a:

In page 14, subsection (2), lines 30 to 32, to delete paragraph (h) and substitute the following:

"(h) provide for the manner in which an application for a grant is to be made and the information to be furnished by an applicant in relation thereto.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 60 and 74 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 60:

In page 14, subsection (3), line 34, to delete "in prescribing a class" and substitute "in specifying a class".

Amendments Nos. 60 and 74 are drafting amendments for the purpose of clarity.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 61 and 65 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 61:

In page 14, subsection (3), between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:

"(c) whether he or she has dependents who he or she is required to support;”.

This amendment originated with discussions I had with the Union of Students in Ireland. The emphasis in the Bill is on whether the student has family members who could support him or her. The students seek clearer references to whether a student has dependants that he or she needs to support given the changing nature of society and the different participation levels in education. It is not just the child of parents who may be the student; it could be the reverse. The amendment would give legislative clarity to this fairly rare but nevertheless possible event. I understand that there are a few cases where this has arisen and the primary legislation should be clear.

I can allay the Deputy's concerns. I do not propose to accept the Deputy's amendment on the basis that it proposes to provide for a situation already covered under the preceding section 13(3)(b), which already lists family or personal circumstances as a matter to be considered in determining whether an applicant is a student of a particular class.

Does the reference to his or her family or personal circumstances cover the concerns?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 62:

In page 15, subsection (4)(a)(iii), line 23, to delete “her spouse,” and substitute “her spouse or civil partner,”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 63:

In page 15, subsection (4)(a)(iv), line 27, to delete “her parents or spouse,” and substitute “her parents, spouse or civil partner,”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 64:

In page 15, subsection (4)(a), between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:

"(vi) where the parents of a dependent student or other dependent children reside in separate households, the manner in which and purposes for which account shall be taken of arrangements in place relating to the dependent student or other dependent children;".

The purpose of this amendment is to accommodate dependent students whose parents may be separated or living apart. The amendment enables account to be taken of such situations in assessing the means of a student.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 65:

In page 16, subsection (4), lines 1 to 3, to delete paragraph (b).

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 66 to 68, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 66:

In page 16, subsection (4), lines 5 to 9, to delete paragraph (d).

Subsection(4)(d) regarding the prior holding of a grant is no longer considered to be necessary. I do not propose to accept amendment No. 68 as amendment No. 67 provides for a reworded section 13(4)(e) which essentially has the same intent as the original text. This is to provide for a criterion that may be specified by the Minister to be considered by an awarding authority in determining grant eligibility. In other words the provision simply provides guidance on the issues that may be taken into account in drawing up a scheme of accounts. The detail of the treatment of other awards or funding will be dealt with in the scheme itself.

Amendment agreed to.

If the question on amendment No. 67 is agreed, amendment No 68 cannot be moved.

I move amendment No. 67:

In page 16, subsection (4), lines 10 to 13, to delete paragraph (e) and substitute the following:

"(e) whether the applicant is already in receipt of or likely to receive funding, an award or stipend, for the purposes of assisting him or her in pursuing his or her education;”.

Can I make a point on amendment No. 68?

We have not reached amendment No. 68. We are dealing with amendment No. 67.

Can I speak on amendment No. 68?

Amendment No. 68 was discussed with amendment No. 66, but I will let the Deputy comment on it when I come to amendment No. 68. For the moment I would like to get agreement on amendment No. 67 and the Deputy can then comment on amendment No. 68 if he wishes.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy O'Mahony would like to speak on amendment No. 68 and while he cannot move it, he may speak on it.

I just wanted to make a point about high achieving students. We should not punish those who are awarded scholarships on the basis of high achievement by disallowing their grants. We should not punish them for being high achievers.

We allow for some awards to be recognised. The Government of Ireland scholarship is recognised. It is a postgraduate scholarship.

A postgraduate scholarship is of no use to students doing undergraduate degrees. Lottery winnings are exempt from tax. The same thing should apply to scholarship moneys. The purpose of this trust is to distinguish between earnings and rewards for excellence in fields of scholarship. Why would one work one's backside off to get good marks and a scholarship if one knows one's personal income circumstances mean one will be disqualified from adding this to one's grant?

It is a disincentive.

We allow for awards from institutions-----

I refer to all sorts of awards, at every level, made by institutions.

The Minister of State is proposing that the awarding authority be allowed to take into consideration "whether the applicant is already in receipt of or likely to receive funding, an award or stipend, [other than the grant] for the purposes of assisting him or her in pursuing his or her education". If the authority can take that into account, it can decide to subtract it from the value of the grant. That is why I suggest the Minister of State's amendment has the potential to introduce a disincentive.

