Seanad Éireann - Volume 170 - 23 October, 2002

Business of Seanad. - Digital Hub Development Agency Bill 2002: Committee Stage.

  Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2.

  An Cathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed?

  Mr. Ryan: I have not seen the groupings and I cannot agree to these amendments being discussed together.

  An Cathaoirleach: We will take them individually.

  Mr. Ryan: I am sorry to be awkward but I have not seen the groupings.

  An Cathaoirleach: Have you not seen the amendments?

  Mr. Ryan: I wrote some of the amendments but I have not seen the groupings.

  An Cathaoirleach: The three amendments include two of your own and one from the Government. I cannot see why you would have difficulty.

  Mr. Ryan: I believe the grouping, as it has been read out to me, is incorrect.

[514]  An Cathaoirleach: The amendments will be taken individually.

  Mr. Ryan: I move amendment No. 1:

    In page 5, subsection (1), line 24, to delete “shared” and substitute “stored”.

The current definition of “digital content” is as follows: “Digital content means content shared in a digital format that can be created, manipulated and exchanged electronically.”

  In my innocence I believe that is a misprint and that it should read “stored in a digital format”. The phrase, as it stands, is meaningless.

  Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern): I accept the suggestions made by Senator Ryan but I would wish to review the wording of the definition and bring in an appropriate amendment on Report Stage.

  Regarding the concerns of Senator Quinn about electronic publication, I propose to include a definition of “publication” in the interpretation section of the Bill which I think will meet the concerns of the Senator in this area. The proposed wording is as follows: “Publication shall be construed as including electronic means of publication and cognate words shall be similarly construed.” This amendment will be brought forward on Report Stage.

  Amendment No. 3 is a drafting amendment.

  An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing amendment No. 3.

  Mr. D. Ahern: I am sorry.

  Mr. Finucane: The Minister is in a different House now.

  Mr. Ryan: The Minister is so agreeable that I almost lost track of him. That is fine by me.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Mr. Ryan: I move amendment No. 2:

    In page 5, subsection (1), line 25, after “electronically” to insert “but shall include where required content stored electronically in formats other than digital format”.

I am glad the Minister is considering these amendments. It would a pity to restrict activities to exclusively digital material. There is often a mix in multimedia, particulary in material that would be used to publicise multimedia activities. Video tapes, for example, could be used and it would be a pity if litigation arose because of this.

  I am grateful to the Minister for being accommodating.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[515]

  Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern): I move amendment No. 3:

    In page 6, subsection (1), to delete line 2, and substitute the following:

      “ ‘Minister' means Minister for Communication, Marine and Natural Resources;”.

  This is a technical amendment to reflect the recent transfer of ministerial responsibilities.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 2, as amended, agreed to.

SECTION 3.

  Mr. Ryan: I move amendment No. 4:

    In page 6, subsection (1), line 42, after “hub” to insert “and shall as soon as may be publish the reason for making such an order”.

I am wary of Ministers being able to change boundaries without scrutiny and accountability. I do not wish to launch into a discussion on planning and re-zoning matters, but to leave the power to extend the border of the digital hub entirely in the hands of the Minister without some level of accountability – and I am prepared to debate the level of accountability – is unwise, in the light of what we know about the pressures and inducements that come the way of Ministers. My amendment requires that the reason for making such an order be published as soon as may be. Otherwise the whole thing could be done quietly and in private.

  Mr. D. Ahern: The wording of this section is similar to the provision in the Dublin Docklands Development Authority Act, 1997. The amendment requested by Senator Ryan would not appear to add anything to the provisions. The Minister would have to bring a statutory instrument forward if there was to be an extension of the boundary and there would be the possibility of Members of the Oireachtas or members of the public asking, under freedom of information legislation, why an extension was being granted.

  We are following the model of the docklands Act. A statutory intrument would have to be brought forward.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is Senator Ryan happy?

