Dáil debates

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Higher Education Authority Bill 2022: From the Seanad


6:22 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

There is enough argy-bargy, ruaille buaille and points of disagreement in the House from time to time, so it is nice to be here - let us keep this between ourselves - when we are all getting along well on this legislation. It has been a good example of teasing through legislation, working across party lines and trying to arrive at the best outcome. As the Deputies mentioned, there will be some points that we would all put greater emphasise on and some that we would put less emphasis on, but the broad thrust of what we are trying to do is to overhaul outdated legislation that comes from a different time, a different Ireland and a different higher education system.

Implementation was mentioned. I am pleased it was because, although there has been much debate on this legislation, and rightly so, its enabling provisions are in many ways the key to its success. Section 143, which we discussed a great deal during the legislation's passage, allows for codes, guidelines and practices to be developed and co-designed with the sector. This provision will be exciting for the sector. Regarding many issues that the House has discussed, for example, climate, all-island co-operation and taking a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, there are now opportunities to work collaboratively across the sector with the Higher Education Authority, HEA, to develop codes and guidelines to modernise our sector and ensure that it delivers for society and the economy.

I agree on the question of funding. Our budget and Sinn Féin's budget submission allocated similar amounts. Obviously, this was a cost-of-living budget and we all had a responsibility to ensure that, aside from increasing core funding, people could keep warm this winter and we could reduce the cost of education for families and students. We took some measures - significant measures, I would argue - in that respect.

I thank the Oireachtas education committee. Deputy Ó Cathasaigh rightly acknowledged it. He and Deputy Conway-Walsh are both members of it. I thank the Chair of the committee, Deputy Kehoe, and its clerk for the many hours that they gave us. I also acknowledge Conradh na Gaeilge for the constructive and effective way in which it engaged with this legislation. Speaking as a Minister, it was a good example of how an organisation could lobby, make representations and effectively change legislation in a constructive sense. I thank Conradh na Gaeilge.

I appreciate that the Deputies acknowledged and thanked the officials in my Department, who have done Trojan work. They have rightly made themselves accessible to all Members of the Houses. I want to put on the record that we have been fortunate to have such a dedicated team of public servants working on this Bill. I thank Ms Tanya Kenny, Ms Íde Mulcahy, Mr. Stuart Morris and Mr. Keith Moynes in the Department for all of their work on the legislation.

I commend the Bill to the House.


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