Some awards from external authorities can be quite high. We do not have to take them into account. This legislation will enable us to do so.

Some awards are less than the grants provided under the system. To take account of such awards when making decisions on grants would be to penalise students for high achievement.

The officials from the Department will be aware that a recent RTE television programme focused on students who are brilliant to the point where they get bullied. We often focus on disadvantaged students, including those with learning difficulties, but we pay little or no attention to the nerd factor. Some children hide their natural ability because they are concerned about being hassled. If we want to recognise such people, we need to provide for something more explicit than simply saying awards can be taken into consideration. Decisions on whether to participate in college are often driven purely by money. One might be concerned that one's household income, one's parents' income or one's own income would cause one to be prohibited from getting a grant. There is a principle at stake. If we want to ensure we do not discriminate against excellence and genius, this provision should not be made. I invite the Minister of State to introduce an amendment to it on Report Stage. The amendment that has been made does not look at the other end of the spectrum. We need brilliant students, with all their idiosyncrasies, to come through the system just as much as we need to facilitate children with special needs.

We need them especially now.

We need flexibility within the scheme. As I have said, the Bill provides that these matters "may" be taken into account. I will look into it further in advance of Report Stage.

Amendment No. 68 cannot be moved today. The matter can be discussed on Report Stage.

Amendment No. 68 not moved.

I move amendment No. 69:

In page 16, lines 42 to 45, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:

"(5) The Minister may specify, in the scheme concerned, criteria additional to criteria referred to in subsection (3) or (4) to be considered by an awarding authority in order that it may determine whether an applicant is eligible for a grant to attend an approved course prescribed under section 9(3)*, and the criteria may include all or any of the following:

(a) the employment status of the applicant, including the level of his or her remuneration or that he or she—

(i) has involuntarily been made redundant,

(ii) is involuntarily unemployed, or

(iii) has involuntarily had his or her working hours reduced;

(b) the inability of the applicant to attend higher education on a full-time basis by virtue of being wholly or mainly responsible for the care of a person requiring full-time care and attention;

(c) that the applicant suffers from a disability (within the meaning of the Disability Act 2005) and by reason of the disability is unable to attend higher education on a full-time basis;

(d) that the applicant has suffered educational disadvantage;

(e) the previous academic attainment of the applicant including previous pursuit of third level education;

(f) any other matters which in the opinion of the Minister are proper matters to be taken into account having regard to the resources available and the objective of enabling persons to attend courses of higher education.

(6) For the purposes of specifying criteria or providing for matters to be specified or provided for under subsection (2), (3), (4) or (5) different criteria may be specified or matters provided for by the Minister as respects different classes of grants or applicants.

(7) (a) In this section “dependent child” means a child, including a foster child, of a person referred to in paragraph (b) which child, on a day to be prescribed—

(i) has not attained the age of 16 years, or

(ii) has attained the age of 16 years or more, resides with a person referred to in paragraph (b), and

(I) is pursuing a full-time course of education, or

(II) is certified by a registered medical practitioner (within the meaning of section 2 of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007) as being permanently unfit to work by reason of a medical condition.

(b) A dependent child shall be the child of and, shall reside with one or, as the case may be, more than one of the following:

(i) an independent student;

(ii) the spouse of an independent student;

(iii) a dependent student;

(iv) one parent or both parents of the dependent student.

(c) A day prescribed for the purposes of paragraph (a) shall be a day that is not earlier than 12 months before the day on which a student, in relation to whose application for a grant a dependent child is relevant, commences a year of study in any year at an approved course.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 13, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 14

As amendments Nos. 70 and 76 are related, they may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 70:

In page 17, lines 1 to 20, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:

"(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, regulations under subsection (1) may provide for one or more than one of the following matters:

(a) the awarding authority to whom an applicant shall make an application;

(b) the date by which an application shall be made;

(c) the information to be made available by an awarding authority to an applicant in relation to an application for a grant, schemes of grants, obligations including those arising under section 16(2)* or 16(4)*, the circumstances in which, pursuant to this Act payment, in whole or in part, of a grant may cease, penalties for offences under this Act and liability, under section 21, to repay a grant;

(d) the submission of information required by or under this Act to an awarding authority by an applicant in respect of an application for a grant;

(e) the submission, by an applicant, of further information that may be required by an awarding authority;

(f) the production of evidence to verify particulars of information given to an awarding authority by an applicant;

(g) the periods of time within which the information, further information or evidence shall be submitted or produced to the awarding authority;

(h) the manner of notification of its decision by an awarding authority;

(i) any other matter that appears to the Minister to be necessary or expedient.”.

