Dáil Éireann - Volume 340 - 03 March, 1983
Adjournment Debate. - Examination Charges.
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald Mr. Gene Fitzgerald
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: I want to thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise the subject matter of Question No. 63 on today's Order Paper. I asked at the end of Question Time for a written reply but up to now I have not received it. As Minister, I always ensured that questions were available immediately  to any Deputy who wanted a written reply and it was discourteous that this reply was not available to me. Is it another indication of the order breaking down? Question No. 63 is:
To ask the Minister for the Public Service if and when he will announce the charges being imposed by the budget on candidates applying for employment in the civil service.
I put this question down on the Order Paper several weeks ago. It obviously would not have been reached until next week at the earliest. Therefore, I was justified in seeking a written reply. Normally the reply is available before the end of Dáil business but this has not happened today. I wish to protest strongly about the inadequacy of the system which did not make it available to me.
I could find no reference to these fees in the budget speech of the Minister for Finance on 9 February but when the now famed pink pages were handed around I saw at the bottom of page 3: “Principal policy measures adopted by this Government in settling the revised Estimate”. Just under that it says: “Fees to be charged by the Civil Service Commission for civil service examinations”. I want to establish what the statement of fees means. No public statements have been made. In yesterday's national newspapers there was an advertisement for careers in the public service and, in the smallest print, even wearing glasses it is almost impossible to read it, it says there is an application fee for all competitions announced by the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissions after 1 March 1983. Instructions as to how the fee is to be paid are contained in the documentation issued with application forms. The way they are to pay the £10 is being kept secret. Understandably, on reading these advertisements yesterday morning, as a Member of this House who had the question down for several weeks, I was entitled to feel very concerned. Here, for the first time, or perhaps I should say for the second time, we have a tax on employment. We are saying to young people if they dare to apply for a job in the civil service they will be  charged a fee of £10. They will give no refunds if applicants are unsuccessful, they will hold it in the interest of administration. How can the Labour Party support that kind of policy which emanates from Deputy Boland, Minister for the Public Service? He was the Minister who raised the school age and no longer accepted four year olds. He now sees fit to impose a £10 fine on all new job applicants. No job, no fee refund.
Parent groups and teaching organisations have severely criticised this measure. It has also been criticised by politicians and the news media and rightly so. This is probably one of the most reactionary decisions which was taken here for many moons. I said in a radio interview yesterday that the amount of revenue it will bring in is small. We are told in the famous pink pages that it will bring in an estimated £½ million this year. Perhaps it will, at a time of such high youth unemployment, when every Member of this House has constituents running to his weekly clinics asking what the prospects for jobs are it is very frustrating, difficult and costly for young people. It is extremely costly for parents to send their children for interviews and now a further penalty of £10 is added to job application.
I will read some of the vacancies which were advertised for school leavers in yesterday's newspapers: Executive Officer, Higher Tax Officer, Indoor Officer of Customs and Excise, Social Welfare Officer, Junior Clerk in the Office of the Supreme and High Courts, Higher Officers of Customs and Excise, six posts in all for school leavers. If a school leaver wants to apply for all those posts is it the Minister's intention to charge £60? If applicants sit for the examination or are called for interview is that money retained by the Department? What are the Government coming to if a reactionary Minister, supported by a once proud Labour Party, can impose such a tax? It was tried by the Western Health Board in 1976 during the term of office of a previous Coalition Government but Deputy Brendan Corish, who was then Minister for Health, to his credit ensured that it was discontinued because of the  representations of the Fianna Fáil members of that health board.
I want the Minister to drop this idea just as quickly because it is discriminatory, reactionary and the last thing that we need at present. If we impose this it will set a new low for many people to follow. The Cork Examiner carried an article this morning and obviously checked some of the facts with the Government Information Services. I will read one paragraph:
Those applying for the Garda Síochána are not required to pay a fee with their application, however, the GIS spokesman said yesterday that it is believed a compulsory application fee will be introduced in this sector shortly.
