Wednesday, 24 November 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Malcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
I want to raise the question of the future of higher education funding. It is well over five and a half years since the Cassells report was published. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Simon Harris, indicated that now is the time for the question to be addressed. This can has continually been kicked down the road. It is completely unfair on our higher education institutions. They have gone through a very difficult two-year period and we need to have certainty around the future funding of the sector. I would like to ask for a debate on the question of future funding of the higher education sector.
Related to that, the House will be aware that many third-level students are facing into exams quite soon. This is a stressful period for them. There is a lot of uncertainty. Some institutions are a bit clearer than others as to whether students will be required to sit exams in person or will be given the option of sitting exams online. It is important that there should be clarity. I appreciate that this is a matter for each higher level education institution, but it may be useful to ask the Minister to engage with the Union of Students of Ireland, the Irish Universities Association and the Technological Higher Education Association to try to ensure that exams can be done in the safest way possible. It is important for students that there is clarity as soon as possible.
I also wish to mention two long-running disputes where it is important that we move towards a resolution. The first is the pension scheme for community employment supervisors and deputy supervisors. This has been kicked back and forth for years following Labour Court recommendations. In fairness, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, has made some efforts to progress the matter. I believe it can be resolved if all groups sit around the table. We all know the work that community employment scheme supervisors and deputy supervisors have done in our communities. It is important that we work towards a resolution.
The second dispute I wish to raise is one with which the House is very familiar. I refer to the position of secretarial assistants and addressing the issue of their pay, terms and conditions. In my case, without Patrick Higgins, my secretarial assistant, I would not be able to do the work that I do. I am sure it is the same for all of my Seanad colleagues. Prior to my time, in 2019 a cross-party motion to address this issue was supported by all Members. I am aware that the matter is before the WRC. The question of support staff for all of us needs to be addressed. We all know how hard our colleagues work. We need a bit of imagination to resolve the dispute.