Tuesday, 28 June 2005
Grangegorman Development Agency Bill 2004: Committee and Remaining Stages.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, 6, 9 and 11 are straightforward drafting amendments required to reflect current drafting practice. The amendments simply alter the references to the Schedules from First Schedule, Second Schedule, Third Schedule and Fourth Schedule to Schedule 1, Schedule 2, Schedule 3 and Schedule 4, respectively.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 10, subsection (1), line 6, after "with" to insert "the residents in the Grangegorman neighbourhood,".
Throughout Second Stage and the various contributions, both here and in the other House, there was widespread support for the idea that the residents in the immediate area of Grangegorman be consulted at every possible opportunity because of the impact of this huge development in a highly-residential area. It is important that the residents in the area would be kept on-side, so to speak, and remain supportive of the development. At every opportunity, they indicated their support for the project and warmly embraced it.
With regard to the strategy, section 12(1) states: "The Agency shall ... for the strategic development of the Grangegorman site in consultation with the Dublin Institute of Technology, the Health Service Executive, the Minister and the Minister for Health and Children." The list of bodies should include the Grangegorman representative and residents' groups. In all cases where reference was made in the Bill to the consultative group and the stakeholders, residents' groups were always included, but they are omitted in this instance. It would be appropriate if they were included.
I support the amendment, which is also in my name. Senator Ulick Burke and I were both briefed by the local people in the Grangegorman area. It is important that we include the residents of the Grangegorman neighbourhood if the plan is to be representative, which is the Minister's intention. I was lobbied by people from this area. Being a practical politician — I am sure the Minister will appreciate one must be fairly efficient — I e-mailed them, asking them to explain the reasons for the amendment, the effect of the amendment and the outcome of the amendment. I am happy to place their reply on the record of the House. It states:
Reason: The section is about the strategic plan, which the Agency is charged with developing after its establishment. The residents are excluded from the list of interested parties to be consulted for developing the plan.
Effect: Excluding the residents from the process would obviously lead to a deficient plan and certain problems for the future.
Outcome: The amendment would result in a more inclusive and therefore more relevant plan for the area.
If we want consultation, not to have the local residents involved in this consultative process from the start would be regrettable. As the lobby has come from these people, it should be actively considered by the Minister. I support Senator Burke's amendment, which I am happy to second.
It is important to remember the principal purpose of the Bill and the strategic plan, namely, to develop the campus for the Dublin Institute of Technology and to provide health care facilities for the Health Service Executive. Obviously, in devising the plan there should be consultation with the major stakeholders which are, of course, the Dublin Institute of Technology, the Health Service Executive and the relevant Ministers.
Where residents are directly and rightly involved — a member of the agency will be a resident — they are part of the consultative group, and they are involved at all stages which directly involve the local residents. As regards the involvement of major stakeholders, the strategic plan is literally the plan for the site. The Bill in its widest sense makes adequate provision for consultation with local residents and it is not necessary to include it in this section also.
The functions of the agency are listed at section 9. Section 9(k) states that one of its functions is to arrange for a communications strategy that will include among those involved "residents in the Grangegorman neighbourhood". Section 12 also refers to communications and strategic developments. The residents are interlinked with the process. By omitting them from this section, we do them a disservice. It is an indication that we will include them to a certain qualified extent, which is regrettable, if it is the intention of the Bill.
Throughout the Second Stage debate and on every other occasion when we referred to the involvement of the groups, "communications" was the key term, as well as the embracing of the stakeholders. The Minister could give priority to the major stakeholders, if that is her wish, but if she does so, she will create a tiered situation. I ask her to reconsider the issue. She should embrace the residents' groups on all matters or she will reduce their importance as stakeholders. The functions of the agency are listed at section 9 but the residents' groups are omitted at section 12. The Minister should reconsider the matter with a view to incorporating them.
To some extent I understand the Minister's reluctance to include too many people because boards and groups that expand too far can become unwieldy, which is inimical to democracy. However, in this case, only one person will represent the area. With regard to the strategic plan, in the 18th century there were regular rows between the citizens of Dublin and the University of Dublin, Trinity College — a kind of classical town and gown harangue or malaise went on. I am not suggesting anything quite as vigorous will happen in this regard but one wants the best possible relationship between local residents and a major, spectacular development such as this — it is an extremely positive development which we all welcomed on Second Stage. We do not want tension between this institution and the people representing surrounding areas.
As Senator Ulick Burke noted, this is important in terms of communications. It is also important because we all hope this development will be a splendid one, which will have a kind of integral development into the local community, which will have access to its various services. The site will have a large area of open parkland which, presumably, will be very pleasant for recreation, swimming pools may be developed as part of the apparatus on campus, and lecture theatres may be made available to the community. The intention is to make the best use of these facilities so the people of the neighbourhood know of them, have some input into the plan which will develop them and, I hope, use them. Therefore, it would be useful to have a representative of local residents so there will be, as Senator Burke stated, positive communication and a positive input in terms of development.
It would also avoid problems further down the line. As a fictitious example, should U2 favour the institute with a concert to raise funds for its new science laboratory or something like that, this might be agreed with the local residents if they were part of the decision-making process. However, if the idea was suddenly landed on them, all the ould biddies would be out banging bin lids or phoning their councillors to complain, "Oh, I couldn't sleep with the noise", and so on. That would be obviated at no great cost because the addition of one person would not overbalance matters in the context of a group of this size.
The Minister should not rule this out absolutely. While she is obviously not in the mood to be very yielding on the matter today, she might be prepared to reconsider it sympathetically so an amendment could be put down on Report Stage.
