Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Commencement Matters

Appointments to State Boards

2:30 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills to the House. I call on Senator Mac Conghail and he has four minutes.

Photo of Fiach MacConghailFiach MacConghail (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and thank her for coming here at short notice. I am sure she is aware of the concern that the arts and education communities have about the fragile governance of the National College of Art and Design which has been without a board for almost five months. That situation is without precedence, particularly when one considers that only last Friday I attended the final graduates' exhibition of some wonderful postgraduate and graduate students. The college has an extraordinary and wonderful atmosphere. The college has no board and there is an extraordinary disarray between the directorate and the students due to a lack of trust. The breakdown of trust between the students and the directorate has been further exacerbated by the fact that the Minister has not appointed a board in five months. Today I heard rumours about the matter and hope we will hear good news. When will the Minister appoint a board? Why has there been a delay? A five month delay in appointing any State board is an extraordinary omission and is of concern to the students I spoke to on Friday evening. Where were the board vacancies advertised? it was quite difficult for me to find where those vacancies were advertised. Was it throughpublicjobs.ie, or theStateboards.ie.? Does the Minister consider it is acceptable in terms of governance that the Department of Education and Skills has left the NCAD organisation without a board for so long?

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I thank Senator Mac Conghail for raising this issue, which is very important for students and staff of the National College of Art and Design.

As Members know the new guidelines for appointments to State boards were approved by Government in November 2014 and provided for the new State boards website to be put in place. The State boards website was launched earlier this year and is now operational.

The Government has made very significant changes to the way appointments are processed since late last year. I think all will welcome this new level of openness and transparency. The list of State boards to be advertised through the Public Appointments Service system, PAS, and considered to fall under the remit of the new guidelines was provided by PAS to my Department. It did take some time for PAS to finalise the lists of organisations that it would process and the Department did not proceed with the advertisement planned for higher education until there was clarity around what was to be included in the PAS process.

In general higher education institutions are regarded as autonomous institutions in receipt of public funding rather than as State boards, therefore appointments to boards and governing bodies of higher education institutions are not being made through the PAS process. However, in keeping with the principles of the new guidelines for appointments to State boards, my Department sought expressions of interest from suitably qualified candidates for consideration for appointment as chairs and ordinary members to boards and governing bodies of institutions and other bodies in the higher education sector. This included the National College of Art and Design.

Expressions of interest were sought by way of a public advertisement on www.education.ie. PAS also agreed to place a link to this advertisement on its website www.Stateboards.ie. The advertisement was published on the Department of Education and Skills website on 26 February 2015, with a closing date of 19 March. Persons who were registered with the PAS website were also sent notifications of the advertisement. A total of 123 expressions of interest in serving on boards of higher education institutions were received with 24 of these expressing a specific interest in serving on the board of the NCAD. As Members will understand the selection of members of boards requires careful consideration and the membership of a number of boards was under consideration at the same time. The membership and skill sets required for the board of the NCAD has also been given particular attention due to the issues that have arisen at the college in recent times.

I am pleased to say that I have now appointed a new board to the NCAD. I confirm that the following persons submitted an expression of interest in serving on the board of NCAD and have now been appointed: Ms Niamh Brennan, the Michael McCormick Professor of Management at UCD and the academic director of the UCD centre for corporate governance, holds qualifications in corporate governance and has experience of governance through Government appointments and membership of numerous boards; Mr. Blaise Smith, an artist and painter and a graduate of NCAD, who was elected an associate member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 2013; Ms Mary Dorgan is the former assistant CEO of the Health and Safety Authority and is currently a member of the Irish Sports Council and has many years experience of board membership and governance; Ms Karen Furlong has 25 years experience in strategy development, business transformation, organisation design and change management and has managed companies through the new fitness and probity and corporate governance regulatory landscape laid down by the Central Bank; and, Mr. Ian Power is executive director of SpunOut.ie, Ireland's youth information website and non-executive director of the National Youth Council of Ireland. He also has experience of governance issues through his work on the board of the National Youth Council. In addition, I am pleased to say that Professor Mark Rogers, acting registrar and deputy president of UCD has agreed to serve on the board. His appointment to the new board provides an opportunity to strengthen the strategic co-operation between UCD and NCAD. Professor Rogers will also strengthen the board's capacity in terms of his experience and expertise in approaches to student learning. In addition to these board members, I have appointed two academic staff representatives, nominated by the academic staff of the NCAD and two representatives nominated by the student body. I am sure that these new members of the board will be able to fulfil their obligations to the full and will serve well as members of the board of the NCAD.

Photo of Fiach MacConghailFiach MacConghail (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for her response. The appointment of the board is welcome. I appreciate the fact the Minister has given us a straight answer to those straight questions. It is also important that this new board creates trust between the student body and the academic staff and the directorate. I assume, although the Minister probably cannot say, Professor Niamh Brennan is likely to be chair of NCAD. I was not aware of how developed was the recently withdrawn UCD-NCAD partnership and I note with interest that the Minister has appointed Professor Mark Rogers and also some artists, including Ms Blaise Smith, who I know well.

Finally, I have a small request that the Minister visit that exhibition because her predecessors have done so. The students would appreciate seeing her there as an endorsement and validation of their rich and fruitful time at the university. I look forward to engaging with the Minister on that.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I would very much like the opportunity to visit. My predecessor attended the exhibition last week. Unfortunately, I myself was unable to go.

I would hope that this board will be up and running quickly. I regret the delay. There was that process of setting up PAS and then trying to identify what was in PAS and what was not. However, the process is a lot more transparent than it would have been in the past. Certainly, as I say, I would very much welcome the opportunity to visit.

I thank Senator Mac Conghail for raising it. He is the first person who has heard this news.