This amendment proposes the replacement of section 14(2) of the Bill, which outlines the matters for regulation with regard to applications. It provides for a simplified text. Amendment No. 76 proposes the replacement of section 16, which sets out the provisions with regard to changes of circumstances. It is a technical rewording of the section and does not substantially alter its substance.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 14, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 15

I move amendment No. 71:

In page 17, subsection (2), line 24, after "time" to insert the following:

"but shall not be precluded from applying from other awards or stipends".

Unfortunately, I do not propose to accept this amendment. The use of the word "grant" in section 15(2), as it stands, refers to student grants within the meaning of this legislation. Section 15(2) does not preclude students from applying for other awards or stipends. Therefore, the amendment proposed by the Deputy is not necessary.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 72:

In page 17, lines 25 to 42 and in page 18, lines 1 to 16, to delete subsections (3) and (4) and substitute the following:

"(3) An applicant shall furnish an awarding authority with the personal, family, financial and other information that the authority may seek in relation to the applicant, the applicant's spouse or civil partner, each parent of the applicant, and any dependent child and shall produce evidence, in such form as may be prescribed, to verify the information, in order that the authority may determine whether or not the applicant is eligible to receive a grant."

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 73:

In page 18, lines 17 to 20, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:

"(5) An awarding authority shall determine whether an applicant is eligible to receive a grant, having regard to—

(a) information furnished by the applicant pursuant to this section,

(b) any other information in relation to the application, as appropriate, and

(c) such criteria as are specified in the relevant scheme of grants.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 74:

In page 18, subsection (6), line 24, to delete "be prescribed" and substitute "be specified".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 75:

In page 18, lines 25 to 34, to delete subsection (7) and substitute the following:

"(7) Where the awarding authority determines—

(a) that the applicant is eligible for the grant for which he or she has applied, it shall give notice in writing informing the applicant of the determination and arrange to pay the grant, or

(b) that the applicant is not eligible for the grant for which he or she has applied, it shall give notice in writing to the applicant of the determination and the reasons therefor and of the applicant’s right to appeal the determination to an appeals officer.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 15, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

The acceptance of amendment No. 76 involves the deletion of section 16 of the Bill.

I move amendment No. 76:

In page 18, before section 16, to insert the following new section:

"16.—(1) An awarding authority shall consider information relating to a student who is in receipt of or is to receive payment in respect of a grant in relation to which a determination was made under section 15(7)(a)* and shall determine, having regard to such criteria as are specified in the relevant scheme of grants, if the student remains eligible for the grant in any of the following circumstances:

(a) the awarding authority is notified under subsection (2),

(b) the student has furnished information under subsection (4) or has, without a satisfactory explanation, failed to furnish that information under that subsection,

(c) the authority is furnished with a report of an inquiry officer under section 19**, or

(d) relevant information relating to the student comes into the possession of the authority.

(2) A student shall immediately notify the awarding authority in writing—

(a) if the student becomes aware that, by reason of any material change in the circumstances of the student or, as the case may be, spouse, civil partner or parent of the student—

(i) any information furnished by the student in his or her application, under section 15, for the grant concerned, which could reasonably be considered to have a bearing on the award of the grant to the student is no longer correct, or

(ii) it is no longer possible to comply with conditions the continued compliance with which is required in order that the student remains eligible to receive the grant concerned,

or

(b) if the student becomes aware that any information furnished by him or her in relation to himself or herself or, as the case may be, spouse, civil partner or parent of the student, which could reasonably be considered to have a bearing on the award of the grant to the student was incorrect, of the material change in circumstances or incorrect information.

(3) An awarding authority may at any time give a notice in writing to a student who is in receipt of or is to receive payment in respect of a grant requiring the student to furnish such information specified in the notice as the authority considers appropriate, within the period so specified, for the purpose of determining if the student remains eligible for the grant concerned.

(4) A student shall furnish the information required by the authority within the period specified in the notice.

(5) An awarding authority may, where it considers it appropriate in all the circumstances, cease payment, in whole or in part, in respect of a grant notwithstanding that it has not yet made a determination of the kind referred to in subsection (6).

