Speech by Donogh O’Malley TD announcing free universal secondary education (10th Sept 1966)

Published on: 10 September 2016

This extract is from the speech given by Donogh O’Malley on Saturday 10th Sept. 1966 at the dinner of the National Union of Journalists. It was reproduced in the Irish Times on 12th Sept 1966.


“What of the future? We are, it must be remembered constantly, living through an era of change.

“Many of the former assumptions on which we based our lives are being questioned. The world of today and tomorrow would give scant attention to the uneducated and those lacking any qualification.

“We will be judged by future generations on what we did for the children of our time”

“I am fortunate in entering office when there is a consciousness, as never before, of the vital part education must play in the future of the nation. I bring with me, as announced by An Taoiseach in Dáil Eireann, a Government assurance that education is to receive priority. Priority is going to mean exactly what it says – as I hope the events of the coming years will show.

“There was no difficulty in picking out the basic fault in our present educational structure – and that was the fact that many families could not afford to pay even part of the cost of education for their children.

“I think it is one of the great tragedies or our history since independence that we have not found the means to check this terrible loss to the national potential for economic and cultural advancement.

“Every year some 17,000 of our children finish their primary school course do not receive any further education. This means that almost one in three our further citizens are cut off at this stage form the opportunities and denied the benefits of cultural development that go with further education. This is a dark stain on the national conscience. For it means that some one-third of our people have been condemned – the great majority through no fault of their own – to be part-educated unskilled labour, always the weaker who go to the all of unemployment or emigration.

“I believe that this is a situation which must be tackled with all speed and determination. And I am glad to be able to announce that I am drawing up a scheme under which, in future, no boy or girl in this State will be deprived of full educational opportunity – from primary to university level – by reason of the fact that the parents cannot afford to pay for it.

“I have always been concerns with the dilemma of parents, particularly those with large families, who, in the matter of post-primary education, wish to do their very best for their children but find that the school fees – even when these are modest – are quite beyond their means.

I propose therefore, from the coming school year, beginning in September of next year, to introduce a scheme whereby, up to the completion of the Intermediate Certificate course, the opportunity for free post-primary education will be available to all families.”

“This free education will be available in the comprehensive and vocational schools, and in the general run of secondary schools. I say the general run of secondary schools because there will still be schools, charging higher fees, who may not opt to take my scheme; and the parent who wants to send his child to one of these schools and pay the fees will of course be free to do so.

“Going on from there, I intend also to make provision whereby no pupil, to make provision whereby no pupil will, for lack of means, be prevented from continuing his or her education up to the end of the Leaving Certificate course. Further, I propose that assistance towards the cost of books and accessories will be given, through the period of his or her course, to the student on whom it would be a hardship to meet all such costs.

“We must, also, face up to the position of making financial aid available to the pupil who, because of the location of his home, can have post-primary education available to him only if he enters a boarding school.

University Entrance

Finally, there is the university level. While I do not at this stage wish to say anything which might cut across the recommendations of the Commission on Higher Education, I cannot let the occasion pass without referring to the plight of the pupil who has reached a good standard in the Leaving Certificate examination but who, due to the inability of his parents to pay, cannot proceed to a university or other course of higher education. We must, and we will, come to the assistance of such a pupil.

I, therefore, propose to put in train shortly the working out of a scheme to cater for such cases.

The officers of my Department are now engaged in the detailed statistical work that is necessary in drafting and bringing to completion such revolutionary change in our approach to the provision of education for our people. I hope to be able to give the Dáil the completed details of these schemes when I come to introduce the Estimate for my Department before Christmas.

The importance of providing better educated young people in our developing economy makes the ‘free education scheme’ all the more urgent. Already, a shortage of skilled workers is apparent in some sectors of our industry. Very soon, that shortage will be acute, and could endanger economic progress – unless we move quickly into the age of technology.

Our universities present us with a very big problem indeed. For one thing, universities are of their nature extremely expensive. Another thing is that our present university set-up is a legacy of history – and history is a stubborn wrestler. However, as you know, the Commission on Higher Education is engaged at the moment in preparing a plan. Until it speaks, I prefer to remain silent on the larger issues of the universities. I have decided, however, that the problem of university overcrowding must be tackled at one, and shall, therefore, very shortly give the green light to Dublin and Cork for the building plans which they have put before me. I am, also, giving consideration to the difficulties of University College Galway.

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