I see merit in Senator Burke's proposal. However, the Bill provides that the agency has a resident as a member and provides for a wide set of consultations involving local residents. Moreover, while the subparagraphs of section 12(2) have little or no relevance to consultation with local residents, section 12(3)(b) states that in preparing a draft of the strategic plan, the agency shall consult with a number of agencies, including the local community. There is a considerable degree of consultation involved, even at the stage referred to here, when the draft is being prepared. While there is some merit in the amendment the Minister has covered the matter comprehensively.
I am concerned about the ability to get things done, as suggested by good management practice. It would be good management practice to consult with people such as the residents when drawing up a plan but I am not sure it is wise to insist they have a right to be on the proposed group. We are trying to achieve an objective and there may be difficulties if we are forced to involve others, whose objective might not be the same, in the plan. The Minister is on the right footing in this regard. Those drawing up the plan will consult the local residents, rather than give them a say on the basis proposed by the amendment. As Senator Fitzgerald points out they are obliged to do so and, on balance, I support the Minister.
I support the amendment in principle. Much work is done in involving the public in consultation in preparing the draft and the period before the strategic plan is adopted. On Second Stage I pointed out that when we dealt with Adamstown the significance of the consultation process was that substantial amendments were made arising out of consultations with the community. This is provided for in section 12(4)(b) which states that the agency must "consider any submission or observations made to it under this subsection and not withdrawn and make such amendments or modifications (if any) to the draft development plan as it considers appropriate".
Very often people are sceptical about public consultation procedures, believing them to amount to a fait accompli and that nothing will happen as a result. I support the amendment although I agree that the section largely covers these concerns. What Senators Ulick Burke and Norris are trying to do is to emphasise the element by which the public is involved in the whole procedure. It is important that the consultation process does not just go through the motions because public input contributes to a good plan.
It is a good day for the Minister as she has support from the Opposition side of the House. As Senator Quinn said, she is correct in leaving matters as they stand. It is difficult dealing with different groups of residents and there is no way of knowing that one will not end up with four or six residents' groups.
While I can see the very good reasons for which Senators Ulick Burke and Norris have tabled this amendment, section 12(3) (b) covers the scenario, as well as section 12(3)(c), which states that the agency shall "make arrangements for the making of submissions by interested parties in relation to the draft and the consideration by the Agency of any such submissions".
It is interesting to see how the academic world will support the Dublin Institute of Technology. The major difficulty between a plan for Adamstown and a plan for the Grangegorman site is that Adamstown is a town. It is largely made up of residents and the facilities needed by those residents, which is why consultation with the major stakeholders, the community, is important. In Grangegorman the major stakeholders are the Dublin Institute of Technology and the HSE. These are the bodies that will occupy the site. That is the major difference between the two situations.
We have gone to great lengths to ensure that the local residents have been included at all stages. At the time the agency begins its consultation and its development of the strategic plan there will already be a resident appointed to it. The residents are involved in rather than outside the process. The consultative group is a further example of this.
We have also gone to great lengths on the matter of how to determine who is to be elected to the agency. In so far as we can facilitate the local community, recognising its major interests, we have done so. However, the principle users of this site are the people who should be consulted on the strategic plan.
The Minister referred to the comparison made with Adamstown and pointed out that Adamstown was a town. This project is unique in that it is in the middle of a residential area. The impact on the residents will be significant. I accept that the Minister has embraced the residents of the area and has recognised their importance, but in this instance they seem to be omitted. The Minister refers to the academic support for her position but she must acknowledge that the development will be within a residential area. As such the residents, having been granted the status of stakeholders, should be included in this.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 10, subsection (2)(i), line 30, after "of" to insert "related".
Having listed the objectives in the development plan the Minister refers to commercial activities. I would have preferred if the word "related" rather than "commercial" was used. Can the Minister explain what she had in mind when she refers to commercial activities, as opposed to those listed in the preceding paragraphs in section 12(2)? The fields of health, education, research and sporting facilities are referred to, therefore, it would be more appropriate to refer to "related" rather than "commercial" activities.
It is not intended that there be inappropriate commercial activity on the site. Commercial activity would be related to the Dublin Institute of Technology and the HSE. That might include enterprise incubatory units or research activities ancillary to the health or wider education services.
The scale and site of the development has already been referred to. Between students and staff there will be 23,000 people using this site. Clearly, commercial activities will be needed. It might be something as simple as a bookshop, a coffee shop or a restaurant, or it might be incubatory units. Including the term "related" might be restrictive so I do not propose to accept the amendment, even though I am sure it was not intended to hinder the work of the agency. It is not our intention to include inappropriate commercial activities either.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 15, lines 1 and 2, to delete subsection (4) and substitute the following new subsection:
"(4) The Agency will elect a chairperson at its first meeting.".
Section 17(4) provides that "The Minister shall designate one member of the Agency as chairperson".
That will be seen as an undemocratic way of appointing a chairperson. A designation means it is in the control of the Minister rather than it being a democratic decision of the agency. It would be normal in most agencies that at the first meeting the members would democratically appoint a chairperson. If the Minister designates one member of the agency as chairperson, that will be seen as undemocratic in so far as it may deny certain representative groups a choice. I am sure that each and every member of the agency to be finally be appointed would have the capacity to act as an able chairperson. I hope the Minister takes another look at this.
Amendment No. 8 proposes that there be two residents of the Grangegorman neighbourhood rather than one appointed to the agency. I hope the Minister considers this as many requests have been made to her in this regard. While I know this may be cumbersome, the Minister has already indicated the number that should be on the agency. If we are serious about the importance of the project, which will be the largest educational project in the history of the State, it is important that the people directly affected are brought together, from academic representatives to all the stakeholders. Therefore, it is important to have two residents' representatives on the agency and that they be elected from their own grouping.
