Dáil Éireann - Volume 399 - 07 June, 1990

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Examination Fees.

1. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Education the current level of fees charged for examinations; and if she proposes to make any order under section 6 of the Intermediate Education Act, 1878 to give statutory validity to those fees charged for examinations by herself and her predecessors.

Minister for Education (Mrs. O'Rourke): Before I read the reply, I wish to inform the deputy leader of the Fine Gael Party and Opposition spokes-person on Education and Members that the reply is long, so I ask Deputies not to jump at me.

The ordinary fees payable by school candidates for entry to the 1990 certificate examinations are as follows:

Leaving certificate

£36

Intermediate certificate

£33

In the case of schools candidates who have sat the leaving certificate examination previously, the fee for entry to that examination is £100. For repeat candidates entering for one or two subjects only the fee is £36 and £72 respectively.

Where the parent or guardian of a school candidate repeating the examination is the holder of a current medical card only the ordinary fee payable by first-time candidates applies. Entries received after the closing date are accepted on payment of a late fee of £8 or £25 per candidate depending on the date of receipt of the application.

In the case of external candidates for the leaving certificate the fees are as follows:

(i) In the case of candidates who have taken the leaving certificate examination previously:

£39 for one subject, £77 for two subjects or an inclusive fee of £111 for the whole examination, whichever is the lower.

[1647] (ii) In the case of candidates who have not sat the examination or who have taken only one or two subjects previously:

£13 for one subject, £25 for two subjects or an inclusive fee of £36 for the whole examination, whichever is the lower.

Where a candidate is the holder of a current medical card, or is dependent on a parent or guardian who is the holder of a current medical card, the fees outlined in (ii) above apply. There is a provision for a late fee.

I want to deal with the point which I know Deputy Bruton is interested in. Rule 43 of the Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools provides for the level of fees for the examinations as notified to schools authorities. A copy of the rules and programme has been presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas in accordance with the provision of the Intermediate Education Act, 1878. They have been presented just this year.

It has been necessary to adopt this procedure since 1984, when the procedure being questioned in this parliamentary question was introduced, because the actual level of fees had not been determined prior to the presentation of the rules and programme to the Oireachtas. I have arranged for the information relating to the level of fees for the 1990 examination to be presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Deputy has asked if I propose to make any order under section 6 of the Intermediate Education Act, 1878, to give statutory validity to those fees and I want to inform the Deputy that the views of the Attorney General have been sought and will be considered when obtained.

Mr. J. Bruton: Is it not the case that fees charged for the intermediate and leaving certificate examinations since 1983 were and are illegal and void ab initio, on the basis there was no statutory authority for the charging of those fees in that the Ministers of the day had failed to comply with the explicit requirements [1648] of section 6 of the Intermediate Education Act, 1878, which, requires the Minister for Education to lay all orders relating to fees before this House for approval and, in the case of all fees charged between 1984 and 1989, no such order was laid and therefore the fees charged were illegally collected because they were collected without appropriate statutory authority? Does the Minister accept this to be the case, and if so, what does she propose to do about it? However, if she does not accept this to be the case will she say on what advice she refuses to accept this is the case?

Mrs. O'Rourke: I do not have to state whether I accept what the Deputy is suggesting. My Department have sought the views of the Attorney General and pending the receipt of those views it would be quite improper of me, in fact, it would be grossly improper of me to give my opinion when I have asked for a legal opinion.

Mr. J. Bruton: Would the Minister not agree that it would be a fair inference to take from the fact that she has sought the advice of the Attorney General that she has serious doubts as to whether these fees were legally collected? Would she accept that if she were confident in the legality of the collection of fees she would not have thought it necessary to consult with the Attorney General? Would she further agree that, in fact, this matter has been before her for quite some time and that my questions on this matter have been successively postponed on three occasions so that the Minister has had plenty of opportunity to make up her own mind?

An Ceann Comhairle: May I intervene to ask for brevity for such obvious reasons?

Mrs. O'Rourke: The Chair is being evenhanded on brevity. I will not be vouching a personal opinion at all. As I have said, it would be grossly improper for me to give my views as the matter is under consideration by the Attorney General. [1649] I quite admire Deputy Bruton's generosity in rephrasing the question because he quite obviously anticipated what I would say.

The procedure which is being questioned was introduced in 1983, the year in which the Deputy came into Government. I will certainly not be drawn on the matter but, I repeat, the Attorney General has been asked for his opinion. Quite often we in the Department seek legal advice on many matters and lots of things come up for consideration. So I do not intend to add further to my reply.

Mr. J. Bruton: A final supplementary. It will be brief.

An Ceann Comhairle: It has to be, Deputy, if I am to dispose of the other three questions.

Mr. J. Bruton: Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, I appreciate your forebearance. In the event that these fees are invalid, as I believe they are, does the Minister agree that approximately £15 million in fees will have to be refunded to the students concerned?

Mrs. O'Rourke: I have nothing to add to the very clear statement I have made. I will repeat it for the third time and make no apology for so doing, that we in the Department of Education have sought the advice of the Attorney General. I am no armchair lawyer, as some people are, and therefore I will not go into the matter any further at this stage.