  Mr. Ryan: I am never happy, a Chathaoirligh. You know me long enough to know that I am never happy on Committee Stage.

  I regard myself as being reasonably familiar with legislation but I do not interpret this section as requiring the Minister to bring forward a statutory instrument. However, if the Minister assures me that there is the possibility of the matter being debated in both Houses, either by way of a positive or negative procedure, there is no need for my amendment.

[516]  Mr. D. Ahern: Section 3 states: “The Minister may by order, with the consent of the Minister for Finance …”. Sections 4 and 5 also refer to orders being laid before the House.

  Mr. Ryan: My mistake.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Section 3 agreed to.

  Sections 4 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 9.

  Mr. Ryan: I move amendment No. 5:

    In page 8, subsection (2)(d), line 22, after “projects” to insert “together with a strategy to ensure access to such educational provision by people suffering from physical or other disability or who are otherwise disadvantaged”.

This amendment is very appropriate given the Minister's previous portfolio. We ought to have some reference on this and I am quite happy to listen to the Minister on it. The digital divide is now something of a cliché. It preoccupied the British Chancellor of the Exchequer in many of his budget speeches where he was concerned that the United Kingdom was developing into a two-tier society with one part of Britain digitally aware and engaged and the other part outside the digital world.

  It would be very useful to extend the functions or the development plan of the digital hub agency to include my amendment which argues for a strategy to ensure access to such educational provision by people suffering from physical or other disability or who are otherwise disadvantaged. It is logical that an agency such as this ought to have a brief, in the light of the national poverty strategy where all public policy is meant to be tested for its impact on poverty reduction and the reduction of inequality. The Minister and I have discussed before with some enthusiasm whether poverty and inequality are the same thing. However, it would be a pity if we had to do all of this again to deal with the issue of socially disadvantaged people considering the objective of reducing poverty and deprivation, and also the general public policy for people with disability.

  I am not hung up on the wording of the amendment if the Minister wishes to look at it before Report Stage. I would be quite happy if he did that because this is an issue that needs thought. However, there should be some objective to deal with what is called the digital divide. It is an important concern in our society.

  Mr. Finucane: I support Senator Ryan in what I regard as a valid amendment.

  Mr. D. Ahern: I thank the Senators for their remarks and thank Senator Ryan for putting down the amendment. While I am not accepting [517]it, there is provision under section 8 of the Bill that the agency would have to consult with local community interests as one of its functions. That has been done and is ongoing. A number of officials in the existing company were designated and have met on a regular basis with 140 to 150 community groups, some of which are involved in the issues referred to by the Senator in this amendment. I will consider giving a directive under section 12, as I am allowed to do, to the board of the agency asking them to address the issue of access and inclusion, and to make a report to me on this. Under section 12, which concerns directives of the Minister to the agency, I will consider doing that to take into account the issue the Senator refers to.

  On the broad issue of working with local community groups, there has been an absolute insistence from the beginning of this concept that the agency work hand in hand with these groups so that they feel part of the process. That experience has been very positive. The CAIT programme is specifically designed to assist disadvantaged areas and the Government has already given €8 million for this year and last year. That is to be made available to disadvantaged groups to help to look at the issue of the digital divide in their respective areas. That could be tapped into also. With regard to the amendment, I will consider giving a directive under section 12.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is the amendment being pressed?

  Mr. Ryan: I am disappointed. The Minister effectively said that there is merit in the amendment but he then said – and I listened carefully – that he would consider giving a directive. If he would drop the word “consider” and say that he would give a directive, I would be happy, in so far as I can be happy on Committee Stage. I am sure the Minister will consider 100,000 different things between now and when he starts giving directives. That is not the same as taking action.

