Dáil Éireann - Volume 387 - 15 February, 1989

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Educational Trip to European Parliament.

17. Mr. Harte asked the Minister for Education if her attention has been drawn to a decision of the board of management of the Regional College, Letterkenny, County Donegal not to allow 35 language students to go on an eight day educational trip to the European Parliament in Strasbourg; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Letterkenny Regional Technical College is administered under the aegis of County Donegal Vocational Education Committee with responsibility for the day to day management of the college resting with a board of management. I am aware of the board's decision not to permit the students to travel during term time. I am given to understand that the decision was based on educational considerations and that the board would have no objections to such a visit outside term time.

Mr. Harte: The Minister is obviously covering up for somebody. She will appreciate that this was purely a political decision because my esteemed colleague and member of the European Parliament, Joseph McCartin, organised this [354] trip and got the European grant for it for the students concerned. There is grave alarm in County Donegal that politics should be brought to such a low level that a school management, led by a Member of the House, Deputy Blayney and who are either entirely Fianna Fáil or Independent Fianna Fáil, should discriminate against 15 students going to Strasbourg. Because of the political bias of the school management board former Deputy McCartin in the last minute had to switch the money to Sligo. Sligo Regional College had no difficulty whatever——

An Ceann Comhairle: This is becoming a very long question.

Mr. Harte: ——in letting their students go. Surely the Minister is not so gullible as to listen to excuses that it was for educational reasons this decision was taken.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I would have to establish that the running of such day to day functions of a regional college rests with the board of management who, in turn, report to the relevant vocational education committee. It quite amazes me that the trend of questions has been that I must continuously intervene on everything from the smallest item to the most major. When one does this, one is accused of being interventionist and of taking sides.

This proposal arose, I understand, following inquiries which had been made by an esteemed lecturer in the RTC, the Deputy's own son, Patrick Harte, to the EC officials in Dublin and to Mr. McCartin, MEP. I should like to rectify a misrepresentation which appears to have occurred. Yesterday the board of management of the Donogh O'Malley Regional Technical College in Letterkenny issued a press statement to the effect that they turned down the trip because it was to happen during term time. They were concerned about the loss of time to the students going to Europe and also the loss to the students at home caused by the absence of some of the lecturers and tutors.

[355] Mr. Harte: I did not ask the Minister to intervene but to concern herself with the political bias of the school management who took this decision. The Minister has mentioned my son, who was in the background organising the trip. The bias was against the former Deputy, Joe McCartin. Is the Minister aware that the student member of the board of management who protested at the decision received an anonymous telephone call the following morning telling her that if she pressed the matter she would be removed from the board? The Minister should be concerned about the use of such tactics. I am not asking the Minister to intervene.

An Ceann Comhairle: This matter has become personalised and all kinds of innuendos are being made.

(Interruptions.)

Mrs. O'Rourke: Deputy Harte is concerned about the alleged political bias, as he sees it. We live in a democratic system. Vocational education committees are sub-committees of county councils. It is the people going to the polls who elect people to the relevant vocational education committees. I do not intend to concern myself with each action taken by individual boards of management.

(Interruptions.)

Mrs. O'Rourke: The allegation about telephone calls and matters of that nature certainly do not come within my province and I do not intend to devote myself to them. The board of management have made it very plain that never at any time did they refuse the trip outside term time.

Mr. Harte: The students are protesting.

Mr. Blaney: Perhaps Deputy Harte should get accurate information. Inaccurate information is the hallmark of the blackguarding in Letterkenny as to the decision of the management board. Are the Deputy and the Minister aware that [356] the board were not told that those going on the trip would be language students? There were to be 15 from business studies, unspecified and yet to be selected; ten from engineering and five from art, yet to be selected; two from the students' union, yet to be selected, and three lecturers, yet to be selected. There was no suggestion that this trip had anything to do with the curriculum of any of the faculties.