(6) In making a determination under subsection (1) an awarding authority may determine that a student—

(a) remains eligible for the grant in relation to which a determination was made under section 15(7)(a)*, and accordingly shall continue to pay the grant and arrears, if any, due to the student in respect of any period under subsection (5) during which payment ceased,

(b) is not eligible for the grant in relation to which a determination was made under section 15(7)(a)* but is eligible for another grant and accordingly shall, as appropriate—

(i) pay the grant for which the awarding authority determines the student is eligible, if necessary taking into account moneys paid to or on behalf of the student in respect of the grant for which it determines the student is not eligible and paid to the student while he or she was so eligible, and arrears if any, due to the student in respect of any period under subsection (5) during which payment ceased, or

(ii) request from the student return of any moneys paid to or on behalf of the student in relation to the grant for which it determines the student is not eligible during the period the student was not so eligible, where the grant in respect of which the student is not eligible exceeds the grant for which the student is eligible, taking into account arrears, if any due to the student in respect of any period under subsection (5) during which payment ceased,

or,

(c) is not eligible for the grant in relation to which a determination was made under section 15(7)(a)*, and accordingly if the authority has not already done so under subsection (5) shall immediately cease paying the grant and request from the student return of any moneys paid to or on behalf of the student in respect of the grant during the period while the student is not so eligible.

(7) The awarding authority shall as soon as practicable, give notice in writing to the student of the determination under this section and the reasons therefor and shall inform the student of his or her right to appeal the determination to an appeals officer.

(8) A determination of an awarding authority under this section shall come into effect on the giving of a notice under subsection (7).”.

I would like to put down a marker that I may revisit this substantial new amendment on Report Stage. It is unlikely, but I would like to retain the right to do so. I will have to satisfy myself that the amendment represents an improvement on what we have already.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 16 deleted.
SECTION 17

If amendment No. 77 is agreed, amendment No. 78 cannot be moved. Both amendments have already been discussed with amendment No. 3.

I move amendment No. 77:

In page 20, lines 5 and 6, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:

"(1) An awarding authority shall designate such and so many members of the staff of the authority as it considers appropriate to be appeals officers under this section and a person so designated shall be an appeals officer for such period as the authority may determine.".

The Minister of State's proposal is acceptable. We now have a clear categorisation of appeals officers. That was the thrust of what I was trying to do in amendment No. 78. We are ad idem on this matter.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 78 not moved.

I move amendment No. 78a:

In page 20, subsection (2), lines 10 to 13, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:

"(b) a student is aggrieved by a notice from an awarding authority under section 16(3) requiring information or a determination of an awarding authority under section 16(6)*,”.

Amendment agreed to.

As amendments Nos. 79 to 81, inclusive, are related, they may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 79:

In page 20, subsection (4), line 24, to delete "45 days" and substitute "30 days".

This amendment relates to the period of time within which an appeal can be determined. I suggest that 30 days is quite a long period within which to decide whether someone is eligible for a grant. If we had a more felicitous experience of the administration of the grants system by the Department of Education and Skills and the subsidiary bodies, perhaps we would have a different attitude. The issues we have discussed, including the figures Deputy O'Dowd mentioned earlier in this debate, are indicative of students' lousy experience of the administration of the current grants system.

One of the best initiatives taken in the legislative history of this State was the introduction by the former Minister, Mr. Neil Blaney, of a requirement that local authorities issue planning decisions within eight weeks or two months, failing which the application would be approved by default. Such a measure would never enter the system now but it was a legendary exhortation to public service bodies. It is interesting that this requirement has never been challenged, although it has been overcome in certain respects by officials seeking additional information. It established a sound principle that if the system does not work within a specified period, a person's application is granted.

The measure is proposed in this instance because the Blaney provision in the 1963 Local Government (Planning and Development) Act was extraordinary. In this instance, what we propose is that cases may not be open for 45 days. The natural human reaction where a period of 45 days is set down is to believe one does not have to make a decision until day 41. If officials believe they must deal with an application by day 29, a decision would be made in the case of the student in question a fortnight earlier than under the current wording. That is not an unreasonable request.

I concur with Deputy Quinn. This is a self-explanatory amendment. Under the current provisions, a student could wait for 90 days to have an appeal heard. We all agree it is necessary to make the system more efficient. If that is the position, changing the timeframes to 30 days or 45 days should not be an issue.

I emphasise that the timeframe set out in the Bill for appeals is the absolute maximum limit. It is envisaged that the majority of appeals will be considered in a much shorter timeframe. The service level agreements with the awarding authority and the procedures to be set down for the appeals board will reflect this. In interim appeals there will also be cases where complex matters may need to be considered and information or documentation may be required from other parties, including State agencies, to reach a conclusion.

