Dáil Éireann - Volume 421 - 25 June, 1992

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Regional Technical Colleges Bill.

6. Mr. Kavanagh asked the Minister for Education if he will outline the representations which gave rise to the new list of amendments to the Regional Technical Colleges Bill tabled by him and published on Wednesday 3 June 1992; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. S. Brennan: The amendments to which the Deputy refers were introduced following my own consideration of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill after coming into office. The Deputy will be aware that further ministerial amendments were introduced in the course of the Committee Stage of the Bill in order to respond to specific concerns expressed to me and to Minister of State, Deputy Liam Aylward, by the Irish Vocational Education Association.

I and senior officials of my Department have recently invited the IVEA to meet us again and confirmation from them of a suitable date for such a meeting is awaited.

Mr. Kavanagh: Did the Minister give an assurance that there would be consultations with the IVEA before these amendments were brought in? Would he agree that this assurance was dishonoured? Surely he would agree that the procedure was an appalling insult to public representatives since debate on [1437] these amendments had commenced in the House before any approach was made to the IVEA. The Minister should admit that he and his predecessors have totally ignored the IVEA with regard to consultation on this very important Bill.

Mr. S. Brennan: I reject that, as I reject the language used by the IVEA in describing my amendments. I said in the debate on the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill that I am used to taking political charges but personal abuse in a document from the IVEA is not acceptable. I did not dishonour any commitment to the IVEA. To the best of my recollection, I told them during my meeting with them that I would be looking at the Bill and that I had some amendments, but at no stage did I offer to give the IVEA a veto over any amendments I might introduce. The amendments were introduced in the ordinary course and they are being currently dealt with by the House.

Mr. Kavanagh: The Minister must agree that his revised amendments were circulated to certain members of the vocational education committees. I am a member of County Wicklow vocational education committee and I take grave exception to colleagues who work very closely together, all members of the Fianna Fáil Party, receiving details of the Minister's proposals. There should have been a general approach to all members of the vocational education committees. The Minister's approach is reflected in the way he has treated the IVEA. Having given a commitment to meet them, he did not agree to fulfil that commitment until the amendments had been brought into the House.

Mr. S. Brennan: I reject that. The changes which I proposed are well within the authority of the Minister for Education to propose. We have had extensive consultations with the IVEA over months and years on this matter. The proposed changes concern the governing body, the chairmanship, the staff and the lands. We have had a number of [1438] discussions about such issues, although not specifically about the amendments. I reject the notion that I cannot introduce an amendment to a Bill without getting prior approval from any organisation. It is useful and wise to consult and I have done so as extensively as possible. My recent absence from duty made it somewhat more difficult for me to engage in the kind of consultations in which I would normally have engaged, but that did not warrent the tirade of personal abuse levelled at me in a document issued by the IVEA.

With regard to circularising members of the vocational education committees, I offered my apologies last night to any chief executive officer who felt aggrieved, compromised or embarrassed. That was not my intention. I drew up a briefing note on the Bill and asked that it be circulated to members of my own party in the vocational education committees. That would be normal. I have subsequently arranged for all members of vocational education committees to receive exactly the same briefing note. It should not have been distributed through the chief executive officer and I regret that.

Mr. Gilmore: Is the Minister aware that while the Bill was being debated in this House the Taoiseach gave an undertaking to the IVEA that the amendments circulated by the Minister would be reversed? Is the proposed meeting with the IVEA as a result of the Taoiseach's initiative or the Minister's initiative?

Mr. S. Brennan: How the Government do their business in detail on an hour-by-hour basis is a matter on which I would not wish to detain the House.

Mr. Gilmore: It is like Lanigan's Ball.

Mr. S. Brennan: In my absence from duty the Taoiseach and the Minister of State were extremely helpful and dealt with many matters which I would otherwise have dealt with.

Mr. O'Shea: I put it to the Minister [1439] that when he met the IVEA the Bill had been published and amendments had been circulated by the then Minister, Deputy Davern, but that without any forewarning or consultation another group of amendments was introduced which severely restricted the role of the vocational education committees in relation to colleges. It was a gross discourtesy, to say the least, that the body which represents those employers was not made aware by way of consultation before the publication of these amendments.

Mr. S. Brennan: I have already responded with regard to consultation and the awarding of a veto to any organisation over proposed Government amendments. While there were about 40 ministerial amendments, only four subjects were dealt with. The lands vested in the vocational education committee are to be vested in the college. That is not a sea change because the lands were previously for the sole use of the college. The provisions with regard to the governing body are almost identical to those proposed in the original Bill, apart from a small change in numbers. The third change is that the staff are to be the staff of the colleges rather than of the vocational education committee, although they will retain the privileges and the status of the vocational education committee. That has been widely welcomed by the staff associations in the colleges. Finally, instead of the chairman being elected by the governing body, it is to be a ministerial appointment. That is the sum total of the changes. They are not dramatic but I accept that they give further power and authority to the governing body.

Mr. Kavanagh: What value does the Minister put on the deliberations or recommendations of the IVEA in the processing of educational policy?

Mr. S. Brennan: I put a lot of store on it. A whole range of items in this and other Bills reflect the excellent work of [1440] the vocational education committees and chief executive officers. The vocational education committees have the largest representation of the governing bodies. What more do they want?