Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Order of Business.
Kathryn Reilly (Sinn Fein)
I would like to second the amendment proposed by Senator Wilson. Members of this House often lament the announcement of Government decisions outside the Houses of the Oireachtas. We complain that we are often the last to know. We can imagine how the staff of the vocational education committees across the State felt last week when changes in their circumstances were communicated online, rather than personally and in advance of final decisions being made known.
I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate or question and answer session with the Minister for Education and Skills on the proposal to amalgamate various VECs and, specifically, on the location of the VECs' headquarters offices. A few issues relating to the amalgamation of VECs need to be thrashed out in these Houses before any legislation is introduced.
One of the specific issues to be addressed by the Minister is the criteria that were used when deciding on the locations of the VEC headquarters. Were the criteria decided on retrospectively? If two existing VECs were tied when the criteria were assessed, what deciding factors were considered? Were uniform criteria used across the State? Did the criteria depend on the area or case in question? It is important that there is as much transparency as possible in this process. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to that end.
As part of that important debate, we should discuss how the VEC amalgamations feed into the comprehensive spending review that is being undertaken. What is the extent of the saving to be made through the VEC amalgamation process? If new structures have to be put in place as a result of the amalgamation and location decisions, for example, if existing VEC headquarters have to be replaced, how exactly will net savings be made?
I would like a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills to be facilitated as soon as possible. Many questions have arisen as a result of the decisions that have been made. I would like to express my disgust at the manner in which the decision was communicated to the staff of the VECs. They were the last to know and had to find out from the Department's website.