Dáil debates

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Higher Education Authority Bill 2022: From the Seanad


6:22 pm

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this Bill during its last lap through the Houses. It is once-in-a-generation legislation, as evidenced by the fact that the legislation it is replacing is some 50 years old. When one thinks of the sea change that has happened in third level provision since 1972, imagining ourselves 50 years into the future is difficult.

These amendments are in keeping with how the Bill has been approached during its journey through the Houses. There has been good cross-party engagement. There has also been good engagement from the education committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Kehoe. We have worked collaboratively across the House. Sinn Féin has been constructive in its input, as has the Labour Party. I shared some amendments with Deputy Ó Ríordáin because they were similar in nature. This process has been an example of good practice in terms of how legislation can be built across the various stages through constructive input.

Here we have what are small but impactful amendments. They clarify the Bill's provisions and remove any doubt, and they put the voice of students front and centre in the governing authorities. The amendments show that the likes of students' unions have a role in influencing legislation, in that they can speak to their legislators, who then bring their concerns to the fore during the legislative process, with those concerns making it into the final piece of work. That is important and much to the good. We saw this happening throughout the legislation's passage. The Minister referenced how the Irish language community had an opportunity to influence the Bill. Important and impactful amendments were made in order to legislate for the Irish language within this Bill. Similarly, I tabled amendments on the sustainable development principles and they were incorporated into the Bill. I would have liked to have seen our climate obligations and the Paris Agreement explicitly mentioned in the Bill but, as Deputy Conway-Walsh said, we do not always get everything for which we ask.

The Minister mentioned that public funds needed to be managed appropriately. During the Bill's passage, I referred to how there were not only public funds within our third level sector, but also private funds. Deputy Conway-Walsh spoke about privatisation and commercialisation in the sector. That is certainly the case. Along with public moneys, we have an obligation to ensure increased transparency of the private moneys that are being put to work in our third level institutions, including the issue of where they come from. There will be other opportunities to approach this question. Recently, I spoke on Second Stage of the Screening of Third Country Transactions Bill 2022. The charities regulation Bill also has facets to do with third level education and is at pre-legislative scrutiny stage. In light of these Bills, there may be other ways to approach this issue.

These amendments are a good example of the process in general. Since this is once-in-a-generation legislation, there was a good cross-party approach to it and constructive engagement with stakeholders throughout the sector, be that students' unions, the IUA or Conradh na Gaeilge. I could name many others. By engaging in this process in the way we have, we now have stronger legislation.

I wish to comment on the work done by every one in the Department. A Trojan amount of work was put into this significant legislation. I am glad of this opportunity to speak as the Bill makes its final lap through the Houses.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.