I support this amendment. Both Senator Ulick Burke and I have received similar requests in this regard. Amendment No. 7 deals with the position of chairperson of the agency. Under the Bill as it is currently framed, the Minister nominates the chairperson rather than allowing the agency choose its chairperson. In many groups, and I have been associated with one or two, it is left to the incoming board or agency to elect its chairperson. This gives a satisfactory degree of independence which is necessary for good operation of a business.
The effect of the Bill as it stands, which is perhaps unintentional, is to reduce the perceived independence of the chairperson as the Minister's nominee. It would be better and more transparent to reassure people of independence by allowing the agency to elect its chairperson. Although a chairperson nominated by the Minister may well win the hearts and minds of his or her fellow members of the board, they must go through a process of so doing because of having been imposed from outside. However, if the group elects its chairperson, there is automatic and immediate good will towards him or her. This is a cogent reason for acceptance of this amendment. I also support the other amendments proposed by Senator Ulick Burke.
The problem I see with electing a chairperson is that the agency is a very disparate group. On the day, it is difficult, even if members are given resumés in advance, to know where people stand and this must be taken into consideration. While I would love to see two residents selected, I have a concern about people being elected from the area because I do not know who the electorate will be or the criteria for getting on the election panel. Would a local representative be elected? We need to think carefully about such matters.
I have been on boards, for example Comhairle na nOspidéal, where the chairperson was selected by the Minister and not elected. Some chairpersons won the hearts and minds of the rest of us, but others did not. Comhairle na nOspidéal is the nearest I can think of to the sort of grouping that will be on this agency. When we came together, I did not know 80% of the people on it and I am sure the same is true for most of the others. Electing people about whom one knows very little is difficult, even with a resumé.
Senator Henry took the words from my mouth in saying the board is a very disparate group. It arises because the members represent very different interests. We need as a chairperson somebody who can be above any of the individual interests but who has a vision for the whole area. We need somebody who will not represent solely the education, health or residents' interests but a person with an overview. The representatives as set out may not have that.
I too have seen various bodies that have elected their chairperson. In some cases the vested interests got together and elected someone from one group as chairperson and someone from the other group as vice-chairperson. As a result it became a closed shop. I will give serious consideration as to the type of person who should be chairperson of this agency. It must be a person who has the skills to consult, the vision for the site and the leadership qualities to bring everybody with him or her. It is a challenging position and as the agency will be there for approximately ten years we must ensure we have somebody who can give that kind of commitment.
With regard to the amendment suggesting we change from one resident representative on the agency, if I changed that I would have to double up on some of the others also and the agency would become unwieldy. We must keep our focus on the main purpose of the agency. I have been careful to ensure that local residents are included and involved at all stages of the consultation.
I compliment the Minister. It is refreshing to have somebody in the House who is completely in charge of the material and who gives cogent reasons for and against views expressed in the House. It is always good to have a Minister who knows what is going on and who does not have to just read notes passed to him or her. She has a clear grasp and positive view of how the legislation should proceed.
I wish the Minister luck and see the validity of what she has said. In the designation of chairpersons to boards, many of her predecessors did not show the foresight the Minister has in this instance. I hope the appointed chairperson in this area will have the qualities and essential characteristics necessary to deal with the various representative bodies on the board.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 15, subsection (10), lines 34 and 35, to delete ", in the Minister's opinion," and substitute ", it can be demonstrated that,".
When one hears that a member of an agency or a board has been dismissed by a Minister, one immediately thinks that a serious misdemeanour must have occurred. That has not always been the case, however. Such people have been removed in the past after Ministers became concerned about simple differences of opinion with individuals who had previously been appointed, selected or elected to a State agency or board. It is important, for that reason, that the Minister adopt a "hands-off" approach in this instance, as far as possible, when members of the proposed development agency are being appointed. The Bill currently states that a member of the agency may be removed if he or she has "committed stated misbehaviour". It could be argued that such behaviour includes an expression of disagreement with a policy being pursued by a Minister or a ministerial appointee, as opposed to those selected, elected or appointed from outside bodies. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment.
I do not like this section of the Bill. The Minister and I may come to blows over it. I do not believe that it is appropriate to provide in legislation, as this Bill does, for "the Minister's opinion" about what is a matter of fact. That somebody has "committed stated misbehaviour" is or is nor a matter of fact. It is not a matter of opinion — it is a matter of fact. The Bill gives the Minister very swingeing powers by stating that a person can be removed if "his or her removal appears to the Minister to be necessary for the effective performance by the Agency of its functions". Is it the case that the Minister does not have to give a reason? The Bill states that the Minister can make a decision if it "appears" to him or her that it is necessary. I remind the Minister that apparitions can be fairly dangerous and cannot be relied upon.
The Bill also provides that a person can be removed from the agency in cases of "ill health". How can a Minister for Education and Science have a proper, informed or professionally competent opinion about somebody's health? The Minister might see that person once in a blue moon, if at all. I am reminded of the late Stanley Holloway's "My Word You Do Look Queer". I am sure the Minister will excuse the levity. It seems that a member of the agency can be dismissed if the Minister says, in effect, "my word, you don't look well". I think it is absolutely daft. I hope we call a vote on this amendment if the Minister does not show herself to be yielding.
I am not trying to protect my profession. I get worried when people other than medical professionals give opinions on whether someone has become "incapable through ill-health of performing his or her functions". This section of the Bill is loosely worded. If a member of the proposed agency becomes really difficult, it will be easy for the Minister to say that the problem with her is that she is very ill and that she should go. The current Minister, Deputy Hanafin, would never act in such a manner. I would be grateful if she could outline some very good reasons for giving a future Minister sweeping powers to remove a person from the agency.
I presume it is implicit in this section that the Minister will have to reasonably hold the opinion on which he or she bases the decision to remove a member of the proposed agency. Can the Minister refer to any similar precedent in other legislation?