Now we are told all civil service and Local Appointments Commission competitions, and very shortly the Garda competitions, will be subject to fees. Where do we go from here? Do we go to local authorities and health boards? Do we go into the private sector? Are we now encouraging many of those institutions in the private sector to impose a fine of £10 also? Before this gathers further momentum this Minister has an obligation to our young people to drop this fee. I accept the need for financial restraint and for certain cuts in public expenditure. But my party and I will not accept anything else but an immediate withdrawal of this £10 fee imposition, which brings in such an insignificant amount of revenue but causes such hardship, creates discrimination and taxes employment opportunities. I would not sit at a Cabinet table and accept this measure under any circumstances.
The Labour Party are prepared to support this measure. To what depths have we sunk? I will oppose it and my party will oppose it. My party will organise and vote against it at the appropriate time. I will quote what so many people are saying. I know a career guidance officer in my city, an excellent official, and he is quoted in The Cork Examiner as somebody who has been dealing with young  people so effectively for so long. That paper stated:
Yesterday the chairman of the North Cork branch of the ASTI, Mr. Oliver Cullinane, said his union had been inundated with complaints. And they will take the matter up with the relevant Government department today.
I hope the ASTI have taken it up with the relevant Government Department and with the Minister and I hope the Minister has already reconsidered what he should do about it.
I should now like to quote from the Irish Independent, which carried the headline “Anger at £10 Application Levy on School Leavers”. I should say that the request for the £10 application fee appeared for the first time in the Government job advertisements in yesterday's papers. I had this question on the Order Paper for some weeks and when I looked for a written reply this afternoon I could not be accommodated before I came to speak in the House. I now want to quote what Mrs. Mary O'Carroll, Chairperson of the Congress of Catholic Secondary Schools Parents Association, said last night:
This is very big blow to parents and their children who are leaving school this year. The cuts curtailing career guidance in schools already means more students now leave without a clear idea of their careers goals, which results in them applying for several public service jobs as they arise because of dire necessity. Parents have to come up with £10 for each application, as well as the cost of sending them for interviews.
That is on top of the examination fees which have been in existence and were increased recently.
I wonder do Labour Party Ministers attend Government meetings? Traditionally the Fine Gael Party has been oriented towards the Pale and Dublin. Their interests have been confined to those areas. They seem to have forgotten the young people from Mayo, west Cork, Kerry or Donegal, who have to attend at  interviews. Wherever they have to go it is costly for them because of the price of travelling. In addition to that cost we have a fine of £10 being imposed because young people dare to apply to the Government for a job. Before this goes any further the Minister should change the decision.
We are told it will earn £500,000 this year but I suspect that that figure is too high because the danger is that with the imposition of this charge school-leavers will not submit applications. If that is the case we are going back to creating an elitist society. The Minister will be charged in the future with having endeavoured during his term of office to make school leavers of 1983 and beyond elitist.
What are the children whose parents cannot afford to pay the examination fee to do? We have had the horrible issue of school transport charges being belted across the floor of the House in recent times and that was followed by messing, and chopping and changing before the Government decided to relieve some people of that charge. In this case there will not be any relief and the charge will be £10 for all irrespective of the salary structure of the post advertised. On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I appeal to the Minister to withdraw this charge so that he will not be classified as the person who introduced an elitist society.
I should like to know where the members of the Labour Party stand in this regard. Before the election we heard many Labour Party members referring to the dreadful measures Fianna Fáil were taking and what would be done if they were returned to power. Those people announced what they would do if they went into coalition with Fine Gael, but I know what they have done since they joined with Fine Gael — they have kept their mouths shut because they do not have any say. For a while longer Labour backbenchers will walk into the Division Lobbies behind Fine Gael, but I wonder how long that will last. Actions like the matter under discussion will shorten the life of the Government because parents who are going through a difficult period will be hit hard.
