Thursday, 19 May 2022
Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2020 Report: Motion
I do not know where to start with the Minister's response. I am infuriated by it. The last paragraph, in particular, I find infuriating. I am beginning to wonder why we bother. The Minister asked for 12 months to do what she has just said she now needs to start. I stood here in November 2020 asking her to take seriously that, as a matter of basic equality, somebody's father, grandfather, mother or grandmother should be irrelevant when it comes to education. The Minister asked to be given 12 months. In good faith, we gave her 12 months. What did she do with the 12 months? Now, after the education committee went through hearing after hearing with every expert who came in saying it needed to go, she comes back in and tells me we need another review and more time for another period of school admission cycles.
I ask the Minister bluntly why the private school sector clicks its fingers and gets what it wants. Why do representatives of that sector come to the Minister for Education or people close to her and say they want a new admissions Bill to make sure the royal blood line of succession continues in private schools because they want the school ties to remain, because that is what their elitism is based on? It all comes down to money, that is, the money that they have and want to keep in their schools, from the same families. That is the whole point of it. They want 25% of their school places kept over to that money and those families.
It should not matter a damn where your da went to school, or if he went. It should not matter a damn where your grandfather went to school, or if he went. This odious legislation containing this odious amendment states you have more rights to admission to a secondary school or primary school based on who your parents or grandparents are. I gave the Minister a year to sort it out and she comes back in and asks for more time and more school admission cycles.
It drives me to distraction to consider the power that the fee-paying lobby has. There is nothing they will not get if they ask for it. Proof is in this legislation. The only ones who asked for it were them. They got it and we cannot move it because we have another review. Not one expert witness came into the committee and said it needed to stay. The only argument for it to stay was that it was rarely used.
I am losing faith in this process because I went through the process of producing legislation and hoping it might be selected for debate. I was successful. The Minister asked me to give her a year and I said I would work with her on that. Did I get a phone call from the Department of Education at any point in those 12 months to talk about the admissions Bill? Of course I did not. Did the Minister seek a meeting with me to talk about the Bill in those 12 months? Of course she did not. We went through the facade of the education committee, which I prioritised in my time. The Minister brought in all these experts who prioritised their time to come in and offer their expertise on the basis for inequality which is in this Act. Then we bring it back here on a Thursday evening and the Minister tells me she needs more time and more school admission cycles.
Fundamentally, we have here proof that as long as those who want to lobby effectively for legislation to benefit them have deep pockets, it will work. The system will bend over backwards for them and when somebody identifies this as a problem, it will be reviewed to death until, hopefully, the likes of me lose faith.
For all the numerous successes I acknowledge the Minister has had in her role, this type of response on this Thursday evening in a pretty vacant Dáil Chamber makes me lose faith. The Minister has no answer as to why it should stay. She has no defence and no argument as to why one child should have a better chance of accessing school because of who their family is than another. It disproportionately hurts Travellers, those whose parents did not go to secondary school, those who do not come from the area and those who do not come from the country, yet it is stuck there in legislation because the private school sector wants it there and we will leave it there rather than use some energy to delete it.
My faith in the process is extinguished. The time the Minister is asking for now is the time I assumed she was using in the year she asked from me before this was moved on Second Stage. What was the point? What was the Minister doing in those 12 months? What was going on? Clearly, the Department does not want to change this provision and wants it to remain. Clearly, we think it is in concert and in tune with the ethics, values and vision of a republic that child A from family A has more rights because their father and grandfather went to school than child B, who has none of those advantages. I am exasperated to read a response such as that.
I do not know what difference my contribution will make or if it will make any difference. The Minister's response is an insult to me and my efforts, to the committee, to every expert who came into the committee and to the representatives of all the organisations who gave up time to attend the committee and to give presentations and analysis, every one of whom said it needed to go. It is an insult to all of them for the Minister to come in here, having had a year between November 2020 and November 2021 in which clearly the Department did nothing, and to tell me and other Deputies that she needs more time. She wants to review this amendment to death because she, I and Deputy Ó Murchú know that the private school sector gets what it wants when it clicks its fingers. That is fundamentally what this is about.
The Minister can have her review but she has lost my goodwill. When anybody asks me again about the potential for Government to work with Opposition to achieve something with ethics at its heart, I will have to tell them I am not sure if I have faith in it any more. You give good faith, and it is not afforded to you in return. You are reviewed and reviewed until you lose your good faith. All we are trying to achieve is that every child has the same opportunity.