I would like to respond to the last point made by Senator Tuffy. Members are engaging in a degree of wild speculation about the ulterior motives which may inform the actions of a future Minister. They have suggested that such a Minister might use ill health as an excuse to remove a member of the proposed agency. Senator Brady put it cogently when he said that a Minister could not declare in a public and transparent manner that he or she was removing a certain member of the agency on the grounds of ill health if details of that ill health, which would have to be clearly causing the member of the agency to be unable to perform at a reasonable capacity, were not well known within the agency.
I consulted the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel in anticipation of this learned debate, which I did not expect to be so flattering. I was informed that it would be inappropriate to change the wording of this section because it is a "standard provision". This section should not be amended because the proposed agency will be bound by the rules of administrative law and the principles of natural and constitutional justice, which already require that adequate grounds must exist for the removal of a person from his or her job and that the reasons for such a removal must be stated. Therefore, the agency must act reasonably if one of its members is dismissed. I cannot accept the amendment for that reason.
The Minister has said that this is a "standard provision", but I remind her that we are familiar with variations from standard practice. I cannot give the exact time and date of instances in the quite recent past when all the members of a board or an agency were dismissed. I do not know whether such decisions were taken on the basis of "the Minister's opinion", on the basis of "ill health" or on the basis of a simple difference of opinion, as I said initially. I remind the House that people were removed from boards, or decided to leave such boards after undue pressure was placed on them by Ministers, possibly through their representatives on particular boards, on three or four occasions in the fairly recent past. The concerns expressed must be taken on board so that we will get clarity on what the Minister can or cannot do in certain instances.
While the Minister outlines a cogent position, I would like to comment on a couple of matters. The first relates to the situation explored by my colleague, Senator Tuffy, namely, inviting the Minister to advise the House on whether this is novel legislation. While it is very informative and helpful in an historical sense, it does not mean the House must accept uncritically these provisions; very often they are just shoved in as a matter of form because they have always been there. When highlighting issues in this House, I recall on a number of occasions over the past 20 years being told that it has always been the case, that as something is almost a regulation, we will shove it in as a matter of form. We managed to indicate situations where this was not appropriate. It is always useful to know if a Bill is novel legislation, if provisions work successfully or have caused problems, but this is not a blanket answer. I am pleased the Minister did not offer a blanket answer or state that just because it is in other legislation, it must be immune from critical scrutiny in Seanad Éireann.
A good chairman who is well trained will know what are the principles of administrative law and natural justice and will apply them. This is a very serious board. We are not talking about the local committee where someone is asked to leave, which may be what Senator Burke is talking about. An agency which is set up by the State and appointed by the Minister must be bound by all legal and constitutional provisions. For that reason, good reasons would have to be given for removing someone and they would have to stand over the decision.
I welcome what the Minister said, particularly that there must be a statement of the reasons for dismissing a member of the agency. Presumably, the person to be dismissed can review the reasons, and if he or she feels there is something wrong with them, or the publication of the reasons or the fact that they have been dismissed constitutes a libel, they can have recourse to the courts. This gives some comfort, particularly in terms of natural justice and so on.
I recall a incident some years ago relating to the IFSC. When the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, dismissed a couple of people, there was a huge stink about it. One cannot always avoid trouble in these matters. If one is a member of an agency, it is very unpleasant to be dismissed. It is definitely a black mark and something quite negative for anyone to be dismissed in that way. This is something which would have to be considered seriously. I am somewhat reassured by the Minister's remarks.
There is a safeguard in subsection (12). If a person were removed by the Minister, the person to be appointed in place of that person would still be picked in the same manner as the person who was removed. For example, the councillors elect members of Dublin City Council and, therefore, would also elect a member's replacement.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 18, subsection (7), line 32, to delete "the Chairperson of".
It is strange that the Minister said the consultative group should report to the chairperson of the agency rather than to the agency in full. Is it linked to the fact that the chairperson has not been designated initially by the Minister? Is there some reason for pre-examination of the report prior to it going to the agency in full? There is an element of confinement if the original report is sent solely to the chairperson. If reports are sent to a body, they should be sent to all the members who have equal status. The normal procedure would be to present it to the chairperson for distribution to each member. Is it significant that the report will be sent to the chairperson of the agency at such times as it considers appropriate? There is an element of restriction in this regard and I hope it will be changed. The amendment seeks to remove the element of restriction and include the agency as a whole rather than just the chairperson.
I support Senator Burke's amendment. My concern is that presenting the report to the chairperson alone will create the possibility for the chairperson to withhold all or part of the report from members of the board. No one should think this is a farfetched idea. For example, it happened in the neighbouring island at Cabinet level. It is perfectly clear that the advice of the Attorney General was not made available to the Cabinet concerning the Iraq war. Ten days elapsed between the provision of the Attorney General's report on the legality or otherwise of the Iraq war to Mr. Blair, as chairperson of the board, namely, the Cabinet, and the report being made available to the Cabinet; Mr. Blair deliberately withheld it. A castrated and politically useful version of the report was made available to the Cabinet on a limited basis ten days later.
We have had a situation where the Minister, Deputy Michael McDowell, indicated that, even though he is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he was not able to get hold of a full copy of the Carty report, which placed him in difficulties. In this very House, the then Cathaoirleach, the late Seán Doherty, lost a case in which I was involved, because he concealed part of a report containing legal advice which indicated that I was right and he was wrong. These are three political examples where parts of a report have been withheld — by a Prime Minister in Britain and a Cathaoirleach in this House and from a Minister.
I would like the Minister to give us a reassurance, if possible, that we could not have a situation where all or part of a report is withheld from the full board. Alternatively, perhaps she will give us clear examples of where it is in the general public interest where all or part of a report should be withheld. I cannot imagine such circumstances but perhaps the Minister has a more fertile imagination than I possess.