 Many students are involved in mock or preliminary examinations in preparation for the leaving certificate in June and in conjunction with that they must now carry the worry of what employment prospects there are when they leave school. This is a dreadful and inhuman decision. Will a young person reading the public service advertisements, if he is qualified for six of the posts, have to pay the fee applicable to each of them? The Minister should have a copy of an application form in the House and make it available to the press so that people can see what is involved. Is it necesary for an applicant to pay for six application forms? If advertisements appear later seeking recruits to the Garda Síochána will those who applied earlier for positions in the Civil Service have to pay a further fee? I have no doubt that the next move will be to charge future applicants for posts in the prison service and that procedure will be followed by the banks and the private sector in general. This decision is disgraceful. On behalf of my party I demand that the Minister withdraw the charge immediately. Unless he does we will pursue him in this House by whatever means are within the Order of the House. We will oppose him every inch of the way until such time as he and his Government see common sense and withdraw the charge which has been imposed.
Minister for the Public Service (Mr. Boland) John Boland
Minister for the Public Service (Mr. Boland): I am rather taken aback at the tone of the contribution by the Deputy in relation to this matter. In the nicest way possible I venture to suggest that his memory is as faulty as his information is not correct factually. I would like at the outset to deal with the question which the Deputy raised regarding his request for a written reply to be issued to this question which has been on the Order Paper for some weeks in relation to this matter, and the Deputy was extremely critical, to say the least, both of me and the staff within my Department——
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald Mr. Gene Fitzgerald
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: Of the Minister or of his staff? Let him not try to beg the question.
Mr. Boland Mr. Boland
 Mr. Boland: —— who are staff with whom the Minister himself worked until quite recently. It ill behoves the Deputy to make allegations like that without first having checked on the factual situation. I have done so since he raised the matter 15 minutes ago and my information is that the Deputy at some stage earlier today, probably at the end of Question Time, asked for a written reply to this question. Due to some administrative difficulties involving the staff of this House as opposed to the staff of my Department or myself personally, that request was not dealt with by the administrative staff within this House. It is understandable that human error occurs from time to time and whatever human error occurred did not occur either within the staff of my Department or at my level personally.
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald Mr. Gene Fitzgerald
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: The Minister carries the responsibility.
Mr. Boland Mr. Boland
Mr. Boland: It is regrettable that an insinuation such as was made against the staff of the Department of the Public Service should have been made in that way without the matter first having been investigated. Equally it is regrettable and unfair that I was first notified to come in here to deal with this matter at 4.35 p.m. today whilst I was, as the Deputy and the House will know, at a well-publicised meeting taking place between the Government and the FUE as a successor to the meeting which took place this morning with the ICTU. I consider that both unfair and a little discourteous.
Deputy Fitzgerald seems to think that this is the first time that charges such as this have been imposed on applicants for posts which are under the responsibility of the Civil Service Commission. He is, of course, totally wrong. If he thinks that my action or the action of my Government in deciding to reimpose those charges is inhuman, brutal and unfair, I presume he would feel that the same remarks are equally applicable to Deputy Ryan, his colleague, when Minister for Finance in the sixties, Deputy McEntee when he was Minister for Finance previously and those other members of the Fianna Fáil Party who not only imposed  but implemented consistently over a long number of years charges for all positions which were to be filled in the Civil Service Commission. The Deputy's memory must be faulty indeed when he asks if perhaps this heinous act might be extended into the Local Appointments Commission. If my memory does not fail me, Deputy Fitzgerald prior to his becoming a Member of this House, was an officer of a local authority. Had he at the time he was an officer of a local authority chosen to apply for a senior grade which would have involved his application going to the Local Appointment Commission, he would have had to send together with that application form a fee in order for his application to have been considered.
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald Mr. Gene Fitzgerald
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: The Minister's recollection is wrong.