  Regarding the local community initiative, I accept that it is an important contribution but it is not what I am talking about. This agency has more than a local role. It is very important that its local role be one which meshes well with the local community. However, the subsection which I want amended talks about a strategy for educational provision, particularly for the digital arts and technology and including linkages with first and second level schools, etc. It does not talk about local first and second level schools. I assume that it means schools generally and third level institutions generally. I would have put down an amendment if I did not assume that. Regarding disadvantage, I am not just talking about the local community in the area surrounding Thomas Street, for example, but about a national objective. This agency should think nationally.

  The area of disability is an obvious one for digital technology. Even Mr. Bill Gates of Microsoft [518]has made some effort to improve accessibility for people with various disabilities. It is strange that this agency, which is supposed to put us at the heart of future developments, does not have this as an objective. May God forgive me for saying it, but it could even be commercially attractive to do this. There is a large market for the use of digital technology to improve accessibility to books, films and music, among other things. It is strange that we cannot have a commitment that the Minister will see to it that the agency considers this.

  Mr. D. Ahern: I am surprised that the Senator would not take my word in relation to considering giving—

  Mr. Ryan: If the Minister said he would consider it, I believe that.

  Mr. D. Ahern: I had many a battle with the Senator in my previous life and have always been regarded as a person of my word.

  Mr. Ryan: If the Minister thinks that I do not believe him, I assure him that I do.

  Mr. D. Ahern: I have no problem giving an undertaking that I would issue a directive in this respect.

  Mr. Ryan: Fine.

  Mr. D. Ahern: In relation to schools, there are physical boundaries to this particular location and it is in that context that the issue of bringing in the local schools is a factor. Obviously, we cannot include other schools because they are not within the general area involved or within the remit of this legislation.

  The point the Senator makes about access and the digital divide is well made, particularly for people with physical and other disabilities, and I will take it on board.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Acting Chairman (Dr. Henry): Amendments Nos. 6, 7, 13, 25, 26, 29, 31, 38 and 41 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Mr. Quinn: I move amendment No. 6:

    In page 8, subsection (4), between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following new subparagraph:

      “(a) publish the draft development plan by electronic means;”.

Before the Acting Chairman came in, the Minister explained that he was willing to accept a form of words which will, in effect, accept the amendments entirely. I am happy to withdraw the amendments but will say a few words to express my appreciation to the Minister for his understanding of the point that Senator Ryan and I [519]have made. While I am aware that the Minister is accepting the amendments, I am sticking to the few words I had planned to say as it is important that they are put on the record for others and in relation to other Bills.

  Publication is one of the great tools of democratic accountability and that is reflected in the saying that knowledge is power. It is further reflected in the cynical phrase that what people do not know will not hurt them. Ireland has a long history and tradition of assuming accountability through publication. In trying to bring this tradition up to date, I attempted to embrace the new technology and hoped that this would increase the meaningfulness of accountability.

  Until recently, our publication tools were very limited in certain respects. We could require publication of critical information in Iris Oifigiúil, in national newspapers or in local newspapers if the information was relevant to a specific area of the country. We could require State bodies to publish their accounts and an annual report. State bodies and other organisations could be required to keep registers of certain information. Such registers had to be made available for inspection by the public at a certain place and between certain times. We could require certain information to be laid before the Oireachtas. Such publication tools proved useful in the past and are the established pillars of our democracy; they are the means by which we give teeth to the notion of accountability.

  The arrival of the Internet, however, radically changed all that. In one stroke, it greatly improved the efficacy of publication and the means of enforcing accountability. It has done this for a number of reasons, one of which is its broad reach. If something is published on the Internet, it is immediately available to an increasingly vast range of people. It is an inexpensive medium, as it costs virtually nothing to publish on the Internet. It is quick – one can publish on the Internet within seconds – and permanent. It is a great deal quicker than printing and, once published, a document is available on the web for all time. As legislators, we should consider the Internet when we seek to use publication as a tool of accountability. We have been quite limited in the past as the tools at our disposal were not as advantageous as the Internet in terms of reach, expense or time limits.

