Dáil Éireann - Volume 388 - 13 April, 1989

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Education Structures.

[1461] 2. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Education if it is her intention to introduce a comprehensive Education Act in order to address, among other things, the legal anomalies which have been reported publicly and which attach to the status of regulations and practices being introduced in matters of education.

40. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Education if she has made a submission to the Primary Education Review Board; if the reports of the submission carried in a report (details supplied) are correct; if she will publish the full submission; if it is intended to place the primary education system on a proper legal basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 40 together.

I have not made a submission to the Primary Education Review Body. The report refers to a discussion paper submitted by a member of my Department to the Primary Education Review Body which was not intended for publication.

The primary education system derives from the Stanley letter of 1831, the Royal Charters of 1845 and 1861, the Ministers & Secretaries Act of 1924, Articles 42 and 44 of Bunreacht na h-Éireann, and the School Attendance Act 1926.

The rules for national schools are not statutory rules but exist in pursuance of Articles 42 and 44 of the Constitution and have their origins in rules previously drawn up on the basis of the Stanley letter and Royal Charters by the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland. The Minister for Education is empowered under the Ministers and Secretaries Act of 1924 to administer public services in education and to take over the functions of the Commissioners for National Education in Ireland. In numerous court cases the rules have been afforded quasi-legal status, and the rules, along with administrative circulars and directives have been treated as legally binding.

[1462] With regard to the introduction of an Education Act, the Primary Education Review Body will be addressing issues concerning the structures in primary education in the course of their deliberations and will complete their work later this year. I do not intend to take any action in the matter until I have had the opportunity to examine the review group's report and recommendations.

The Intermediate Education (Ireland) Acts, 1878 to 1924, provide the legislative basis for the operation of the secondary school system. The third level education system operates under the various Acts relative to that area.

Mr. M. Higgins: I must express my deepest concern at the Minister's admission that she is in her Department in her own words following rules that have a quasi-legal status. First, will she make the document which was presented to the Primary Education Review Body available to Members of this House? Further, is she aware in regard to the answer she gave to my question which quotes the Stanley letter and a number of different Acts which go as far back as the Ministers and Secretaries Act of 1924 that that latter Act did not abolish the Commissioners of Education? Let me repeat the substance of my question to her. By what authority does she operate the educational system at primary level, given that she has now acknowledged that it has no legal basis? On what authority can she make regulations and issue instructions within her Department?

Mrs. O'Rourke: I do not accept that I am not operating on a legal basis. I want to make that very clear to the House. The Deputy has said that.

Mr. M. Higgins: Quasi-legal.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Wait, let me finish. No, I did not say that. I do not accept that I am not operating on a legal basis.

Mr. M. Higgins: It is a quasi-legal basis.

[1463] Mrs. O'Rourke: I want to make it very clear to the House that it is the Deputy who said that——

Mr. M. Higgins: Quasi-legal basis.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Will the Deputy let me finish? Let me be very clear as this is an important matter. Deputy Higgins said that I have not the authority to function. My authority comes from the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, and the rules for national schools exist in pursuance of Articles 42 and 44 of the Constitution. There have been numerous court cases and those rules have been afforded recognition. As I have said, my authority comes from the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924. I want to be quite clear on that. The Deputy also asked if I would make the document available. The primary education review body are presently sitting and all the documents are with them as part of submissions. Some time in the autumn they will report to me and I will report to the Government, and at that time all relevant matters will become public.

An Ceann Comhairle: May I advise the House that less than five minutes now remain to dispose of the two remaining Priority Questions.

Mr. M. Higgins: I can asure you that you will have my co-operation. It was not my fault that we have lost so much time.

An Ceann Comhairle: I appreciate that.

Mr. M. Higgins: In view of the enormous public concern that now exists, might I once again ask the Minister a question about this matter? It is true that the 1924 Ministers and Secretaries Act gave her the power to function as Minister for Education, but I am asking about the status of the regulations and orders made within the Department of Education. The 1924 Act neither abolished the Commisioners for Education nor gave legislative authority for primary education. Is the Minister aware of the [1464] dangers that are there and the lack of legislative support for the orders she is making in her Department? My further point is that reference to Articles 42 and 44 of the Constitution are constitutional principles which require legislative implementation. Is the Minister bringing in an Education Act which will make legal her actions that are at present without legal authority?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has made his point adequately.

Mrs. O'Rourke: The Government in their wisdom last year set up a major primary review body, which no previous Administration had done. All matters relating to primary education come within their remit, apart from the curriculum for which there is a separate review body. Let us be quite clear on that point. Secondly, I want to emphasise that it is Deputy Higgins who put forward the legal argument that the rules for national schools derive their validity from the principle of continuity——

Mr. M. Higgins: Which has no legal status.

Mrs. O'Rourke: ——and lawful transfer of functions from the Commissioners of Education in Ireland——

Mr. M. Higgins:—which were never abolished.

Mrs. O'Rourke:—to Saor Stáit Éireann and the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924.

Mr. M. Higgins: Finally, will the Minister correct her statement to the House? I have to point out to her that the 1924 Act does not do what she has said, and does not transfer the functions to Saor Stáit Éireann.

An Ceann Comhairle: I now call Question No. 3.