Minister hopes to tie up troublesome Bills

27th December 1996 at 00:00
TES correspondents look back at the controversies and turbulent events of the past 12 months. IRELAND

The Irish education minister, Niamh Bhreathnach, has just had her most difficult political year to date - she is hoping that 1997, a general election year, will work out better. In particular, she is hoping that two education Bills, which have caused her problems for the past 12 months, will be enacted.

The main Bill will decentralise powers from her ministry to 10 regional education boards and to individual school boards of management. It will give parents statutory entitlements to participation on management boards for the first time and give them right of access to their children's school records.

It will also introduce a statutory grievance procedure for parents and students aged 16 and over. The Bill will seal a recent agreement with the Catholic and Protestant Churches which will give up majority control over school board appointments in return for legally binding statements of ethos.

Details of an earlier draft of the Bill were leaked last Easter and Ms Bhreathnach faced opposition to a provision for a veto for churches over teacher appointments if they felt such appointments would undermine the ethos of their schools. The proposed veto has been dropped from the final draft.

She also faced strong criticism over aspects of her universities Bill which sought to give the state-appointed Higher Education Authority additional powers over staffing and budgetary decisions in universities. Garret Fitzgerald, the highly respected former Taoiseach, wrote an extraordinary attack on what he termed an authoritarian and Thatcherite Bill, calling it "a measure profoundly contrary to, and openly dismissive of, our highly successful university system".

Her difficulties were compounded when it was disclosed that the authority did not want the additional powers Ms Bhreathnach wanted to confer on it. However, the Bill is being amended and stands a better chance of getting through both houses of parliament, particularly the Senate where the Government is in a minority.

If both Bills get through before the election, Ms Bhreathnach, Ireland's first Labour education minister, will have secured a place in the educational history books.

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