  For a number of years, I have put down amendments to incorporate the notion of Internet publication in legislation. Ministers have been open to my suggestions, generally speaking, although there have been cases when they came to the House with their hands tied with regard to accepting amendments. I was delighted, therefore, to hear the Minister's words. I have gone to some trouble to recognise what the Minister has done today. I hope that amendments such as the one before the House will not have to be put down again, as future Bills should contain such provisions before they reach Committee Stage. I [520]hope that we will eventually be heard by officials in the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, who will feed the notion of electronic publication into their word processors, meaning that it becomes an automatic feature of Bills.

  My amendments in relation to this matter are not intended as enabling measures. I do not doubt that the bodies with which we deal will have the power to publish on the Internet, as they have such powers already. The amendments are proposed as compelling measures, intended to make the notion of accountability more meaningful through the use of available technology. I am not talking about replacing any of the existing tools, but of adding to them. Apart from the day to day job of enabling the development of the digital hub, the principle behind this Bill is to signal to the outside world that Ireland is serious about the information age. It carries a message that we are determined to take a leader's role in the new era. I congratulate the Minister on his immediate reply to my amendments and I appreciate his response. I hope that we save time in future and that those who are drafting future legislation will include a reference to Internet publication. Perhaps the Interpretation Bill could provide that references to “publication” in Acts will mean “publication by electronic means”. I appreciate the Minister's immediate response to my amendments.

  Mr. D. Ahern: I appreciate the Senator's argument. When this Bill was being drafted, it was considered that “publication” meant publication in all its various forms. It did not mean that we were ignoring electronic means, especially bearing in mind that this Bill deals with a digital hub. I imagine that those involved with the digital hub are to the fore in using electronic means for disseminating information, gathering comments and consulting on matters within their remit. All the digital hub project's reports can be found on its website, www.thedigitalhub.com, and people are invited to consult the digital hub's officials through the site.

  I appreciate the Senator's remarks and I have mentioned the Government's proposed amendment to take care of this matter. I agree with the Senator that this subject should be borne in mind for future reference.

  Mr. Quinn: I appreciate the Minister's reply to my comments. I was trying to influence the drafting of future legislation. I do not doubt, as the Minister says, that “publication” will be interpreted as including Internet publication in the context of this Bill, particularly as it deals with the digital hub. I can inform him, however, that a number of Departments have refused to accept such an interpretation in recent years. Perhaps the Interpretation Bill should provide that the word “publication” includes “publication by electronic means”, just as it clarifies that the word “he” means “he or she”. The benefits of elec[521]tronic publication are so huge that we should ensure it is used in all cases.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Amendment No. 7 not moved.

  Section 9 agreed to.

SECTION 10.

  Acting Chairman: Amendment No. 8, in the name of Senator Quinn, is related to amendments Nos. 9 to 12, inclusive, and they may be discussed together, by agreement of the House.

  Mr. Quinn: I do not wish to take them all together.

  Acting Chairman: Is it agreed that they should not be taken together? Agreed.

  Mr. Quinn: I move amendment No. 8:

    In page 9, subsection (1), line 30, to delete “6 months” and substitute “3 months”.

This amendment seeks to speed up the process of drawing up strategic plans. Section 10 is written as if the new body is coming out of the blue and the period of six months to draw up such plans would be reasonable if this were the case. It is not as if the Digital Hub Development Agency will be starting from scratch on its establishment day, however, as the interim body that this Bill will dissolve will have been in operation for a number of years by then. Part of the interim company's job is to lay the ground for the agency, so most of the strategic thinking will have been done by day one.

  Time is of the essence for this project and I know the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, shares this belief. This agency should have been in existence at least a year ago, although it is not the Minister's fault that it was not. We should not further slow the process by laying down such a leisurely procedure, which is why my second proposal is to replace “as soon as practicable” with “as soon as may be”.

  Acting Chairman: That is provided for in amendment No. 11.