Mr. Boland Mr. Boland
Mr. Boland: The Deputy seems to think that is incorrect. Perhaps he did not choose ever to apply for a senior position. I cannot comment on that, but the factual situation is that up to the late sixties a fee was charged by the Civil Service Commission in respect of applications for all jobs which were filled by them and a fee was charged during that period by the Local Appointments Commission in relation to senior positions which were within the local authorities and which were the responsibility of the Local Appointments Commission to fill.
In the same way it is incorrect to suggest that this item is some mystery thriller, some deep, dark secret while at the same time the Deputy concedes that on the day the budget was announced in this House the accompanying documentation showed clearly that fees were to be charged in respect of these Civil Service Commission jobs so as to a raise a sum of approximately £400,000. There is no great secret about this. It is perfectly incorrect to suggest that this was the first time ever in the same way as it is incorrect to maintain, as the Deputy did consistently during the last 20 minutes, that the fee was one flat fee of £10 based upon his quoting from the advertisement which  appeared in Wednesday's national newspapers. If he had studied that advertisement and given it anything more than a cursory glance he would have seen that another of the positions advertised in that advertisement carried an application fee of £7. That was published in the national newspaper including the national daily newspaper published in Cork which the Deputy referred to. Therefore, it cannot be said that it was perhaps only in the Pale newspapers that the advertisement for the position with a fee of £7 appeared.
The Deputy asked whether the six positions of executive officer, higher tax officer, indoor officer of customs and excise, social welfare officer, junior clerk in the offices of the Supreme and High Courts and higher officer of customs and excise would each require a separate fee from an applicant who would apply for all of them. It ought to be obvious from a cursory study of the advertisement that as these are all in one grouping a single fee would apply in relation to them. If, however, a person, having applied for that group, decided to apply for a position as an executive solicitor, which is a different type of job with a different job specification, of course a separate fee would be applicable in that case.
Over the last number of years the number of applications to the Civil Service Commission for jobs allocated by them has been rising very steadily and is now well in excess of 100,000 per annum. The average cost of servicing and processing those applications is approximately £30 per application. In certain cases it can be considerably more than that, in other cases somewhat less. Therefore, a two-tier level fee of £7 and £10, which is what the fees will be, represents only a fraction of the cost of processing those applications.
It gives neither me nor the Government any great pleasure to reintroduce these fees, but the State must operate on the basis of providing services in two ways, either by raising taxation or by cutting out other services. It seems fair to me that if a limited group of people want to avail of the right to apply for a civil service job which to the successful applicant guarantees permanency and security,  they should be prepared to pay part of the processing cost of making that application rather than have the entire cost fall on the public at large.
Another point is that the Deputy who raised this matter on the Adjournment is the Deputy who as Minister prepared the Estimates for the Department of the Public Service and the Civil Service Commission. Deputy Fitzgerald has qualities that some of us in this House might respect and in the main the Estimates that he prepared for the Department that is now mine were genuine Estimates fairly well and carefully prepared, pared to the bone and reduced by him somewhat from the first provisional set of Estimates that he had prepared, as he will remember. The Government still must find a considerable additional sum of money and I was invited to find an additional £.5 million. I must do it either by raising money or by cutting out certain services. If Deputy Fitzgerald wants these fees reduced let him stand up in the House and announce which part of the operations of the  Department of the Public Service or the Civil Service Commission should be eliminated, reduced, cut out or cut back by £.5 million. If he does that he will be admitting that he authorised and was in favour of the publication of a falsified Estimate for the Department to the tune of £.5 million. He cannot have it both ways.
I have listened to a great deal of huffing and puffing here and to attacks, such as Deputy Fitzgerald has been known to launch in the last weeks, upon my colleagues in the Labour Party in this knock-about Cork way that he has. Deputy Fitzgerald seemed to be expert and adept in advising how the minority in Government ought to act. It is unfortunate from his own and his party's point of view that they did not listen to his expert advice in dealing with their own minority rump. If they had done so he might not be sitting over there today.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 8 March 1983.
Dáil Éireann 340 Adjournment Debate. Examination Charges.