Seanad debates

Monday, 26 April 2021

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business


10:30 am

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I echo the calls made by my colleague, Senator Warfield, for a debate on sex education. Such a debate would be useful.

Equally, I echo the remarks made by Senators Carrigy and Blaney. It happens only occasionally that an interview comes on the radio and stops you in your tracks. Ryan Tubridy handled the interview with Andrew Geary, about his son Calum, this morning quite well. We should celebrate the contribution of deaf people and those with hearing difficulties to Irish society, but we need a broader debate around the supports from the education system. Crucially, part of the discussion was around the employment of those with disabilities. Having Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, in for a debate on that matter would be useful.

I wish to raise the question of academic freedom, which is a fundamental principle of our higher education system. In recent times, we have seen a number of powerful countries and companies question our universities and their right to be able to make and disseminate their findings freely. I refer here to Dr. Richard Maher of University College Dublin, UCD, who raised questions which drew unfair criticism from Huawei and the Chinese embassy, and Dr. Donnacha Ó Beacháin of Dublin City University, who, because he brought in a particular speaker, drew criticism from the Georgian and Ukrainian embassies. These are respected academics who are open to hearing, and who have always allowed, a variety of points of view in their courses. A fundamental part of our higher education system involves academic freedom. In forthcoming legislation on higher education governance, it is essential that we include protections in that area.I ask that in our debate on higher education we centre and focus on the question of academic freedom and that, as a Government, we indicate very clearly that no matter how powerful the company or country, we will protect academic freedom in our universities.


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