  Mr. Quinn: Amendment No. 11 is aimed at speeding up the process. Are we discussing that amendment at the moment?

  Acting Chairman: The Deputy asked for the amendments to be taken separately and the House agreed.

  Mr. D. Ahern: It is normal in these matters to provide a six month period for producing business plans. I accept the Senator's point that the interim body has been up and running for some time, but there is a multiplicity of stakeholders whose views have to be heard. My officials feel [522]strongly that three months would be too short a timeframe. The Communications Regulation Act, 2002, for example, shares the responsibility for the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation among three persons, as opposed to one. Although the existing ODTR structure was probably more advanced than the digital hub project is at present, a six month timelag was built into the Communications Regulation Act to allow for wide consultation. I can inform the Senator that I will accept his amendment No. 11.

  Mr. Quinn: I understand the Minister's reluctance to accept my amendment, which merely tries to remind him of the need for alacrity in relation to this matter. He has indicated that he intends to move speedily and I am sure the gesture I made will serve as nothing more than a reminder.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Government amendment No. 9:

    In page 9, subsection (1), lines 32 and 33, to delete “submit to the Minister for approval, with or without amendment by the Minister,” and substitute “present to the Minister and the Minister for Finance”.

  Mr. D. Ahern: This amendment, with amendments Nos. 10 and 12, will bring this section into line with section 11, dealing with strategic and corporate planning of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, published by the Department of Finance.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 10:

    In page 9, lines 35 to 37, to delete subsection (2).

  Amendment agreed to.

  Mr. Quinn: I move amendment No. 11:

    In page 9, subsection (3), line 38, to delete “as soon as practicable” and substitute “as soon as may be”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 12:

    In page 9, subsection (3), line 40, to delete “approved” and substitute “presented to him or her”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Amendment No. 13 not moved.

  Section 10, as amended, agreed to.

  Section 11 agreed to.

  Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.

[523]  Sections 12 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 15.

  Acting Chairman: Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 are related and will be taken together.

  Mr. Quinn: I move amendment No. 16:

    In page 11, subsection (1), line 10, to delete “14 members” and substitute “12 members”.

This is an issue of corporate governance. Most State bodies are too big to be effective because the size of the board reflects the political need to appoint people to it rather than a desire to get the job done. I was chairman of the board of An Post and to make sure unions were represented there was a board of 15 people. In business it would be rare to find a board of that size. Cabinet works well as a board of 15 people but that is not generally the case. Once a group has a membership greater than 12 it becomes clumsy.

  The object should be to build a team that will work together in pursuit of common objectives. When a board is larger than 12 members, it is hard to build the necessary cohesion. People behave as individuals rather than team members and often it is necessary to split up into sub-committees, which have their own problems. It is often harder to get a quorum from a larger membership. It might not appear there is a great difference between a board of 12 and one of 14 but there is a world of difference.

  Mr. Finucane: A membership of 14 is too cumbersome for a board of directors. If the Minister wants a precedent he should look at the port companies where there were 12 recent appointments. I was Opposition spokesman on the marine and natural resources in the other House and when the Minister, Deputy Fahy, established those companies, there was great reassurance that it would be a new dawn for the industry because he would appoint business people with marine expertise who would contribute handsomely. I was disappointed because the board of 12 was eventually composed of only six business people and six county councillors who had to accommodate different local authorities. I support a reduction in numbers from 14 to 12.

  Mr. D. Ahern: Normally I would sympathise with Senators on the size of the board, but the strong advice is that, because of the nature of the digital hub and the need to include appointees from State agencies such as the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Dublin City Council and the education authorities, this number is necessary. There are already representatives from many of those agencies on the existing board who would have to be accommodated. In the circumstances, 14 is a reasonable figure.

  Mr. Ryan: The former Fianna Fáil Chief Whip in this House, Senator Fitzgerald, was appointed [524]as an assistant film censor. I do not know enough about his hobbies to know if he has specific skills and talents in film-making.