As the project progresses there will be adequate interaction between the agency as a whole and the consultative group, which is made up of various bodies including most of those referred to in section 12 in the context of consultation on the strategic plan.
This provision is included for practical reasons and for those of efficiency. Rather than be obliged under the legislation to convene a full meeting of the agency the consultative group can liaise directly with the chairperson. That is standard procedure in most large organisations where, as in this case, there are a number of stakeholders in the overall aggregate group. To seek to oblige the consultative group to consult the agency each time it wants to prepare an interim report or a draft consultation would be inflexible and would impose constraints on the process as defined in section 22.
The examples cited as potential problems are exaggerated. In addition to the point made by Senator Brady, section 22(5) — it states "The Agency may at any time dissolve the Consultative Group appointed under subsection (3)"— provides a safeguard so there is no reason for alarm. The provision is pragmatic and promotes efficiency, maintaining the right focus in a process that is complex and wide-ranging. It might be necessary from time to time for the consultative group to sound out the chairperson of the agency.
We suggested that the group report directly to the chairperson in order to give it status, so that it could go straight to the top, rather like reporting to a Minister instead of officials, or to the Taoiseach instead of a Minister. There is nothing to preclude the chairperson or the group itself from giving the report to every member of the agency. There is nothing to preclude the chairperson or chief executive of the agency from inviting the consultative group to make a presentation, therefore, I do not see parallels in some of the examples Senator Norris gave. Giving the group a direct reporting mechanism was designed to strengthen it.
That is helpful, as were the contributions from colleagues on the Government benches. Senators Brady and Fitzgerald indicated that this would often be an informal situation involving some discussion. I envisaged a printed report or some form of written record.
The Minister's response that there is nothing to prevent the chairperson making such a report available worries me. I expected that this would be virtually automatic. I suggest the Minister considers tabling her own amendment requiring the chairperson to make it available to the rest of the board. I have sat on a number of boards and would be unhappy if information was withheld because it is impossible to make proper decisions in such circumstances.
The Minister's response that the chairperson may make a written report available opens up the strong possibility that it may not. I would be unhappy serving on a board where I was asked to take positions and make decisions on matters where I did not have full disclosure of the information, especially a document as significant as a consultant's report. If, as seems possible from the Minister's response, such a report could be withheld from members of the board how can it possibly function efficiently?
None of us are so full of ourselves as to insist on acceptance of our own amendments but I would like to see the issue addressed. If the Minister shares my view that members of the board would not be in a position to act responsibly if they did not have full information — there may be an adequate reason why she does not — she might include a phrase to that effect. The Minister's reference to the status of the group being enhanced by the report being presented to the chairperson is a good point but the chairperson should in all but the most exceptional circumstances, of which I have not yet heard examples, make a printed report available to all the members of the board.
I can see why there are concerns about this but I understood the Minister to say that while the consultative group must give the report to the chairperson there is nothing to stop it from giving the report to everyone on the board. I am a little worried that the chair of the consultative group has to be the chief executive of the agency.
It is largely because the chief executive of the agency, or another person nominated by him or her, should be the chairperson it is appropriate that the reporting mechanisms are as they are. The person nominated by the chief executive shall not report back to the chief executive. That is an extra safeguard. As Senator Henry clarified, the consultative group can give the report to whomsoever it likes but the formal reporting is to the chairperson. This is the most efficient way of doing it and it strengthens their hand.
The fact that, as the Minister said, the chief executive can give it to whomever he or she wishes creates the potential for selectivity and restrictiveness, as mentioned by Senator Henry. Certain difficulties could arise on the reporting side. As Senators Norris and Fitzgerald said, a written report would be welcome and would be standard practice. I have reservations that it might be released selectively.
Senator Brady has made the point I was about to make. It is a very inclusive group. I do not accept Senator Burke's point that it would be restrictive, depending on who was the chairperson. The list contains public representatives, patients and providers of healthcare services, Dublin City Council, the Dublin Institute of Technology, members of staff of the DIT, the student body of the DIT, the Health Service Executive, the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and any other body the agency or the Minister considers relevant. It is a very broadly based group. That will ensure that it cannot be narrow or restrictive and, if nobody else will, they will ensure their voice is heard by the agency.
In that case, there should not be a difficulty about requiring such a report to be distributed to all members of the board because the Minister does not envisage circumstances in which that could fail to occur. Various groups and a number of Opposition Members are concerned there could be circumstances in which this could be withheld. It would not create a significant difficulty for us all to go along the lines suggested by the Minister and make it available to everybody. We are suggesting the insertion of a provision in the legislation, which the Minister assumes will be the practical situation on the ground and, therefore, there is no conflict between us. Perhaps the Minister will consider this before Report Stage.
Many different and disparate groups will be represented on the consultative group and it will be impossible for them to keep their mouths shut. They are, therefore, bound to tell others what is in the report because they will report back to the groups they represent and everybody in the agency as well as in the entire district is likely to know.
The subsection is broad enough as it states, "The consultative group shall report to the chairperson at such time as it considers appropriate". There may be times when it will not make a written report or when something has arisen and the group meets the chairperson to update him or her. However, if a provision is inserted that a report of such a meeting should be circulated to all the members, will the chairperson have to write a report, return to the consultative group to have it agreed when the group may only have been tipped off about something that needs to be addressed? Formal correspondence with the chairperson should be circulated to all members of the agency but if somebody seeks advice verbally, it could not be circulated.
I accept absolutely the Minister's comments and we are achieving a certain degree of clarification. However, she might consider inserting a form of words along the lines of "in the case of a written report being presented, it shall be made available to members of the board". Is there a difficulty with that?