Having said this, I am advised that some drafting issues in sections 18 and 22 on the appeals board are under consideration and may need to be revisited on Report Stage. In that event, I propose, without prejudice, to examine the Deputy's proposals regarding the period of determination of appeals.

The Minister of State will return on Report Stage with a proposal for limits of 30 and 60 days, as appropriate. It is in the spirit of the Croke Park agreement.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 17, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 18

I move amendment No. 80:

In page 21, subsection (4), line 14, to delete "90 days" and substitute "30 days".

I expect the Minister will return to the matter on Report Stage on the same basis as on amendment No. 79.

The same position applies.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 81:

In page 21, subsection (4), line 14, to delete "90 days" and substitute "45 days".

The position in regard to this amendment is similar to that pertaining to the previous amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 18 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

Amendments Nos. 82 and 83 are related and will be discussed together. Acceptance of amendment No. 82 would result in the deletion of section 19.

I move amendment No. 82:

In page 21, before section 19, to insert the following new section:

19.—(1) An awarding authority may appoint a member of its staff or, with the consent of another awarding authority, a member of staff of that other awarding authority to be an inquiry officer for the purposes of this section.

(2) Every inquiry officer appointed under this section shall be furnished with a warrant of appointment and shall, when exercising any power conferred on him or her by this section, if requested by a person affected, produce to that person the warrant of appointment or a copy of it and a form of personal identification.

(3) An appointment under this section as an inquiry officer shall cease—

(a) if the awarding authority revokes the appointment,

(b) if the appointment is for a fixed period, on the expiry of that period, or

(c) if the person appointed ceases to be an officer of the awarding authority.

(4) An inquiry officer shall investigate and may, and if so directed by the awarding authority shall, make interim reports, and, on the conclusion of the inquiry shall make a final report to the awarding authority in relation to—

(a) an application for a grant, or

(b) any question arising on or in relation to a grant, which may be referred to him or her by the awarding authority.

(5) Notwithstanding anything contained in subsection (4) an inquiry officer may, at any time in the course of the investigation, without the necessity of making an interim report, inform the awarding authority of matters coming to his or her knowledge as a result of the inquiry tending to show that an offence has been committed.

(6) A student who receives or is to receive a payment in respect of a grant, or an applicant shall—

(a) produce to an inquiry officer all books, documents and other records concerning any question arising on or in relation to the grant or application for a grant that are in his or her possession, under his or her control or within his or her procurement,

(b) attend before an inquiry officer, and

(c) give to an inquiry officer all assistance in connection with the investigation which he or she is reasonably capable of giving, when required to do so by an inquiry officer.

(7) If an inquiry officer considers that a person (other than a student who receives or is to receive a payment in respect of a grant or an applicant) is or may be in possession of information concerning any question arising on or in relation to the grant or the application for the grant concerned the inquiry officer may require that person to—

(a) produce to him or her all books, documents and other records relating to the grant or application concerned that are in his or her possession, under his or her control or within his or her procurement,

(b) attend before him or her, and

(c) give to him or her all assistance in connection with the investigation which he or she is reasonably capable of giving.

(8) An inquiry officer may examine on oath an applicant, a student who receives or is to receive a grant, or a person referred to in subsection (7), in relation to an application for a grant and may administer an oath accordingly.

(9) A person who contravenes this section or who fails to comply with a requirement under this section is guilty of an offence and is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

(10) A statement or admission made by a person pursuant to a requirement under this section shall not be admissible in evidence in proceedings brought against that person for an offence (other than for an offence under this section).

(11) In proceedings brought against a person for an offence under this section consisting of a failure by him or her to produce a book, document or other record it shall be a defence for the person to prove that the book, document or other record was not in his or her possession, under his or her control or within his or her procurement when he or she was required to produce it and that at that time it was not reasonably practicable for him or her to comply with the requirement.

(12) Nothing in this section shall operate to require a person to produce to an inquiry officer books, documents or other records, or to provide any information, that he or she would be entitled to refuse to produce or provide on the grounds of legal professional privilege or authorise the taking of possession of any such books, documents or records.

(13) The expenses of and incidental to an investigation by an inquiry officer shall be paid by the awarding authority concerned.

(14) Where a person is—

(a) convicted on indictment of an offence in proceedings for an offence, or

(b) ordered to pay sums to an awarding authority in proceedings under section 21(3),

brought as a consequence of an investigation under this section the court in those proceedings may order the person to pay to the awarding authority such sum as it shall specify not exceeding any amount paid by the awarding authority under subsection (13) in respect of that investigation.”.