  Mr. D. Ahern: It might be better if he did not.

  Mr. Ryan: The Minister provided in the Bill that the people he would appoint would, in his opinion, have a special interest or expertise in the matter.

  Mr. D. Ahern: That is different.

  Mr. Ryan: Amendment No. 17 requires the Minister who forms the opinion that a person has a special interest or expertise to state that in writing so the rest of us will know the basis for the appointment. Under the Freedom of Information Act it would be possible to extract the correspondence exchanged in the process. If legislation states that persons are to be appointed who, in the opinion of the Minister, have a special interest or expertise, then it should be enforceable. That is what it means and, therefore, the Minister should have to put something in writing.

  I am reluctant to tie Minister's hands too tightly in such matters. The problems with appointments to State boards are better rectified with politics rather than excessively complicated legislation. Many incorrect appointments have been made but the Minister who has the freedom to appoint should have the obligation to make such appointments for reasons stated in writing and laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas so we know what he is thinking. Otherwise the definition of an interest or expertise is too flexible.

  Mr. D. Ahern: On amendment No. 16, the Higher Education Authority is on the existing board. There are other educational interests that would have to be accommodated in the new agency.

  It would be impractical to give the reasons for every board appointment in writing to the Oireachtas. If that was to be applied to all State boards, it would be an onerous operation that would take a very long time. These boards must come before the Oireachtas anyway so there are plenty of opportunities for people to find out about the abilities of the members.

  Mr. Ryan: In my naïveté, I assumed that to make an appointment, a Minister considered some documentation and concluded from it that someone was appropriate. All I want is the conclusion the Minister draws from the documentation. Is it a case of an appointee simply raising his or her hand? This could be onerous only is if there is nothing written down already. These are serious appointments to serious bodies with serious work to do. The idea that it would be onerous in terms of additional paperwork is nonsense. It is a pity since the Minister has been more than forthcoming so far. There must be better reasons than this to reject the amendment.

[525]  I assume the Minister, who has considerable ability, would not pretend he was going to appoint the 14 members of the agency without having something in writing to enable him to make an evaluation of who should or should not be on it. If he has something in writing which enables him to make that decision, he could use that as the document to be published. Otherwise, he is saying he makes it up as he goes along, which I do not believe is the case.

  The Minister said the Higher Education Authority will be represented on it. However, there is another sector of third level education which is not represented by or accountable to the HEA. I hope the technological sector of third level education will also be in a position to have equal status in terms of the development of the digital hub. A considerable amount of the most imaginative work in the area of multi-media has been done outside the university sector.

  Mr. Quinn: I support Senator Ryan. If this had happened 20 or 30 years ago, Senator Ryan would not have tabled such an amendment. History has shown some bad examples of appointees to boards which were not valid. I understand the reason Senator Ryan tabled the amendment. I am sure he would like to include it in almost every State board. There are too many stories and examples of political appointments. There may be a better way of doing it than the method the Senator suggested. I would like the Minister to consider it for Report Stage.

  Mr. D. Ahern: I have been a Minister for a couple of years and I often wonder why people wish to go on boards. I am not being flippant, but there are times when it is difficult to fill board vacancies. It is often difficult to get people of calibre. However, that does not apply in this case. The most recent appointment to the board was the change of the chairperson. William Burgess has an excellent track record in this area. The other members of the board are Paul Kavanagh, Dan Flinter, Peter Cassells, Jackie Harrison, John Fitzgerald, Don Thornhill, Paul McGuinness and Sean Dorgan. While people might have some justification for questioning appointees to other boards, regardless of what Government is in office, no one could suggest that any of the appointees to this board are not deserving either because of their expertise or because they are members of a political party.

  Mr. Finucane: The Minister must find another five members.