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 18, lines 35 to 37, to delete subsection (8) and substitute the following new subsection
"(8) The Consultative Group will elect a chairperson at its first meeting."
Section 22(8) states, "The chief executive of the agency or other person nominated by him or her shall be the chairperson of the consultative body". A democratic decision of the consultative body will be denied as a result. The Minister has indicated a super agency representative of various groups will be established. However, all members of the agency will not have the same competence. Each member should have the same status and ability but the Minister stated the chief executive must have super qualities. The chief executive or his or her nominee will appoint the chairperson of the consultative body. The Minister is denying the consultative group the opportunity to elect its own chairperson. She can say she is not sure about who might emerge from within the group but if an agency or board is to work well, its members should have confidence in each other regarding their ability to act as chairperson and they should have equal status. For that reason, I have tabled the amendment.
Most of the ground has been covered on this issue. To ask the consultative group to elect a chairperson at its first meeting is to expect nigh on the impossible. The Minister made a perfectly reasonable suggestion that the chief executive of the agency and the chairperson of the consultative group should be extremely focused and they should have the competence to take on the process of consultation regarding various aspects of the development in a focused and efficient manner. In the absence of that, subsequent generations could be left to discuss the final stages of the agency's work. The agency's work should be expedited in the most professional, efficient and cost-effective manner and in the briefest time possible.
As Senator Fitzgerald remarked, we teased out the principle underpinning this part of the legislation earlier so I will not exasperate my colleagues or the Minister further. I support the amendment for the reasons previously stated regarding the perception of independence but I understand the Minister's position on this issue.
The chairperson of the consultative group will have to be as skilled as the chief executive of the agency but in a different way. A person will be sought who can organise a listening process to take on all the views of the various stakeholders covered by the legislation and assimilate them. It is provided in the legislation that the chief executive of the agency could decide to be the chairperson of the consultative group, thereby making a direct link between the agency and the group, or he or she could appoint somebody else. The last thing I want is a vested interest emerging from the process who may then only carry back what he or she wants to hear as opposed to what was said. Somebody is needed who can take an overview, particularly in a consultation process as broad as this.
I am concerned by the Minister's comment about vested interests. The appointees to the board should have equal status and work well under the direction of the chairperson. However, the chairperson, who will be designated by the Minister, could have a vested interest. How can the Minister be confident that the appointee will not have a vested interest? The Minister stated he or she will have specific skills but that implies she doubts the capacity and ability of the other board members, who should have equal status regardless of their background, to take on the role of chairperson. I am concerned by that attitude.
The chairperson will be designated by the chief executive of the agency or a person nominated by him or her, not the Minister. I do not have a role in this, good, bad or indifferent. In the election of such bodies, one sector of a vested interest could come together to ensure its man gets the job whereas I hope the chief executive, if he takes the position, will be above all that and will see the bigger picture to ensure that could not happen or to ensure his appointee will not represent a specific interest. Everybody could come together and decide to elect the representative of the local residents but he or she could have issues at variance with the educational or health interests of the campus or vice versa. We want to ensure that does not result from the consultative process because everybody's objective views must be taken on board. The subsection provides for this.
Yet again we, as Members of the Oireachtas, are removing ourselves from pleasurable bodies such as this agency. I do not understand why in the Oireachtas we make ourselves unsuitable for so many bodies. I comment on this because it happens all the time.
The provision in this section that the chief executive, or member of staff of the agency, if he or she is nominated to Seanad Éireann or elected to either House is seconded from his or her job for up to ten years is a good one. That should apply to all civil servants. As I understand it, a civil servant must give up his or her job in order to become a Deputy, Senator or Member of the European Parliament.
The Senators have a point. We are fortunate that Deputy Hanafin is the Minister piloting this Bill because of the detailed knowledge she has of the DIT. She has a broad outlook and depth of experience and knowledge of its workings. Conversely, however, while we all expressed the wish today that this Minister would retain her portfolio in perpetuity, if she chose no longer to be Minister for Education and Science she could bring a wealth of experience to the agency if, while still a Member of the Oireachtas, she was in a position to become a member of the agency.
I support Senator Henry's comments. This is a point pioneered by our colleague, Senator O'Toole, who finds it offensive that as Members of the Oireachtas we should be excluded from such agencies.
My one point of dissent from Senator Henry's comment is her use of the phrase "pleasurable bodies". I would take no pleasure in such a body. The bodies in which I would take pleasure would be radically different from this one but God bless Senator Henry for finding pleasure in such an area.
I thank Senator Fitzgerald for his kind comments. He and I soldiered together in the VEC and DIT, starting exactly 20 years ago this month. Coming from the perspective of the Department of Education and Science, we probably treated the chief executive of the agency as a teacher who could be seconded while a member of the Oireachtas. While that does not apply generally across the Civil Service it is possible for academic staff and teachers to be seconded. That must have been the frame of mind informing this provision although I do not know exactly how it came about.
This agency has many health aspects but the same principle does not apply to members who are consultants in the health service, as the former Deputy Moosajee Bhamjee and I discovered when we tried to take leave from our positions. The principle of secondment is selective.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 30, line 16, to delete "Arran Quay A,".
Senators Fitzgerald, Tuffy and I visited the site of the proposed campus at Grangegorman a year ago. There is a strong bond among the residents in the local community. We met a representative group but I am not sure that the community is as extensive as that listed in the Second Schedule.
From the outset I was conscious of ensuring we got the balance right in the definition of the Grangegorman neighbourhood. There was a long debate about this in the other House because there was concern to ensure that those in closest proximity to the site would have a greater say than those who live further from it.