It is proposed to amend in its entirety section 19 which provides for the appointment of inquiry officers to carry out investigations under the Act. The amended section seeks to set out more clearly the duties of an inquiry officer, the obligations regarding production of documentation concerning a grant application and related matters. In particular, the amended version places substantially more emphasis on the provision of relevant documentation or records to an inquiry officer rather than immediate recourse to a hearing. This is considered to be a more practical approach and is likely to be more efficient. If the circumstances warrant, an inquiry officer may still call witnesses to a hearing.

Amendment No. 83 provides for a more standard approach to outlining the actions and omissions that may be deemed an offence in relation to applications for student grants.

The amendments appear to be satisfactory. However, as they were provided at a late stage, I reserve the right to study them and return to the matter on Report Stage.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 19 deleted.
SECTION 20

I move amendment No. 83:

In page 23, lines 1 to 10, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:

"(1) A person who—

(a) furnishes information to an awarding authority, inquiry officer, appeals officer or the Appeals Board which is false or misleading, knowing it to be false or misleading in a material respect or being reckless as to whether it is so false or misleading,

(b) fails to comply with section 16(2)(a)* or 16(2)(b)*, or

(c) furnishes information in purported compliance with section 16(2)(a)* or 16(2)(b)* knowing it to be false or misleading in a material respect or being reckless as to whether it is so false or misleading, is guilty of an offence.”.

Again, I reserve the right to address this matter on Report Stage.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 20, as amended, agreed to.
Section 21 agreed to.
SECTION 22

I move amendment No. 84:

In page 23, subsection (2), lines 40 and 41, to delete all words from and including "stand" in line 40 down to and including "Board")" in line 41 and substitute the following:

"stand established a body to be known as an Bord Achomhairc i Leith Deontas Mac Léinn, or, in the English language, the Student Grants Appeals Board (to be known and referred to in this Act as the "Appeals Board")".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 85 not moved.

Amendment 86 is consequential on amendment No. 87 and amendment No. 88 is related. The amendments will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 86:

In page 24, subsection (6), line 6, to delete "The Appeals Board shall consist of a chairperson" and substitute the following:

"Subject to section 23*, the Appeals Board shall consist of a chairperson”.

The amendment provides for the inclusion of additional text. A new section to be inserted after section 22 entitled "Temporary Appointment to Appeals Board" provides for temporary appointments to the appeals board. In outlining the composition of the appeals board, the addition of the words "Subject to section 23” provides for the temporary appointments which may be made under the new section. This is a reasonable amendment.

I will explain the reason I have tabled amendment No. 87. The section provides that the appeals board shall not exceed 11 persons. The purpose of amendment No. 87 is to ensure that at least two representatives of the Union of Students of Ireland are appointed to the appeals board. Like Soviet sailors, students need a witness.

I do not propose to accept amendment No. 87. The issue of the involvement of student representatives in an appeals board was raised on Second Stage and has been given careful consideration. The appeals board is not a representative entity and it is not envisaged that appointments to the board should be made on that basis. Rather, the appeals board requires a membership based on knowledge or expertise in the area of education or grants. On that basis, the appointment of student representatives is not by any means precluded by the current wording of section 22(7).

Not every future Minister for Education and Skills may be as reasonable as the Minister of State. If the legislation is silent, there is no obligation on a future Minister to express the view the Minister of State has taken. In theory, an informal consultation with the Union of Students of Ireland could take place in the current circumstances, as occurs in the case of many other bodies, and the USI could suggest four or five names for the Minister's consideration, from which two appointments could be made. However, there is no obligation on future Ministers to pick up a telephone to speak to student representatives. The USI has contemporary experience of the vagaries of trying to survive as a student at a third level college on baked beans and toast. The world would not collapse and Marlborough Street would still stand tomorrow if the Minister of State were to provide for the inclusion of representatives of the student body on the appeals board.

There is an obligation that the persons would have a special interest in or expertise or knowledge of matters regarding education or administration of schemes of payments. All Ministers for Education and Skills, certainly in recent times, have had a very good relationship with the Union of Students in Ireland, USI. It does very constructive work and engages with the Department on all manner of issues. I do not propose to change the situation.