  Mr. D. Ahern: This is taking on more responsibility because it will be a statutory board from now on. As regards appointments I have made to boards since I became a Minister, if I was required to justify in writing why someone should or should not be appointed, it would be a practical nightmare. It would also be dangerous because people might at a later date see some[526]thing about themselves in it which they might not want to be in the public domain. Why would people want the hassle of having their personality brought out into the open? The system has worked well in relation to this board and I do not see any reason to change it. I see some merit in the way it has been done. I appreciate what Senator Ryan said about the involvement of politics in the appointment of boards and the fact that it has been a relatively good thing. I cannot accept the amendment.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Mr. Ryan: I move amendment No. 17:

    In page 11, subsection (6)(a), line 22, after “Minister” to insert “for reasons stated in writing and laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas”.

  Mr. D. Ahern: I forgot to refer to the Senator's point about the institutes of technology. We hope they will have a fairly substantial role in the development of the digital hub.

  Mr. Ryan: I am astonished by the degree to which the Department of Education and Science and other Departments – I do not include the Minister's Department – seem to believe that when it comes to expertise there is only one sector of third level education. The last time I checked the board of the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation there was nobody from the technological sector of third level education on it. However, that board compiled a detailed report on the teaching of science in secondary schools without serious reference to the sector of third level education which specialises in scientific education. The national foresight panels, which were set up in recent years, contained one staff member from the technological sector of education and dealt with a range of areas which are in many cases more developed and advanced in the technological sector of education. I make no apology for saying that because it is my own sector. As the Minister said, many of these jobs are more trouble for people than they are worth. I am concerned about the lack of willingness because of traditional thinking to use expertise which is available rather than about jobs for my colleagues, most of whom have enough to do. There is an unwillingness to use the expertise.

  I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment because I do not believe the Minister made a convincing case. I refuse to accept that appointments to State board are made from thin air without written justification.

  Mr. Quinn: I support Senator Ryan. It was not Senator Ryan's intention to suggest that an explanation is required for the board the Minister is appointing. However, this organisation will last for a long time. There will be other Ministers and appointees. Senator Ryan is attempting to ensure [527]that in future an explanation will be given for appointments to avoid some of the problems we had in the past where political appointments were made. The Minister is correct in that this board is well represented. However, I am more concerned about the future and about establishing a board where the appointees could end up in a similar situation to that in other boards.

  Mr. D. Ahern: As regards the institutes of technology, I accept the Senator's point and I will bear it in mind. On the last point made by Senator Ryan, it would put a huge onus on the Minister to explain the whys and wherefores of an appointment. I have experience of making appointments to boards and it would be difficult to do that. It would also create a lot of unnecessary paper.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

  Section 15 agreed to.

SECTION 16.

  Mr. Quinn: I move amendment No. 18:

    In page 12, after line 41, to insert the following new subsection:

      “(6) The chairperson of the Agency shall not exercise the functions of the chief executive, except in exceptional circumstances on a temporary basis which shall not exceed a period of 3 months.”.

The amendment refers to an important issue relating to corporate governance. It is now accepted in management thinking that there must be a clear separation between the role of chairperson and that of the chief executive in an accountable public company. I stress the notion of public accountability. The chairman has a special role as a bridge between the ultimate owners, the State – in this case, the people – and the body. The chief executive has a more restricted role, namely, to do the business. Experience has clearly shown that in such cases two heads are better than one. Combining the two jobs can lead to conflicts of interest and other such problems. We should legislate against such a situation arising.

  The Minister may argue it is not the intention to allow one person to do both jobs, but that is not enough. We do not have to look any further than the history of the interim company to see how easy it is to sweep principles aside for reasons which look good at the time but rarely prove to be the case at the end of the day. We need to legislate against that eventuality and we must send a clear message about the level of corporate governance we expect. We saw a number of times in the past where State and other bodies had joint chief executives and chairmen. It is not a good idea.

[528]  Progress reported; Committee to sit again.