Chapter 8: The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction 1899-1930 (Plunkett's legacy, its interaction with the Home Rule and national independence movements)
In this the author develops the arguments of the previous chapter, in a context where the implementation of Plunkett's plan by Balfour and the Tory government was regarded with suspicion by the Irish-Irelanders, who smelled an attempt to 'kill Home Rule with kindness'. However the condition of technical education was very weak; in 1900 only 108 schools in the whole country were in receipt of science and art grants. The environment was negative and cynical consequent on the Parnell split.
Despite this the DATI visited every local authority, and all agreed to raise a rate for the purposes of the Act, and to enable the funding of technical education. Municipal technical schools were set up in all the main towns, and the already-existing schools in Dublin were taken on board, with north-side and south-side locations, also Rathmines, Blackrock, Kingstown. The Wexford case was interesting in that it moved to support local industry with an Engineering School.
An Association of Technical School Principals was founded, with the Belfast and Co Down Principals in the lead; the problem of combining teaching with administration was recognised and faced. The educational basis for a technically competent all-Ireland workforce was being laid, using the leading experience of the North-East.
The problem was addressed of whether to train teachers to use tools, or skilled craftsmen to teach. They came down firmly and successfully in favour of the latter.
In 1904 Plunkett published his 'Ireland in the New Century', in which he was critical of the educational role of the Roman Catholic Church, and this weakened his position politically, and tended to undermine the work of the DATI, though not fatally. There were also perceived administrative cost problems, and these combined in 1906 to trigger a Committee of Enquiry, motivated also by a Liberal desire to get at Balfour and his works, among whom Plunkett was numbered. Also his position was anomalous, no longer being an MP, yet holding a junior ministerial position. Although the Report was favourable, even laudatory, Plunkett resigned, recognising that his creation by now had a life of its own. The Home Rule leaders however, Redmond and McCarthy, were totally opposed to Plunkett and all his works; one can see here the influence perhaps of small-town gombeen capitalism.
The DATI continued with its initial momentum through the War and the independence struggle, being dismantled in 1930. The author traces various aspects, including the teaching of Irish, which had a business-oriented practical dimension, borrowing from Finnish experience. In the 1920s it took on board the demand for new skills arising out of the electrification of the country under the Shannon Scheme. Towards the end of its epoch however there was what amounted a covert agreement between the Minister and the Bishops that the system would not compete with the Church-controlled secondary education system. This increasingly in later years gave it a B-stream status.
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