We had a situation a couple of weeks ago where a responsible demonstration by students, which is their right in this Republic to express their sentiments, got hijacked by extraparliamentary bodies. The Parliament should recognise the current status of USI or other bodies which are taking responsible leadership positions. That is an extension of the principle of social partnership. I respect the fact that the Minister of State might not wish to give an indication now, but I suggest he should consult with his senior Minister. The provision could be made as loose as possible but in the current conditions USI needs to be able to say it has made progress in terms of having a direct influence on legislation. It is not trying to run the country, it is seeking to be recognised as a partner in education. If ever there was a relevant place to have a representative of students knowledgeable about what happens if one loses one's appeal for a student grant, this is it. We are not looking for appointments to the Supreme Court.

I reiterate, it is not meant to be a representative entity. I cannot give a guarantee that I will come back with a change on Report Stage but I will bring Deputy Quinn's remarks to the attention of the Tánaiste.

Does the Minister of State wish to say anything about amendment No. 88, as we are discussing the three amendments together? We have discussed amendments Nos. 86 and 87.

This amendment provides for the insertion of a new section entitled "Temporary appointment to Appeals Board". This amendment allows for the Minister, with the approval of the Oireachtas, to make temporary appointments to the appeals board to enable it to perform its functions. This may be necessary, for example, where a substantial number of appeals require to be dealt with within a tight timeframe. In those circumstances a new section will provide for additional capacity to examine and decide on appeals.

The number of persons, including the chairperson, appointed to the appeals board will not be allowed to exceed 15 in any event. A person to be appointed temporarily to the appeals board must meet the same requirements referred to in section 22(7), that is, they must have a special interest or expertise in or knowledge of matters regarding education or the administration of schemes of payments.

Amendment agreed to.

Is amendment No. 87 agreed?

I will await the Minister's response on Report Stage. I may table a new amendment then.

Amendment No. 87 not moved.
Section 22, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 88:

In page 24, before section 23, to insert the following new section:

23.—(1) The Minister may by order increase the number of ordinary members of the Appeals Board where he or she is of the opinion that the number of appeals made under section 18 necessitates the appointment of one or more than one member to enable the Appeals Board to perform its functions under that section subject to the Appeals Board consisting, at any time, of not more than 15 persons including the chairperson.

(2) Notwithstanding section 6*, where the Minister proposes to make an order under subsection (1) a draft of the order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the order shall not be made until a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each such House.

(3) Section 22(7) shall apply to the appointment of a person by order under subsection (1) as it applies for the purposes of that section.

(4) An order made under subsection (1) shall have effect for such a period not exceeding 5 years as shall be specified in the order.”.

Do I take it that the purpose of the amendment is that if there are a lot of appeals at any one time that one could sub-divide the board, a bit like the way An Bord Pleanála acts, so that two or three appeals could be processed at the same time?

Yes, we can make divisions within the appeals board. It demonstrates the desire of the Department to deal with those matters in an efficient way.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 23 agreed to.
SECTION 24

Amendments Nos. 89 to 92, inclusive, and 95 and 96 are related. They will be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 89:

In page 24, lines 44 and 45 and in page 25, lines 1 to 15, to delete subsections (1) and (2) and substitute the following:

"(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 or any other enactment, the data controller of a person listed in Schedule 2, or of a person prescribed for the time being under subsection (2) (in this subsection called “the first named person”) shall on being requested to do so by the data controller of a person so listed or prescribed, process personal data kept by the first named person, or information extracted from such data, to the data controller of the other person so listed or prescribed for the time being, if the data controller of the first named person is satisfied that it will be used for a relevant purpose only.

(2) If a person (not being a person listed in Schedule 2, or prescribed for the time being under this subsection) keeps personal data that is relevant to any of the functions of an awarding authority, inquiry officer, appeals officer or the Appeals Board, and the Minister considers that such supply by the person not so listed or prescribed to a person so listed or prescribed will further the attainment of a relevant purpose, then the Minister, following consultation with the Data Protection Commissioner, may prescribe that person for the purposes of subsection (1).”.

Amendment No. 89 provides for the deletion and replacement of subsections (1) and (2). This is a technical amendment as the Interpretation Act 2005 provides for reference to a "person" as representing reference to a "body".

Does the Minister of State wish to say anything on the other amendments?

Yes. Also on amendment No. 89, the new subsections (1) and (2) provide for the use of the term "person" rather than "body". That is consequentially reflected in the amendment of Schedule 2.

Under subsection (5), three further technical amendments have been made, the word "assigned" has been changed to "given" in the meanings outlined for data controller, personal data and processing.