In response to that debate we tabled an amendment to the definition of the neighbourhood. The map was circulated in the ante-room to the Chamber. The neighbourhood consists of eight electoral wards: Arran Quay, wards A to E, inclusive; Inns Quay wards, B and C, and Cabra East, ward C.
The location of DIT will have a significant impact on the area, in terms of education and training, recreational and sports facilities, rebuilding of the area and the transport facilities, and so on. We wanted to make sure the balance was right and that those residents most affected by, and who would benefit most from, the project would be the people most included. That is why we are using the definition in the schedule.
(ii) community groups and associations, including resident and tenants associations, parish and district associations and groups, youth and sports clubs, and similar non-commercial groups in the Grangegorman neighbourhood to register as an interested 'registered group' for the Consultative Group election.".
In page 31, to delete all words from and including "of" where it secondly occurs in line 29 down to and including "Group" in line 33 and substitute "of the registered groups ('election meeting'), in respect of the Agency election and the Consultative Group election, to take place as soon as practicable after the expiry of the registration period. The purpose of each election meeting shall be the election of the residents' nominee to the Agency and the 2 residents' members of the Consultative Group, respectively".
"7. (1) Where, for whatever reason, following the conduct of arrangements in accordance with the provisions of this Schedule, a residents' nominee to the Agency or a residents' member of the Consultative Group cannot be elected, then the chairperson may provide for a fresh registration period to facilitate the registration of additional registered groups as provided in paragraph 2 of this Schedule and shall call for fresh nominations for appointment to the Agency or to the Consultative Group and cause a fresh election to be held in accordance with the provision of this Schedule as soon as practicable thereafter.
(2) If the subsequent arrangements for an election fail to yield a residents' nominee to the Agency or a residents' member of the Consultative Group, then the chairperson shall provide for a fresh registration period to facilitate the registration of additional registered groups as provided in paragraph 2 of this Schedule. The chairperson shall call for fresh nominations for appointment to the Agency or to the Consultative Group and cause a further election to be held in accordance with the provision of this Schedule, provided however that the chairperson may at his or her discretion waive the requirement for nominees to be nominated by at least 2 registered groups.".
I thank the Minister and his staff for all their help regarding this Bill. We are lucky to be here to discuss what is probably the greatest indication of the commitment of State resources to a single educational project. It is a great achievement that it brings together scattered facilities from around the city into one campus. That it is going into the inner city of Dublin makes it unique. The acid test of commitment will be the provision of funding and support to allow the completion of the project within the timescale outlined.
We must bear in mind that with the amalgamation of so many different groups of people and staff who previously operated in individual areas there will obviously be difficulties. Even the amalgamation of two small schools has always caused difficulties, although perhaps not concern. It is important that whatever requests are made of the Minister or the Department by representative groups be dealt with quickly and efficiently by whatever means, whether they be demands for resources, support mechanisms or facilities. They should receive a speedy response to offset any difficulties that may arise because of this very significant amalgamation.
If one has approximately 20,000 students and all the staff on one campus, there will be problems. To get around them as quickly as possible, ironing them out to the satisfaction of all involved, is one matter. Another thing that comes to mind immediately is that this Bill will provide an opportunity in what has been a disadvantaged area for far greater participation by many who would not have had access to an educational facility, in this case, third level. It was noted on Second Stage that people have already established links between primary and secondary schools in the area. They are all important, but most important of all thereafter is that we will have far greater access for people in this area. We have all mentioned in the House over the years that such people have been denied access.
I hope for that reason that the Bill's provisions are fully successful. That will entirely depend on the commitment of the Minister and Government of the day to the provision of resources.
It is fitting and appropriate that Deputy Mary Hanafin should be the Minister to bring this Bill before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Perhaps I might indulge in some brief reminiscences. I was honoured to serve on the VEC-DIT with Deputy Mary Hanafin. I do not know if I am allowed to talk about someone not present, but perhaps Senator Tuffy might give me permission through the Chair to mention her father, who was the third level education officer in DIT during our reign on the VEC-DIT. I mean it as a compliment rather than to cause offence. It is both appropriate and interesting that the Minister, Senator Tuffy and I are monitoring the passage of this Bill. Deputy Carey succeeded me as chairman of the VEC in 1988. I hope that I am not leaving anyone out.
I congratulate the Minister. It is great to see that, only months into her term, she has brought forward this phenomenon, which must be the biggest single educational project in the history of the State. I compliment the Taoiseach and the Minister's predecessor. They had the tremendous vision of an array of possibilities and potential, bringing 39 complexes from over 30 sites into a single complex in the north inner city of Dublin. I pay tribute to the Taoiseach and those in the Government at that time who created that vision and decided to pursue it.
If I may I wish to go back before them to the tremendous vision of the pioneers of vocational and technical education. They had such an innovative, pioneering spirit that, charged with responsibility for second level vocational education, they envisioned the evolution of that spirit into third level. To have that, they must also have had a tremendous vision of the phenomenal contribution those areas of vocational and technical education, and related areas of the sciences, would make to the future development of the country. If they were only alive today — I suppose that some still are — they would see the phenomenal contribution the DIT in particular, the biggest third level institution in the State, is making to the Irish economy.
I salute the DIT for its varied specialties, its precedents and the pioneering areas it has developed and brought to the fore. It has achieved firsts and exclusives in several areas. It has never excluded people, having always promoted inclusion. I congratulate the Minister and the DIT. This is a new dawn for third level education. I do not care whether the organisation pushes for university status. It has created such a unique and distinctive place —"niche" connotes something small — in third level education, contributing to and linked with technological, industrial and commercial life, that it has already made its statement. I wish it well from here.
I too congratulate the Minister on introducing this legislation and having it passed by both Houses so rapidly. I am sure the help of her officials was invaluable. Practical legislation of this sort is incredibly important. This Bill injects life into that area in Grangegorman which has been very run down for many years. It should make a great difference to the people of the area. I take particular joy in the fact that it is going to make such a difference to the Dublin Institute of Technology.