Mr. Harte: Nonsense.

Mr. Blaney: It is no nonsense. Will you shut up?

Mr. Harte: Deputy Blaney blocked it because a Fine Gael Deputy organised it.

Mr. Blaney: Deputy Harte is the last one who should talk about any collusion between Fianna Fáil and any other party, considering that his party and Fianna Fáil were on the management board when somebody very close to him was sorted out who is now in the college.

Mr. Harte: Deputy Blaney is wrong and he knows it.

Mr. Blaney: Deputy Blaney is quite correct.

An Ceann Comhairle: I asked the permission of the House to deal with Deputy Harte's question because he was waiting anxiously for it to be heard. I did not think it would become so acrimonious. I want to bring it to a close.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Restrain yourself, Deputy Harte. I gave you the facility of having your question answered.

Mr. Blaney: Deputy Harte has made his charges in the House today and he is not unaware of the charges falsely circulated in Donegal and its newspapers. He is aware of the connection, through his own family, with the inaccurate reporting in those newspapers. I want the [357] Minister and the House to consider the charge the Deputy has made that the board of management are politically motivated.

Mr. Harte: Of course they are. The Deputy has the lot of them by the nose — Fianna Fáil and Independent Fianna Fáil.

An Ceann Comhairle: I must insist on this question coming to finality.

Mr. Blaney: I will insist that it is brought to finality. I will not be blackguarded inside or outside the House by this specimen allegedly representing the people of Donegal.

Mr. Harte: May I draw that remark to the attention of the Chair?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should be referred to by his proper title, according to the Order of the House.

Mr. Blaney: Okay.

Mr. Harte: On a point of order, I insist——

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Harte will not dictate to the Chair. Please bring the matter to a conclusion, Deputy Blaney. Resume your seat, Deputy Harte.

Mr. Harte: I want to make a point of order.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have heard your point of order.

Mr. Harte: Have you?

An Ceann Comhairle: I have, yes.

Mr. Harte: I thought it was customary in this House to ask a Deputy to withdraw a derogatory remark about another Deputy.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have dealt with that matter.

[358] Mr. Harte: You have not asked the Deputy to withdraw.

An Ceann Comhairle: Do not dictate to me. Deputy.

Mr. Harte: I am not. You are not asking the Deputy to withdraw his remark.

An Ceann Comhairle: Resume your seat.

Mr. Blaney: I am sure the Minister is fully aware that the board of management in Letterkenny consists of 12 people, five of whom have nothing to do with any political party and are appointed by other agencies. They are——

An Ceann Comhairle: This is Question Time. We must bring the matter to a conclusion.

Mr. Blaney: If this House is to be used by my colleague from Donegal to blackguard a board of management containing non-elected people——

Mr. Harte: Blackguarding the students.

Mr. Blaney: Deputy Harte is concerned about his colleague, Joe McCartin. His ambition is to try to replace him in Europe next June. The people on the board of management are a representative of the Department of Education and the Minister, the CEO of Donegal, the principal of the college, a representative from the trade unions and a representative from the chamber of commerce in Letterkenny. those five people were present when the decision was made, together with four of the elected members. Now let Deputy Harte tell the House how the decision was made due to political bigotry.

Mr. Harte: Tell that to the students in the RTC.

Mr. Blaney: Let the Deputy withdraw his lying, inaccurate charges.

[359] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is just as well that we have not videod what is happening here for the sake of the House. We are now proceeding to item No. 7.

Mr. Blaney: With your permission, I wish to raise on the Adjournment the subject matter of Question No. 17.

Mr. Harte: I hope Deputy Blaney will share his time with me.

Mr. Blaney: Indeed I will. We will really get to the truth.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair will communicate with the Deputy.

Proinsias De Rossa: Have new precedents been set at Question Time?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I hope Deputy De Rossa appreciates that what we had was not a precedent but an exception.

Miss Colley: It was an exception that set a precedent.