On amendments Nos. 95 and 96, it is proposed to amend Schedule 2 to include reference to persons rather than bodies who may share information for the purpose of section 24, including a person with whom an awarding authority has an agreement on outsourcing of functions under the proposed new section on agreements relating to performance of certain functions. This is a technical amendment as the Interpretation Act 2005 provides for reference to a "person" as representing reference to a "body".

I have no problem with this but it sends a signal to me that the application and the interpretation of the data protection legislation is having unforeseen consequences of an excessively bureaucratic kind. Perhaps it would be appropriate for the Minister of State's senior colleague to leave a memorandum behind her or bring one to the Cabinet on the data protection legislation, because as it is being applied - I have experience of it in other sectors - it is becoming excessive to the point of being counterproductive in terms of bureaucracy. If that is the Minister of State's experience within the context of the administration of education a note should be left in a file to that effect so that we can deal with it. The problem is not confined to education.

I will take the matter further.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 90:

In page 25, subsection (5), line 24, to delete "assigned" and substitute "given".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 91:

In page 25, subsection (5), line 26, to delete "assigned" and substitute "given".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 92:

In page 25, subsection (5), line 28, to delete "assigned" and substitute "given".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 93:

In page 25, subsection (5), to delete lines 39 and 40 and substitute the

following:

"(e) verifying that a student is enrolled or registered, in accordance with the rules of an approved institution, and continuing to attend an approved course at an approved institution.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 24, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 94:

In page 25, before section 25, to insert the following new section:

25.—(1) All instruments purporting to be schemes to have been in force prior to the coming into operation of this section and approved by the Minister under section 5 of the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Act 1968 prior to the passing of this Act are hereby confirmed.

(2) All schemes (other than schemes to which instruments referred to in subsection (1) relate) for the purposes of the provision and administration of grants to enable persons to attend courses of higher and further education approved by the Minister and purporting to have been in force prior to the coming into operation of this section are hereby confirmed.

(3) If this section would, but for this subsection, conflict with a constitutional right of any person, the operation of this section shall be subject to such limitation as is necessary to secure that it does not so conflict but shall otherwise be of full force and effect.".

It is proposed to insert a new section entitled "Confirmation of schemes of grants" under section 24, processing of personal data. The purpose of the proposed new section is to confirm previous schemes of grants, including those made on an administrative basis. Following Second Stage an examination of challenges to the existing legislation necessitated an in-depth review of the provisions which permit the Minister to make decisions regarding the approval of institutions and courses for the purpose of student grant schemes. For the avoidance of any doubt in this regard it is proposed to confirm previous schemes of grants in the legislation.

Again, as there are implications and I am not fully aware of what they mean, I might come back to the matter on Report Stage. It is unlikely, but I say that to comply with procedures.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 25 agreed to.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
SCHEDULE 2

I move amendment No. 95:

In page 27, to delete lines 8 to 12 and substitute the following:

"1. The Minister.

2. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

3. The Minister for Justice and Law Reform.

4. The Minister for Social Protection.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 96:

In page 27, to delete lines 21 to 23 and substitute the following:

"13. A person with whom an awarding authority has an agreement under section 11*.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.
TITLE

The effect of amendment No. 97 is reflected in the Long Title.

I move amendment No. 97:

In page 3, line 9, before "THE" to insert the following:

"AN APPEALS BOARD TO BE KNOWN AS AN BORD ACHOMHAIRC I LEITH DEONTAS MAC LÉINN OR, IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE,".

I agree to the amendment with one proviso. The acronym for the title of the board as Gaeilge is ABAILDMC. I do not believe we will be using this; it is not like FÁS.

Amendment agreed to.
Title, as amended, agreed to.

Pursuant to Standing Order 127(3), the clerk will report specially to the Dáil that the select committee has amended the Title.

From my point of view, and I suspect that of my colleagues in Fine Gael, I would like to see this legislation enacted as quickly as possible. We will facilitate the Minister of State in so far as this is possible. By that I mean, we will not divide the House on it. The Bill could be taken on a soft day such as a Thursday.

There will be no soft days for that crowd from now on.

I am more concerned with the students. The Government has enough to carry on the other front. If a discussion is being had with the Whips on this, it could be suggested that we will facilitate the passage of the Bill during a late sitting, if there are to be late sittings between now and Christmas.

I thank the Acting Chairman and Deputies opposite for their co-operation. The USI and students generally are anxious that the Bill be enacted as soon as possible. I appreciate the offer of assistance in that regard from the members opposite.

I thank the members for their co-operation and also the clerk and officials. I thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending.

Bill reported with amendments.