I spoke on Second Stage about my admiration for all those who have worked in the various schools in the DIT. Senator Fitzgerald is right to talk about those involved in vocational education such as Eamon Tuffy, and the effort put in by so many. The various schools within the institute benefited not only the country but also many individuals. The institute transformed the lives of many to perhaps a far greater extent than was the case with most of our universities for many decades. I heartily congratulate all involved in the Dublin Institute of Technology on what they have done and will do in the future.
I should have mentioned my special interest in this area when I spoke on Second Stage. I lectured in physiology at the Kevin Street facility for a time. It was new at that stage, an indication of how long ago it was, and we were tripping over building blocks. I ask the Minister to keep in mind the pleas of Senator Ormonde and I that we should not be obliged to attend the opening of the new facility at Grangegorman on zimmer frames. I support Senator Ulick Burke in urging that the resources be provided to allow the agency to proceed with its work as quickly as possible.
The Third Schedule might suggest that by the time all these properties are sold, it should be possible to build as magnificent a campus as could be desired. However, I am sure the Minister will have to provide additional resources. I look forward to seeing how the legislation is brought to fruition. I congratulate the Minister and all those from the Dublin Institute of Technology who have done such work in the past and will now enjoy the benefits of suitable accommodation.
Senator Fitzgerald raised the issue of university status. Many graduates of the Dublin Institute of Technology were happy to be constituents of mine as a consequence of having their degrees conferred by Trinity College. It is only for a short time that this has not been the case and we must look to the future in this regard. I hope those involved in the DIT will remember that they do not have to set up a university of their own.
I congratulate the Minister and her staff on this legislation. Much thought and effort has gone into the construction of the Bill and its passage through the Houses. I also congratulate the president of Dublin Institute of Technology, Professor Norton, and his staff, who have had a significant impact on the legislation. I wish them well for the future. I spend much time in the immediate area of Grangegorman and it is clear there is great anticipation in terms of what is to come. There is also a significant amount of goodwill and this will be borne out as the project develops.
The way the legislation has been framed and the consultation that is taking place will prove to be beneficial in the long run. It has already been observed that this project represents the single greatest investment in third level education in the history of the State. It will be implemented over seven to ten years and there will undoubtedly be problems. The work begins now in establishing the agency. However, as a consequence of the thought and effort that have gone into the framing of the legislation, any problems that arise will be dealt with as efficiently and speedily as possible. I wish the Dublin Institute of Technology well and thank the Minister for her input.
I thank the Minister and her staff for bringing forward this Bill and for all the work they have done. My father, Eamon Tuffy, would be flattered to be mentioned in this debate. I agree with Senator Fitzgerald regarding the pioneering work of the VEC-DIT over many years. As I said on Second Stage, this is a tradition that must be continued and built upon. Institutions such as University College Dublin are very much following in the wake in terms of the type of work done by facilities such as those in Bolton Street and Kevin Street, particularly in the areas of part-time and further education.
I have already raised the issue of the reduction in numbers of part-time students in Dublin Institute of Technology and it is a matter that has also been raised with the Minister by Deputy O'Sullivan in the Dáil. That reduction may be taking place in a particular context and blame cannot be apportioned to anybody in particular in this regard. However, it is important that this issue should be examined by the institute authorities and the Minister because it goes against all the advice form OECD and other bodies. We should be building up the numbers of part-time students in the institute.
This is a unique and significant project but the manner of its devising has been worthwhile and it is an approach that should be taken with other projects. There may be other instances when it is useful to establish an agency to promote and sponsor a particular project and develop a strategic way of planning its implementation on an ongoing basis. This is not something that has been done often in the past, with the exceptions of Adamstown and the Dublin docklands. It is important that large projects are undertaken in a strategic way rather than taking a piecemeal or ad hoc approach to planning. The outcome will be all the better for that.
The Minister said this project does not compare to Adamstown but it has a similar effect in the sense that it involves a significant development in the middle of an area that is already developed. Adamstown was a largely residential town but those who made an input to its development were not necessarily going to live there. The same applies to the development at the Grangegorman site. The residents may not necessarily work or study there, although it is to be hoped that many of them will do so.
In any case, they have a vested interest in how the site turns out. The provisions are there to facilitate consultation with the local community and it is important that this takes place. There is often some reluctance to allow this of consultation. For example, South Dublin County Council was apprehensive about the outcome of the process of consultation which took place in regard to Adamstown but went ahead and took on board the views of the various interested parties. The plan that was produced out of this process was all the better for that consultation and I hope the same will happen in regard to the development of the Dublin Institute of Technology site. The local community should have a major and ongoing part in the development of the DIT.
I thank Members for their careful consideration of the Bill. It is the better for the debate that took place here and in the Dáil and some important sections have been improved by virtue of the points raised in both Houses. I join Senators in thanking my departmental officials who have put an enormous amount of time into consulting with interested parties on this and ensuring the legislation would be appropriate and acceptable to so many different people. We must bear in mind that this major development is important not only for the educational institution involved but will also have a significant positive impact across the northside of Dublin.
I remind Members that many people have been involved in formulating this legislation and that it was my predecessor who published it. In providing for the appointment of the development agency it is only the first step. There is much work to be done in securing the necessary financing and working through the development of the site.
As I said on Second Stage, the greatest champion of Grangegorman is the Taoiseach and there is no better person to have on one's side. He is driving this and wants to ensure the development takes place. I look forward to ensuring that we can move quickly in this regard. I too hope we will not have to wait until Senator Henry is using a zimmer frame before the facility is opened and that I will be in a position to open it.